People in Japan don’t drink much wine — just an average of four bottles a year per person, according to Kiyoshi Yokoyama, the chairman of Japan Wineries Association. But the history of wine in Japan goes way back, further back than the history of wine in the United States, in fact.
In 1543, Portuguese Jesuits sailed to Japan. Their goal was to convert Japanese citizens to Catholicism. Six years later, Saint Francis Xavier brought wine to the Jesuits and feudal lords. The wine flowed from the Jesuits and the feudal lords to the native Japanese population, which tasted European wine for the first time.
Wine didn’t make it to the United States until 1562, when French Huguenots landed near what is now Jacksonville, Fla. It wasn’t European wine, however. The Huguenots tried to make wine from the native grapes they found around them. It didn’t last. By 1564, they were done making wine from American grapes.
Although Japan got European wine first, it didn’t stay in the country for long. Christianity was banned in the country in 1587 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi reunified Japan. Everything related to Western culture was rejected, including wine. It wasn’t for another 300 years, during the Meiji restoration, that grapevines were planted in the country.
Today, wine still makes up a small portion of alcohol consumption in Japan. Wine consumption increased by 50 percent from 2006 to 2013, but there’s lots of room for growth. The early history of European wine in Japan, however, will never change.