By Naoto Hashimoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo — Is it the refreshing jolt that blasts away stress? Strongly carbonated water continues to be a big seller.
A number of carbonated water brands got their start in Kobe and the Hanshin area. I visited one place that draws the most dedicated enthusiasts.
The birth of Wilkinson
The label on the plastic bottle reads: “Since 1904. Wilkinson Tansan.” On the traditional Japanese calendar, that would be the 37th year of the Meiji era (1868-1912).
An unusual Western-style building stands in the Hoshogaoka area of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, which borders the city of Takarazuka in the prefecture. There is a sign saying “Wilkinson memorial building,” but the property is currently used as the Namaze Fureai Hiroba, an amusement facility for area residents. The Wilkinson factory stood on the northern side, filtering naturally carbonated well water and bottling it.
The factory was established in 1904, the same year that its founder, British businessman John Clifford Wilkinson (1852-1923), also established a limited liability company.
“I thought it was a foreign brand. I was surprised to find a factory near to where I’d moved,” Hitoshi Nagasue, 77, who has lived nearby for about 30 years, said with a smile.
The factory was dismantled in the autumn of 1995, the year of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The memorial hall was built in one corner of the site as a reproduction of the factory’s clerical building, and a local association moved over such items as some of the factory’s account books and taxidermy animals. However, those items are no longer there.
Since 1991, the Wilkinson brand has been manufactured at what is now the Asahi Soft Drinks Co. factory in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture. It is made with filtered water and carbon dioxide.
Promoting its strong carbonation, the Wilkinson brand began being sold in plastic bottles in 2011 as something to be drunk directly, rather than being used to dilute alcohol, and became the popular hit it is now.
Perhaps because of this, dozens of fans visit from outside the area each year and look at a diorama of the factory inside the Namaze Fureai Hiroba, according to Nagasue.
Wilkinson’s history actually goes back even further. Clifford Wilkinson first turned his eye to carbonated water around 1889, the year he discovered a carbonated spring while hunting in Takarazuka, and he initially built a workshop in that city.
Takarazuka historian Hiroshi Suzuki, 66, found a photograph of the workshop in a British magazine from 1899, and identified the location. It was on the opposite bank of the Mukogawa river from Takarazuka Station, and Wilkinson also operated a “Tansan hotel” there, working to attract such people as the captains and other important people on foreign ships that came into Kobe.
He is also said to have promoted his carbonated water together with tours of the factory.
As Wilkinson carbonated water continues to be popular, the city of Takarazuka and its tourist association are working to develop a “Takarazuka highball” recipe. Norihiko Mizukami, 40, leader of the carbonated group in Asahi Soft Drinks’ marketing division, has visited both Takarazuka and met with historian Suzuki.
“This brand has been liked partly because it has a foreign twist, but we want to deepen our involvement with its birthplace and convey the value that has been appreciated for so long,” Mizukami said.
Mitsuya Cider — likewise launched in the Meiji era, as “Mitsuya Hiranosui water” — also comes from the Hanshin area, from a place called Hirano in Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture. There is also a “Mitsuya tower” that collected carbon dioxide.
Carbonated hot springs
The Arima Onsen hot springs area in Kita Ward, Kobe, is also famous for its carbonated springs.
According to Kohei Kazahaya, 61, a guest researcher in geochemistry at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, in regions like Arima and Takarazuka that do not have volcanoes, stones and rocks from the Philippine Sea Plate are believed to sink under the Japanese archipelago together with sea water. This water is thought to be heated by the mantle about 60 kilometers underground and then rise up and emerge through cracks in the ground.
The carbonation results mainly from limestone.
Arima Tansanriki is a store in Arima specializing in carbonated drinks. In addition to local Arima Cider Teppomizu water, it sells about 80 local ciders from around the country, with such startling flavors as beef tongue, sea urchin and curry. This is a special place, where devoted fans of local ciders come.
“Just like their image of bursting open, the quick spread of things to talk about is the appeal of carbonated drinks,” said Futoshi Tanigawa, 50, who opened the shop in 2014.
I tried the Kobe steak cider, which is recommended to customers who want a particularly strong flavor for use as penalties in party games. This spirit of playfulness is another part of the cider’s appeal.
The Namaze Fureai Hiroba has a diorama of the now-gone Wilkinson factory. It is a 15-minute walk from Takarazuka Station, accessible by JR and Hankyu trains. The Mitsuya Tower is a 10-minute walk from Nose Electric Railway’s Hirano Station. The Arima Tansanriki store is a seven-minute walk from Kobe Electric Railway’s Arima Onsen Station. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (078) 903-5757.Speech