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Drinking is a substantial part of Japanese culture. Japanese people do not only drink green tea with meals and at the workplace, but also an extensive variety of alcoholic beverages with friends and coworkers in the evening.

Known as “sake” in Western nations, it is called nihonshu in Japan, where sake indicates any type of alcoholic beverage. It is a transparent rice-based drink containing about 15% alcohol. Sake can be served hot (atsukan) or cold (hiyashi), but sake pros drink it cold. Generally, sake can cost at least 500 Japanese yen (JPY) at a restaurant.

Shōchū is a stronger beverage, or sake’s “big brother”. It is usually enjoyed as a type of cooler mixed with soda or juice, commonly known as a chūhai. Shōchū is normally served straight or on the rocks, and contains around 25% alcohol. On the contrary, some varieties can contain alcohol as strong as 60%.

Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory are several leading brands of Japanese beer, but there is an increasing number of local breweries around the country. Furthermore, an emergence of micro-brewed beers has begun in Japan.

Due to Japan’s complex alcohol licensing laws, there are also diluted, or “almost-beers” on the market. This includes happōshu (low-malt beer) and the alleged “third beer” (dai-san no biiru), which uses malt alternatives such as soybean peptide. Although lighter and diluted in taste, both are markedly cheaper than the real thing, costing at only 120 JPY.

Hokkaidō and Yamanashi are the main regions for winemaking. With a range of wines existing, (usually expensive) imported wine is available nationwide as well. In the past, most Japanese wine was more like a cuvée (more than one grape from selected barrels), but now more producers insist their wines have been made with “100% Japanese grapes”.

In Japan, the most favored drink is without a doubt green tea (ryokucha, or simply o-cha). It is offered free of charge at almost every restaurant and is served hot in the winter and cold in the summer. There is a numerous selection of tea variants in vending machines and convenience stores. Other popular teas include Japanese brown and green tea, Western-style black tea (kocha), and Chinese oolong tea.

Coffee has become more widespread in Japan, but it is not part of the traditional Japanese breakfast. Similar in strength as European coffee, weaker brews are called “American” or “Blend”. For around 120 JPY, hot and cold canned coffee is convenient to obtain in vending machines like other drinks in Japan. Normally, the coffee is quite sweet, so it can be served black along with other “European” varieties as well. To point out, decaffeinated coffee is uncommon in Japan, even at popular coffee branches.

Soft Drinks
Japan has many unique soft drinks to offer. A few popular beverages include Calpis, a milky yogurt-based soft drink. In addition, there is also the well-known Pocari Sweat, a type of electrolyte balanced sports drink. Ramune is a carbonated soft drink similar to Sprite, but it is distinctive for its glass Codd-neck bottle, where you must push down a marble below the spout to open it.

Most American soft drink brands, such as Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew, can also be purchased in Japan, as they are even available in their diet varieties.

photo of Japan Sake drinks photo of Japanese Soft Drinks photo of Japanese drinks
photo of Otokoyama Sake Brewery

Hokkaido | Asahikawa

Otokoyama Sake Brewery

Boasts a 340-year history of making sake, has won numerous awards worldwide.

photo of Suehiro Sake Brewery

Tohoku | Fukushima | Aizu Wakamatsu

Suehiro Sake Brewery

Suehiro Sake Brewery is one of the largest and most famous sake makers in the Tohoku Region.

photo of Sawanoi Sake Brewery

Kanto | Tokyo | Outlying Areas

Sawanoi Sake Brewery

Sawanoi Sake Brewery is one the traditional nihonshu producers in the Tokyo area.

photo of Kirin Beer Village

Kanto | Kanagawa | Yokohama

Kirin Beer Village

The Kirin Beer Village is part of the Kirin brewery located in Yokohama and has free brewery tours.

photo of Ponshukan Sake and Rice Museum

Chubu | Niigata | Yuzawa

Ponshukan Sake and Rice Museum

A theme park for sake and rice, where you can try Niigata's leading brands of sake.

photo of Nada Sake District

Kansai | Hyogo | Kobe

Nada Sake District

Sake is fermented rice in Japan and the Nada Sake District is one of the biggest producers of the alcoholic beverage.

photo of Fushimi Sake District

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Fushimi Sake District

The Fushimi Sake District is home to almost 40 sake breweries including the Gekkeikan.

photo of Saijo Sake District

Chugoku | Hiroshima | Hiroshima City

Saijo Sake District

A Sake District located in Hiroshima Prefecture famous for being the home of many sake breweries producing high quality sake

photo of Awamori Masahiro Gallery

Okinawa Islands | Okinawa | Southern Okinawa

Awamori Masahiro Gallery

The Higa distillery was established in 1883 in the old town of Shuri, now operating out of Itoman City in the south of Okinawa Island.