Beer in Japan

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Beer in Japan comes mostly from the four major beer producers in Japan: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory, producing mainly pale-colored light lagers with an alcohol strength of around 5.0% ABV. Pilsner style lagers are the most commonly produced beer style in Japan, but beer-like beverages, made with lower levels of malts called happoshu (literally, "bubbly alcohol") or non-malt happōsei (発泡性, literally "a type of bubbly alcohol") have captured a large part of the market, as tax is substantially lower on these products.

Microbreweries have also gained increasing popularity since deregulation in 1994, supplying distinct tasting beers in a variety of styles that seek to match the emphasis on craftsmanship, quality, and ingredient provenance often associated with Japanese food.

Craft beer bars and pubs have also increased in popularity in Japan's major cities, with cities such as Tokyo and Osaka have very vibrant craft beer bar scenes, generally with a focus on locally produced and imported craft beers from the US and Europe.[1] In late 2014, Kirin announced its entry into the craft beer segment with the launch of a wholly owned subsidiary, Spring Valley Brewing, with two brewpubs in Daikanyama, Tokyo, and Namamugi, Yokohama. These both officially opened in 2015. Industrial brewery Sapporo also announced its release of a craft line in early 2015.


Beer in Japan had its start in the 17th century during the Edo Period when Dutch traders stationed at Dejima in Nagasaki opened a beer hall for sailors working the trade route between Japan and the Dutch Empire.[citation needed]

As Japan reopened to foreign trade during the Meiji period, imported beers such as Bass Pale Ale and Bass Stout were available in limited quantities in the foreign settlements, but trained brewers from Europe and elsewhere also arrived to contribute to the growth of the local industry.

The brewery that would become Kirin Brewery Company began in Yokohama in late 1869 as the Spring Valley Brewery, a private business established by Norwegian-American, William Copeland.[2] The Sapporo Brewery was founded in 1876 as a part of a government-directed development plan for Hokkaido. Asahi Breweries traces its founding heritage to the start of the Osaka Beer Brewing Company in 1889, and the launch of the Asahi Beer brand in 1892.[3]

Market size[edit]

Japanese convenience store selection of beer

Beer or beer-like happoshu beverages are the most popular alcoholic drink in Japan, accounting for nearly two thirds of the 9 billion liters of alcohol consumed in 2006.[4]

Japan's domestic consumption of the total 187.37 million kiloliter global beer market in 2012 was about 5.55 million kiloliters or about 3.0%.[5] This statistic for total beer consumption in Japan also includes beer-like low-malt beer and no-malt beer products.

In terms of national per capita beer consumption Japan ranked 51st in 2014, equivalent to 42.6 liters per person, reflecting the diversified alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage market enjoyed by Japanese consumers.[6] Demographic factors are expected to continue to push down sales of mass-market beer products in Japan for the foreseeable future as younger consumers are drinking less beer than previous generations.[7] For the calendar year 2013, overall shipments for Japan's five largest brewers were 433.57 million cases, (a case is equivalent to 12.66 liters of beer or 27 US pints) more than 20% off the market peak achieved in 1992.[8]

However, for locally produced craft beers accounting for less than 1% of domestic beer consumption [9] and selected premium imported beers, market opportunities continue to expand. According to local market data, in the first eight months of 2012, shipments of domestic craft beer rose 7.7 percent while sales by Japan's largest brewers continued a year on year decline.[9]

As of January 2014, Asahi, with a 38% market share, was the largest of the four major beer producers in Japan followed by Kirin with 35% and Suntory with 15%.[8]

Beer classification[edit]

Due to the Japanese taxation system, the varieties of brewed malt beverages in Japan are categorized into two groupings: beer and happoshu. The distinction is made based on the amount of malt used relative to grain adjuncts, with the term happoshu ascribed to low-malt brews. Japanese regulations forbid the use of the word "beer" (ビール, bīru) to describe brews containing less than 67% malt (thus allowing up to 33% adjuncts including rice, corn, sorghum, potato, starch, and sugar).[10][11]

Since 2004, Japanese breweries have produced even lower-taxed, non-malt brews made from soybeans and other ingredients which do not fit the classifications for beer or happoshu. Dubbed "third-category beers" (第三のビール, dai-san no bīru),[4] they are officially classified as "other miscellaneous alcohol" or "liqueur".

