Besides the obvious variety of green teas Japan has a broad away of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. This section introduces the obvious and sometimes eventually surprising drinks found on the Japanese islands.
#1 Sake probably is the best known Japanese drink in the world. You can drink it cold or warm and there are hundreds of different brands from hundreds of breweries. Learn more about the qualification system to distinguish sake qualities and flavors.
#2 Umeshu Plum Wine is one of the most popular Japanese liqueur. It is made of a base alcohol such as sake and Japanese plums and has a very nice sweet flavor. Often other ingredients such as green tea, lime fruits and others are added which explains the big variety of more than 300 brands from all over Japan.
#3 Shochu is a distilled alcohol most often made from barley, sweet potato originating from southern Japan. It is consumed on ice, with hot water or mixed with fruit juices or tea. There are hundreds of different Shochu brands and some Izakaya restaurants are proud of listing many of them. Shochu has an alcohol percentage of about 25%.
#4 Awamori is a distilled alcohol from the Island of Okinawa. The production process is similar to Shochu but it uses rice from Thailand and a different fermentation mold. The alcohol ranges from 25% to 43%. Matured Awamori is called Kusu, Kusu has aged for a minimum of 3 years but a good Awamori can age up to 25 years.
#5 Matcha is the green tea powder tea used for the Japanese tea ceremony. It has a very intense and bitter flavor of green tea. It is consumed without sugar and said to be extremely healthy. Matcha tea is also very popular with Sushi restaurants where it is often served to guests at the end of the menu.
#6 Mugicha tea is a drink brewed from barley kernels. It has no caffeine and no calories and is very popular as a refreshment during the humid Japanese summer. It is available as bottled drink, in bags for making it at home and a few people still brew Mugicha from barley kernels at home to achieve the most intense flavor.
#7 Sobacha Tea is made of roasted buckwheat berries and has a nutty, malty flavor. It can be enjoyed cold or hot and is very popular at Soba restaurants that serve buckwheat noodles. It has no caffeine and therefore also can be enjoyed in the evening without disturbing sleep.
#8 Genmaicha describes Japanese green tea including pieces of roasted brown rice. It combines the light flavor of the green tea with an accent of roasted rice. It is very popular and can be served on all occasions. Since some of the rice sometimes pops like popcorn when roasted Western people sometimes also refer to Genmaicha as popcorn tea.
#9 Ryokucha tea is a generic term describing Japanese steamed green tea. There are many brands of non-sugar bottled green tea varying in their level of bitterness. It is also common in restaurants and traditional shops to serve a cup of green tea. Green tea leaves are available in any supermarket and there are many stored with long history who specialized on selling green tea leaves.
#10 Japanese Whiskey starts to be well known through the large brands such as Yamazaki and Nikka blended whiskeys. But Japan also is the worlds second largest producer of single malt whiskeys and there are many small distilleries producing exquisite and distinguished whiskeys hardly known to the international public.
#11 Hoppy is a very popular beer-flavored non-alcoholic drink. It can be drunk as is but it also is very popular to mix Hoppy with Shochu. When ordering Hoppy, many Izakaya restaurants will automatically serve Hoppy together with some Shochu since the mix is also referred to as Hoppy.
#12 Chuhai is an abbreviation for Shochu Highball and originally a mixed drink of Shochu with soda and lemon juice. It became very popular as a canned alcoholic beverage with many different flavors of fruits and teas. Chuhai also is served at many Izakaya restaurants. The alcohol for the canned version is around 9% whereas it depends on the individual mix of alcohol and soda for each restaurant.
#13 Soy Milk has boomed in Japan in recents years and many soy milk based drinks were launched. It is available as a plain drink but also mixed with fruit juices or green tea and can be consumed warm or cold. Soy Milk drinks are mainly sold at supermarkets and convenience stores.
#14 Vinegar Drinks became very popular since media picked up the health benefits of drinking vinegar. Fruits vinegars are diluted with water and sometimes sweetened to make them more edible. Kurosu (black vinegar) has aged for three years made from rice. Vinegar drinks are mainly sold at supermarkets and department stores and popular with women.
#15 Pocari Sweat is a popular Japanese non carbonated soft drink. It is slightly sweetened and has a light flavor of grapefruit with a little aftertaste. It originally was designed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Corporation to be consumed by people making sports to replace all minerals the body loses when sweating but now it is available in supermarkets, convenience stores and vending machines.
#16 Calpis Water is a non carbonated soft drink based on lactic acid. It has a milky, slightly acidic flavor. Nowadays there are variations of Calpis Water or Calpis Soda with additional fruit flavors such strawberry, grape, guava and more as well as matcha tea. It also is popular to mix Calpis Water with Shochu. Calpis Water or Soda are available at any supermarkets and convenience stores.
