Beer was first mentioned in Japan in an historical record written in 1724 as a drink which came from the Netherlands. However, beer was not introduced to the Japanese public until the Meiji period. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), beer was first introduced to the Japanese public under the influence of the Western culture. It is said that the Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama, established by William Copeland from the United States, was the first brewery in Japan. In 1876, Sapporo Brewing, the first Japanese-owned brewery, was established. In 1906, Sapporo brewing changed its name to Dai Nippon Breweries, which became the largest and most predominant brewing company until the end of World War II. Concurrently, in 1907, Kirin Brewery came into being by succeeding the Spring Valley Brewery. Since then Kirin Brewery has continued to be one of the most influential brewing companies in the history of Japanese beer.
In the Meiji Period, beer was accepted by the Japanese as a novel alcoholic beverage from the Western world, but gradually the Japanese public accepted beer as one of their favourite drinks. Breweries in Japan started to introduce beer tailored to the taste of the Japanese people.
During World War II, the amount of beer production diminished dramatically. Even after World War II, the amount of beer production continued to be small under the restrictions imposed by the occupation forces. In 1949, the occupation forces divided Dai Nippon Breweries into two companies in order to break down the monopoly in the beer industry. This division created two brewing companies, that is, Sapporo Breweries, which assumed the former name of Dai Nippon Breweries, and Asahi Brewery. After World War II, Kirin Brewery, which enjoyed the division of the big rival company, had increased its market share significantly. Kirin currently possesses about 50% of the market share.
In 1963, Suntory, now one of the biggest distillers in Japan, entered the beer market. After the entry of Suntory, the beer market in Japan stabilized under the “semi-monopoly” by the four companies. Other companies have attempted to enter the beer market; however, all of them have failed due to difficulties in creating a new national marketing network as well as the large initial investment needed to purchase brewing equipment.
Recently, Asahi Brewery has showed a remarkable gain in market share, largely due to the huge hit of its “Super Dry” product. In fact, Asahi has taken over second place from Sapporo. Suntory, a newcomer, has failed to increase its market share regardless of its continuous efforts.
The amount of beer consumption has increased dramatically after the World War II. Beer has become a daily alcoholic beverage and has become a part of Japanese culture. In particular, beer is heavily consumed in summer. Today, many Japanese enjoy drinking beer in pubs, restaurants, or in beer gardens, located in department stores or hotels and which have open roofs in the summer. Under loose alcohol legislations in Japan, beer has been accepted as an easy-to-drink alcoholic beverage. Beer can be easily purchased from vending machines in Japan. Beer has become a popular drink in Japan. In 1992, about 7,080,000 kiloliters of beer was consumed. In the same year, Japan was ranked as the fourth most beer-consuming country in the entire world.
If you’re drinking beer with your meal, remember that it’s a communal activity. Beer is ordered in large bottles and drunk from small glasses. Never pour your own beer; everyone is responsible for pouring each others’. Sake will be served in a small ceramic vase and drunk in little ceramic cups. The same rules apply for it. See Drinks for more info.
The biggest mistake that North Americans make is in the pronunciation of this Japanese wine. Most of us say “sa-kee;” however, the correct pronunciation is “sah-kay!” In Japanese, like Spanish, the letter “e” is pronounced as a long “a.” Please practice this whether you’re planning a trip to Japan or going to a Japanese friend’s house for dinner.
Sake is a wine made from rice and can be sweet or dry depending on the variety and brand. The way it is served depends largely on the season. In warm-weather months, sake is served cold, while in cold-weather months, it is served hot. Sake is not a “shooter,” even though it’s served in small glasses. It’s meant to be sipped and enjoyed like wine. Once your small glass is empty, it’s Japanese tradition to keep it filled, so if you don’t intend on over-indulging, sip slowly!
The Japanese word for beer is the same as in English, but with Japanese pronunciation. Japanese beer is much stronger than American beer, and in our opinion, much better. Japanese brands are fairly common in North America – such as Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi. Beer comes in large, 1-liter bottles and is meant to be shared with a friend. It’s not cool to order a big bottle in a restaurant and keep it all to yourself. Also, never pour your own beer. First, pour some for your friends, and hand the bottle over to them to fill your glass._____________________
The most popular alcoholic beverages in Japan are:
Beer: Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo are the most popular brands.
Japanese plum wine: A very sweet kind of sake.
Shochu: Very strong spirit.
Wine: A few Japanese wines do exist.
Mirin is a sweet liquor that is used for coooking only, except on on new years day when it is drunken with an added special flavour (Otoso).
Alcoholic beverages can be bought in supermarkets or n vending machines. Sake is sometimes sold in tetra packs.
The Japanese pour sake into each other’s cups, but one does not pour it into his or her own glass. You should always check if your friends’ cups are getting empty, and then give them more. If someone wants to give you more to drink, you should take your glass and hold it towards that person.
Many Japanese like to drink often and especially together with their friends and co-workers. On Friday or Saturday nights it is not uncommon that Japanese men consume far too much alcohol, and that in those nights, for example, the the trains at their terminal station are still full of sleeping drunken men who lost control over themselves.
Sake, Japan’s famous rice wine, is as steeped in history as Sumo or the Samurai. Dating back to the 3rd century, the first sake was called kuchikami no sake, or “chewing-in-the-mouth sake.” Happily sake today isn’t made this way but back then, rice, chestnuts and millet would be chewed by the whole village and then spat out into a tub to ferment. It was an important part of Shinto religious festivals who’ve protected the fields are offered sake after the harvest, and wedding celebrations and New Year’s festivals aren’t complete without sake on hand to bestow a benediction. Today’s sake has changed much from early times. It was centuries before they discovered yeast, which greatly increased its alcohol content. The second World War also altered the recipe. Rice shortages forced brewers to develop new ways to increase their yields. By government decree, pure alcohol and glucose were added to small quantities of rice mash, increasing the yield by as much as four times. 95% of today’s sake is made using this technique, left over from the war years, though connoisseurs say that the best sake is still made with just rice, koji rice and water only.