Major Japanese beer producers and their products[edit]

Asahi Breweries

Kirin Brewery Company

Sapporo Brewery


  • Suntory Malts
  • Suntory - The Premium Malts
  • Super Magnum Dry (happoshu)

Orion (Distribution agreement with Asahi Breweries since 2002).

Dry Wars[edit]

The Dry Senso or ドライ戦争 (どらいせんそう, dorai sensō) meaning Dry Wars, was a period of intense competition between Japanese brewery companies over dry beer. It began in 1987 with the launch of Asahi Super Dry by Asahi Breweries which led to the introduction of dry beer by other breweries.

The Kirin Brewery Company, which held 50% share of the Japanese domestic beer market, launched Kirin Dry in February 1988 in an advertising campaign featuring actor Gene Hackman, and in April of the same year launched the all-malt Kirin Malt Dry. However, they were unable to stop Asahi’s momentum. In 1990 Kirin launched Ichiban Shibori in direct competition with Asahi Super Dry, but ended up cannibalising profits on their own Kirin Lager Beer brand. Kirin never ended up regaining its 50% market share.

Sapporo Breweries launched the doomed Sapporo Dry in February 1988, and in May 1989 rebranded their flagship product Sapporo Black Label as Sapporo Draft to an unfavourable reception. Production of Sapporo Dry and Sapporo Draft was halted less than two years after their respective launches, and Sapporo Draft later returned to being Black Label.

Suntory launched their Malts brand in February 1988 in an "I don't do dry" campaign, while at the same time launching Suntory Dry, later rebranded Suntory Dry 5.5 in an advertising campaign featuring boxer Mike Tyson after increasing the alcohol content from 5% to 5.5%. This achieved reasonable results, although not enough to slow down demand of Asahi Super Dry.

The Dry Wars were criticised in an episode of the manga Oishinbo (the Gourmet), published at around the time of the saga.[citation needed]

Seasonal beers[edit]

Many breweries in Japan offer seasonal beers. In autumn, for instance, "autumn beers" are brewed with a higher alcohol content, typically 6% as opposed to the common 5% of Asahi Super Dry. For example, Kirin's Akiaji beer. The beer cans are typically decorated with pictures of autumn leaves, and the beers are advertised as being suitable for drinking with nabemono (one-pot cooking). Similarly, in winter, beers such as Fuyu Monogatari (translated as "The Winter's Tale" on the can) appear.[citation needed]


In 1994, Japan's strict tax laws were relaxed allowing smaller breweries producing 60,000 litres (15,850 gal) per year for a beer license or 6000 kilolitres per year for a happoshu license. Before this change, breweries could not get a license without producing at least 2 million litres (528,000 gal) per year. As a result, a number of smaller breweries have been established throughout Japan.

After of relaxation of tax laws in the early 1990s, the commonly used term for microbrew in Japan was ji bīru (地ビール), or "local beer", although Japanese microbrew industry professionals are increasingly using the name "craft beer" (クラフトビア, kurafuto bia) in their labels and marketing literature.

There are currently over 200 microbreweries in Japan, although many in this number are financially tied to larger sake producers, restaurant chains, resort hotels or similar.[12] Microbreweries in Japan produce various styles of beer including ales, IPAs, stout, pilsner, weissbier, kölsch, fruit beers and others. After the relaxation of the Liquor Tax Law in 1994, there was an initial boom in microbrewing, but the quality of regional microbrews were often mixed and initial consumer enthusiasm leveled off. The popularity of low-cost happoshu (low-malt beer), compared to the high cost microbrews, forced a number of early microbreweries out of business. The dominance of the major industrial brewers and the relative high cost and low volume involved in producing micros led to their only being known to a small number of beer enthusiasts.

In the 2000s however, thanks to factors such as licensed production for some bar and restaurant chains, cooperation between micro breweries, and a more educated consumer base, craft beer has seen a more sustained rise in domestic demand. Improved product quality, word of mouth marketing facilitated by social media websites, the attention given to the rise of US-based craft brewing industry and the growth of independent craft beer retail outlets in major cities,[13] have all contributed to the recent success enjoyed by Japanese craft brewers.