#17 Beer is the most popular alcohol in Japan accounting for one third of alcohol consumption. Four large companies dominate the beer market with a broad range of brands such as Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban Shibori, Suntory Malts or Sapporo Black Label. Recently the number microbreweries is increasing offering regional alternatives to the large beer brands.
#18 Happoshu is a low malt beer which is popular due its low price. The lower malt contents reduces the alcohol tax since it is not classified as a beer anymore. Happoshu is mainly sold in super markets and convenience store and is hardly found in restaurants. This might be related to the perception that the flavor is not as good as a “real” beer.
#19 Yakult is pro-biotic drink made of fermented milk. It is said to be very healthy and is found in every supermarket and convenience store. Nowadays Yakult is also sold in an increasing number of countries. Yakult is also available with different favors such as grape or orange. In Japan there are still Yakult ladies who deliver it to their local communities by bike.
#20 C.C. Lemon is a mildly carbonated softdrink with lemon flavor made by Suntory. It became famous through an advertisement campaign featuring The Simpsons. Suntory claims that each bottle includes the vitamin C amount of 70 lemons. The flavor – for source – is lemon but the drink is not very acid.
#21 Amazake is a traditional low alcoholic drink made of fermented rice. Most often Amazake is consumed warm making it a popular drink of street vendors at tourist spots in winter. It has a sweet flavor and has a dull and chunky consistence. It is said to be healthily and recently Amazake also is available as a canned drink.
#22 Sour basically is the name of Chuhai at Izakaya restaurants consisting of Shochu, soda and fruit juice or syrup. The better restaurants serve a glass of Shochu and soda together with fresh fruit and a squeezer. You then squeeze your fruit and add as much juice to the drink as you like. In some places you can even re-order just fruit or Shochu soda.
#23 Aojiru is made of kale and its name literally means “green soup”. It is consumed for its health benefits but the flavor often is very bitter and very unpleasant for most people at a point where drinking a glass of Aojiru sometimes is used as a punishment on Japanese TV shows. There are a few on the market mainly available in supermarkets.
#24 Can Coffee nowadays is very popular in Japan and found in many vending machines and of course every convenience store. Many brands fight for the hearts of consumers and there is a wide variety of coffees from sweet to very bitter. In summer can coffee is mainly drunk cold whereas the shops sell more warm cans in winter.
#25 Energy Drinks are a very popular drink for Japanese salarymen. The are sold in small brown bottles and are supposed to give their consumer a boost of energy through a high dose of caffeine and other stimulants. There are many different brands mainly selling through convenience stores and supermarkets.
#26 SakuraTea is made of salted edible cheery blossoms. Hot water is poured over one or two cherry blossoms. The water frees up the flowery taste and scent of the flowers and it makes a slightly salty tea. Sakura tea is traditionally used for celebrations such as weddings.
#27 Yuzushu is a liqueur made of a base alcohol such as Shochu or Sake and the juice and or peel of Japanese Yuzu lime. It is popular in winter after the Yuzu season and is available at many Izakaya restaurants. There are few brands of Yuzushu which differ in the level sweetness, fruitiness and bitterness from the peel.
#28 Momoshu is a peach liqueur. It has around 9% alcohol and is made by adding peach juice and rock sugar to a base alcohol such as Shochu, Sake or neutral white liqueur. It mainly is available at Japanese style Izakaya restaurants and popular with young women.
#29 Matcha Latte is a modern non-alcoholic mix drink of milk and matcha green tea powder tea. The bitter flavor of the green tea is smoothened by the milk and it can be enjoyed warm or cold. Many coffee shops also offer Matcha Latte and packaged products are available in many supermarkets and convenience stores.
#30 Hojicha is a green tea that has been roasted to give it a toasty, roasted flavor.It is very popular in Japan and often served at the end of a dinner in restaurants since it is said to disturb sleep less than traditional green tea. Hojicha also sells as a bottled non-sugar tea in many places.
#31 Kombucha is made from soaking konbu (seaweed kelp) in hot water. Often konbucha is brewed and reconstituted into a powder which can be mixed with hot water. Sometimes it is flavored with shiso leaves. It has a rather salty taste and is considered to be healthy.
#32 Hojicha is
#33 Pepsi’s Summer edition, every summer Pepsi comes out with an unusual flavor for its summer edition. Of course grape or aloe vera are classics but it can also be cucumber, shiso or the Summer 2012 edition “Salty Watermelon”. These summer edition are usually not a huge commercial success but it has become like a tradition in Japan.