Drinking in Japan - Sake, Beer, Shochu

Drinking in Japan: Beer, Sake & Shochu

Drinking in Japan A Beginner's Guide To Drinking in Japan

Asahi Beer Ad, Japan.

Japan is a drinker's paradise and always has been, it seems.
As far back as the 3rd century, Chinese historians dutifully recorded the fact that the people of Yamatai (ancient Japan) were unusually partial to a tipple.

Excessive drinking along with singing and dancing - even at funerals - was all the rage.

Still today alcohol is just as important a part of Japanese daily life, from beer- and whisky-centered social and business drinking, to religious rites and traditional customs where sake plays the major role.

Japanese Beer From the beginnings to micro-breweries

Japanese Beers.

Beer in Japan has been around since Dutch traders introduced it during the Edo period. A Norwegian-American businessman established the first brewery in Japan, in Yokohama, in the 1870's.

His brewery was eventually sold to a Japanese company that became the giant brewer Kirin.

Meanwhile, in Hokkaido in 1876, Nagakawa Seibei, who had returned from Germany after studying how to make beer, established Hokkaido's first brewery, and the following year gave birth to the first Sapporo Lager.

Shochu The New Spirit of Japan


If asked what you consider to be Japan's national drink, you would almost certainly say sake (or nihonshu as it is known in its country of origin).

Nowdays, however, a comparative newcomer has begun to challenge the nation's traditional favorite - shochu - a drink which is attracting a growing number of fans, particularly women, as the hangovers are said to be less painful and shochu is lower on calories than both beer and Japanese sake.

Shochu production is centered in Kyushu and Okinawa.

Izakaya Japan's Answer To The Pub


The izakaya is the Japanese answer to the pub and, just like anywhere, there's a bar for any taste. Places to suck up to the section manager, to charm the ladies, or to rest tired feet after a hard day's sightseeing.

But in all of them, the first thing you'll hear is an enthusiastic Irasshaimase (Welcome!) from the staff, some of whom you'll see and some (out the back) you won't.

Straight away you'll feel like you're being taken care of but, just as abruptly,the comparison with the pub back home falls down. Or rather, it takes a seat.

Kirin: a Japanese beer with a Scandinavian twist

Kirin Beer

When sipping on a Kirin, would you ever have thought that it was introduced to Japan by a Norwegian-American in the 1870's? There were many difficulties, but what he began remains.

When 30-year-old Johan Martinius Thoresen arrived in Japan in 1864, he found a country thirsting to catch up to the rest of the world technologically, and with a major appetite to learn from the West.

In 1870 Thoresen discovered a spring and established The Spring Valley Brewery. The rest is history, as they say.

"You Only Drink Rice": the secret of good sake

Sake bottles.

"You Only Live Twice," the only James Bond movie set in Japan, has the following scene:
Tiger Tanaka, the head of Japanese intelligence, asks James, "Do you like Japanese sake, Mr. Bond? Or would you prefer a vodka martini?"
"No, no. I like sake", Agent 007 replies. "Especially when it's served at the correct temperature, 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit."

Well, Mr. Bond, you may be an international man of mystery, but when it comes to sake, you're - how shall we put this? - a philistine.

by Geoff Botting

Ponshu-kan Echigo-Yuzawa: sake madness

Ponshu-kan, Niigata.

The Japanese fondness for drinking is unashamedly displayed at JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station, Niigata Prefecture, where a section of the station has been set aside for enjoying sake-themed art, tasting sake from all parts of Niigata, eating foods made with sake, and, of course, buying sake. Another amusement for hedonistic travelers is soaking in a bath filled with sake and hot spring water.

Visitors to this center of sake madness, called the Ponshu-kan, are warmly greeted at the entrance by the statue of a ruddy-faced grinning salaryman who is enthusiastically waving a large sake bottle. He seems so friendly that many visitors stop to have their photographs taken with him. Hanging around his neck and laid upon his grey suit is a sign welcoming people inside. The sign is written in the casual way that a drunken man using the local Niigata dialect might speak.

by Greg Goodmacher

Sakenojin Sake Fair in Niigata.

Sakenojin, Niigata.

Are you a sake connoisseur desiring to taste some of the most delicious sake in Japan, a sake neophyte wanting to learn more about Japan's best drink, or a tightwad trying to drink as much sake as possible for just 2,000 yen (about US $25.00)?
If the answer is "yes" to any of the above, the Niigata Sakenojin is an occasion not to be missed.
It is the Octoberfest of Japan: in fact, the Niigata Sake Brewers Association's website proclaims that the Octoberfest of Germany was the inspiration for the first Sakenojin, held in 2004. However, Sakenojin always happens March. March is the month when the clear-liquid gold of Niigata cascades from bottles into sake cups and then into open mouths, like glittering water cascading off waterfalls into pools.
If Bacchus were a Japanese god, he would absolutely be in attendance with a sake cup in his hand.

Bars in Japan Where To Drink In Japan.

Bars in Japan.

Choose from our selection of reviews of bars, cafes, night clubs and restaurants in Japan's major cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kobe, Sapporo, Niigata.

To list your bar, pub, club, restaurant or cafe bar on JapanVisitor for free or a small fee please Contact JV for all the details for your submission including images, links, logos and a description.

Attract extra customers to your establishment in Japan.

Books On Japanese Food & Drink Japanese Food & Drink Books Reviews.

Books on Japanese food & drink.

Read our reviews of the latest books on Japanese food and drink including Japanese sake and healthy Okinawan cuisine.

Drinking in Japan A Boozer's Primer.


The Japanese are rightly renowned for their consumption of copious quantities of alcohol whatever the occasion: nomikai after work, celebrations at weddings, at funerals and on vacations, especially while visiting hot spring resorts or onsen.

Here's a brief bilingual guide to Serious Drinking in Japan.

Yopparau (vb) - To get drunk. Yotteiru (vb) - To be drunk etc

Books on Japanese Sake

Goods From Japan to your home or business.