Today there are a growing number of regional microbrew festivals held throughout Japan, including the Great Japan Beer Festival series held annually in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama. Every year, the Japan Craft Beer Association holds the Japan Beer Cup, while a competing organization, Japan Craft Beer Support, has launched the annual Nippon Craft Beer Festival.

Partial list of Japanese microbreweries[edit]

  • Taisetsu Ji Bīru (大雪地ビール), (Asahikawa, Hokkaido) Winner of many awards including the Japan Beer Grand Prix
  • Furano Ji Bakushu (富良野地麦酒), (Furano, Hokkaido)
  • Okhotsk Bīru (オホーツクビール), (Kitami, Hokkaido)
  • Tokachi Bīru (十勝ビール), (Obihiro, Hokkaido)
  • Otaru Bīru (小樽ビール), (Otaru, Hokkaido)
  • Kamui Bīru (カムイビール), (Iwamizawa, Hokkaido)
  • Onuma Bīru (大沼ビール), (Nanae, Hokkaido)
  • Hakodate Bīru (はこだてビール), (Hakodate, Hokkaido)
  • Tazawako Bīru (田沢湖ビール), (Senboku, Akita) The first microbrew in Akita Prefecture
  • Ginga Kogen Bīru (銀河高原ビール), (Nishiwaga, Iwate)
  • Miyamori Bīru (みやもりビール), (Miyamori village, Iwate)
  • Echigo Beer (エチゴビール), (Niigata)
  • Nasu Kogen Bīru (那須高原ビール), (Nasu, Tochigi)
  • Kiuchi Brewery (木内酒造), (Naka), producer of Hitachino Nest Beer
  • Sankt Gallen Brewing (サンクトガーレン), (Atsugi, Kanagawa)
  • Gotemba Kogen Bīru (御殿場高原ビール), (Gotenba, Shizuoka)
  • Baird Brewing Company (合資会社ベアードブルーイング), (Numazu, Shizuoka)
  • Outsider Brewery (アウトサイダー ブルワリー), (Kofu, Yamanashi)
  • Yo-Ho Brewing (ヤッホー・ブルーイング), (Karuizawa, Nagano)
  • Nagahama Roman Bīru (長浜浪漫ビール), (Nagahama, Shiga)
  • Minoh Brewery (箕面ブリュワリー), (Minoh, Osaka)
  • Awaji Bīru (あわぢビール), (Awaji-shima, Hyogo)
  • Rokko Biru (六甲ビール), (Kobe, Hyogo)
  • Doppo (独歩), (Okayama)
  • Matsue Ji Bīru (松江地ビール), (Matsue, Shimane)
  • Daisen G Bīru (大山Gビール), (Hōki, Tottori)
  • Hideji Bīru ひでじビール, (Nobeoka, Miyazaki)
  • Zumona Bīru (ズモナビール), (Tono, Iwate)
  • Ishigakijima Bīru (石垣島ビール), previously Dachsbräu (Ishigaki Island), since 1997
  • Nihehdeh Bīru (にふぇーでーびーる), (Okinawa), since 2001
  • Miyakojima Ji Bīru (宮古島地ビール), (Miyako Island), since 2010
  • Helios Bīru (ヘリオスビール), (Okinawa), since 1996

Methods of distribution[edit]

A Sapporo beer vending machine in Hokkaido

Other than in serviced restaurants and bars, in Japan beer can be purchased at a wide variety of outlets, including supermarkets, convenience stores, and kiosks at train stations. Beer can also be sold in vending machines although, as of 2012, this has become much less common in major cities. Some vending machines have motion activated advertising that displays on small TV screens embedded into them. They play beer commercials and jingles that are seen on TV and heard on the radio. These vending machines began to be phased out in June 2000, mainly over the concerns of underage drinking.[citation needed]

Drinking culture[edit]

The legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years old. In terms of drinking culture, beer drinking and opening formal toasts with beer, as a part of a group, sports team or after work corporate social bonding activity, is widespread.

Beer can legally be consumed almost anywhere in public, however with notable exceptions for organized events, summer festivals and spring cherry blossom parties, social convention means that open consumption of alcohol on the street or ordinary commuter trains is rare.[14] Japan has very strict laws against operating a motor vehicle or riding a bicycle after or during the consumption of alcohol. Fines, prison time and other penalties can also apply to individuals deemed responsible for supplying alcohol to an intoxicated driver and those travelling in the same vehicle.[15]

Japanese beers available outside Japan[edit]

Japanese-style commercial brewing and beer products have been successfully exported worldwide or are produced locally under license and are distributed in a number of overseas markets.

