[From August Issue 2012]


If you feel like having something to drink while walking along the street in Japan, you can purchase drinks from a vending machine, conbini (convenience store), or supermarket. Alternatively, you can stop by a coffee shop or restaurant. In establishments where food or drink is served, waiters automatically set down water or tea, free of charge, as soon as the customer is seated.

Probably the easiest way to get your hands on a drink is by using a vending machine. Most vending machines sell soft drinks in cans and plastic bottles. In Japan, “juice” does not necessarily refer to 100% pure fruit juice, it also refers to non-fruit juice. Cola is commonly referred to as juice in conversation. Vending machines generally stock chilled beverages, but hot drinks like coffee and tea are also available during winter. There are also vending machines which dispense drinks into paper cups.

Many people choose to stop by the conbini because they have a wider selection of drinks than vending machines. Conbini also sell larger one-liter size bottles of soda or liquor, but, since they are very easy to carry around, the most popular size are 350 milliliter and 500 milliliter pet bottles that have re-sealable caps.


At coffee shops and restaurants, the so-called “self-café” system is on the rise. Based on the self-service system, after ordering at the counter, the customer carries his own food and drink to the table. Especially popular are “Doutor” and “Starbucks,” and these big name stores have outlets across the country. In addition, at fast food stores like McDonalds, you can purchase a wide variety of beverages for around 100 yen.

As can be seen from the proliferation of cafés, coffee is a very popular drink in Japan. Some unique ways to enjoy coffee in Japan are the “American,” which uses a smaller amount of lightly roasted coffee beans, and “ice(d) coffee” which is coffee with ice. Instant coffee, made by pouring hot water over powdered coffee, and black tea made from tea bags, are also widely enjoyed. Also sold are coffee and tea drinks that have already had milk added to them.

In addition to coffee and black tea, Chinese teas are also very popular. Many people favor these teas for their health giving or weight loss properties. The most well-known are oolong tea, jasmine tea and tochuu tea.

Nihoncha, or Japanese tea, is the most popular tea for Japanese people and these teas are mostly green teas such as sencha or genmaicha. Tea leaves are grown in many parts of Japan and are typically brewed and drunk in specially made green tea pots and cups, called kyuusu and yunomi respectively. However, in recent years, green tea beverages, in cans or bottles that have been brewed before being packaged, line the shelves of conbini. Mugicha, a tea made from roasted barley, is another popular drink in Japan. Drinking a glass of chilled mugicha straight from the refrigerator on a hot sunny day is an activity that really symbolizes summer in Japan.

Blended teas of Chinese tea, Japanese tea, and grains (like barley) are also popular. In addition there are fizzy drinks like cola and cider, fruit juices (both with and without pulp), sports drinks, and mineral water.


In Japan you can drink alcohol from the age of 20. If you’re talking about an alcoholic beverage that is exclusively manufactured in Japan, then it’s got to be nihonshu (Japanese sake). Made by fermenting rice, sake is referred to in Japan as “nihonshu,” “seishu” or “sake,” but is commonly known throughout the world as “sake.” Hardly ever diluted with water or ice, sake can be drunk warm as “atsukan,” or chilled as “reishu.” There are many ways to refer to it depending on the temperature it is drunk at. For example sake drunk at room temperature is referred to as “hiya” and sake warmed up to around 40 degrees Celsius (a little over room temperature) is referred to as “nuru-kan.”

There are various kinds of liquor sold in Japan, including, shouchuu, beer, wine, whiskey, and brandy. The word “sake” in Japanese does not only refer to nihonshu, but also to any other kind of alcoholic drink. For example, if someone invites you out by saying, “Sake demo nomou,” this means, “Let’s go out for a drink.”

Also, “toriaezu bi-ru” (first of all, beer) is a typical phrase used at boozy gatherings. This phrase is used when the person orders beer as their first drink. It shows how popular beer is in Japan. In recent years, sales of “happoushu” (low-malt beer) and “daisan no bi-ru” (beer-flavored sparkling liquor) have increased because they are more affordable than beer but have a similar taste. Beer uses malt as the main ingredient, but happoushu and daisan no bi-ru have a lower malt content and include ingredients not usually found in beer.


“Chuuhai” is another popular type of alcoholic drink. Chuuhai is kind of cocktail that has a “shouchuu” base mixed with carbonated water, fruit juice and syrup. Shouchuu is a type of strong liquor made from rice, barley or sweet potatoes, and if mixed, can be easily drunk at restaurants. Chuuhai in cans is also common.

However, an alternative to these alcoholic drinks are non-alcoholic beverages, and these kinds of drinks are now trending. Non-alcoholic beer is selling especially well. These denote carbonated beverages that look like beer but contain no alcohol at all, or less than 1% alcohol. As penalties for driving under the influence get stricter, major beer manufacturers have been launching one product after another onto the market.

Non-alcoholic chuuhai and cocktails are also on the market. These drinks have been welcomed not only by drivers, but also by people who are unable to drink alcohol because of a weak constitution. On the other hand, some news stories have pointed out that these types of non-alcoholic drinks “encourage under aged children and alcoholic people to drink,” and are also “not good for pregnant women.”

Photos courtesy by Seven & i Holdings Co., Ltd.

Text: KOMIYAMA Ranko



















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