In the US, three of the four major Japanese brands are available. These include Sapporo Draft, Kirin Ichiban (Number One, as opposed to the normal Lager which is not available), and Asahi Super Dry. Asahi is produced by Molson in Canada,[16] Kirin is produced at Anheuser-Busch facilities in Williamsburg, Virginia and Los Angeles, and Sapporo is produced at a Sapporo-owned brewery in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Suntory beer is not available. Orion Beer is also available, imported from Okinawa Prefecture. Availability of brands depends on an individual state's liquor laws, resulting in some beers being available in some places and others not. For example, in Oklahoma, Asahi Super Dry, Sapporo, and Orion are available, whereas in Texas, Kirin Ichiban is prevalent.

Kiuchi brewery was the first Japanese microbrewery to export beer from Japan.[citation needed] Many other Japanese microbreweries now export to North America, Europe, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.


Although it is technically illegal in Japan to produce beverages containing more than 1% alcohol without a license, the law is rarely adhered to for homebrewers, and homebrewing supplies are available from high street stores and websites.

In popular culture[edit]

Beer features heavily in any Japanese manga or anime series where adults drink alcohol. Often, though, to avoid copyright issues, the artists either leave the labels off the bottles or alter the name slightly (such as "Krin" instead of "Kirin", or "Soporo" instead of "Sapporo").

Moyashimon is a manga which illustrates the production methods of a wide variety of Japanese sakes, including nihonshu and awamori. The entire volume 8 of the manga is dedicated to Japanese local beers. The last few pages of the volume list various microbrew beers, including Preston Ale, Coedo, and Nagisa Beer. Preston Ale is produced by Joyful Honda Co., which is a corporate umbrella that owns brands in a wide variety of industries like furniture and pet supplies. One such brand is Preston Cafe, which has its own line of house beers, branded as "Preston Ale", and brewed in Utsunomiya. Preston Cafe has a "Moyashimon" line of beers, with the manga characters on the label. In December, 2010, there was a "Moyashimon Presents Preston Ale End of Year Party" event at the UDX Building in Akihabara, Tokyo, which included artist signings and servings of Preston Ale. Copies of the manga and manga-related toys were also on sale.

Yebisu Beer is featured in the manga and anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. It is enjoyed exclusively by the character Misato Katsuragi.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Discovering Tokyo's Craft Beer Bars - The City Lane
  2. ^ Alexander, Jeffrey W. (2013). Brewed in Japan: the evolution of the Japanese beer industry. Vancouver, BC, Canada: UBC Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-7748-2504-7. 
  3. ^ Oliver, Garrett (2012). The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-19-536713-3. 
  4. ^ a b William Campbell, What the Japanese are drinking, The Japan Times, April 13, 2007.[dead link]
  5. ^ "Global Beer Consumption by Country". Kirin Beer University Report. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  6. ^ "Global Beer Consumption by Country 2014". Kirin Beer University Report. Kirin Holdings. 
  7. ^ "Beer in Japan". Euromonitor Reports. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Kachi, Hiroyuki (January 16, 2014). "Japan's Beer Drinkers Still Not Raising a Glass to Abenomics". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Yamaguchi, Yuki (7 June 2013). "Imported $60 Stout Opens Doors for Japan Craft Beer Revival". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  10. ^ [1] Archived April 7, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Kamiya, Setsuko, "Suds on tap for summer thirsts", The Japan Times, 7 August 2007, p. 2.
  12. ^ Meli, Mark (September 2013). Craft Beer in Japan, The Essential Guide (1st ed.). Yokohama: Bright Wave Media Inc. 
  13. ^ Swinnerton, Robbie. "Craft Beer Market, Tokyo's artisan ale haven". CNN Travel. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  14. ^ "Should time be called on public drinking?". BBC News Online. 2 June 2008. 
  15. ^ "To Foreign Nationals who Drive Vehicles in Japan" (PDF). National Police Agency. National Police Agency. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  16. ^ "Molson to brew Asahi Super Dry". 

External links[edit]