Japan’s strong traditions and the nation’s keen sense for discovery have inspired many incredible feats of human achievement. The Land of the Rising Sun has serene temples, tranquil onsens and stunning mountains. A leading nation in automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, Japan also tops the charts when it comes to food, drinks and pop culture.
Japanese drinks are inspired by a focus on well-being and getting in touch with nature. From high-quality tea and sake rice wine to internationally acclaimed whisky and Japanese cocktails, Japan loves to experiment with new tastes and flavours while remaining rooted in tradition. This combination of old and new creates a vibrant food and drinks scene that is compelling. So, say kanpai to cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji and get into the spirit of Japan when you visit.
- 20 Japanese Drinks
- Japanese Liqueurs
- Japanese Beer
- Japanese Beverages And Non-Alcoholic Drinks
- Japanese Cocktails
- Japanese Wine
20 Japanese Drinks
Shochu is an increasingly popular Japanese distilled liqueur made from grains and vegetables such as sweet potato, rice, barley, sugar cane and buckwheat.
Shochu is similar to Korean soju and while both are made using fermented ingredients, soju has flavouring and sweeteners, but the rules for Shochu are much stricter.
Shochu has a unique flavour that stands out from other liqueurs and spirits on the market and is usually drunk with a meal in Japan.
Most Shochus contain alcohol by volume content of around 20% to 25%.
Although perfectly enjoyable over ice, Shochu is often cut with hot water warmed in a traditional Japanese teapot to lower its alcohol content.
By adding the Shochu to hot water in a glass, the heavier gravity of the alcohol will naturally stir the mixture.
This allows the drink to be consumed with a meal without overwhelming the senses.
Widely touted as Japan’s signature drink alongside Sake, Shochu is the perfect drink to kick off your journey through this mesmerising country.
Japan’s oldest distilled spirit, Awamori, is the precursor to Shochu and an indigenous Okinawa staple.
The Japanese liqueur originated 500 years ago during the late 14th century when distillation techniques arrived in Okinawa from Thailand (then Siam).
Given as tributary gifts to the Chinese and Japanese by the Ryukyu Kingdom as early as 1429, Awamori is aged for at least three years before being consumed.
Ingrained in the Okinawan culture, Awamori is still produced across households on the island and remains a popular Okinawan tradition passed down from generation to generation.
3- Japanese Whisky
Japanese Whisky is a double-distilled liqueur made using traditional Scottish whiskey-making techniques, usually from malted or pelted barley.
Whiskey production in Japan began in 1870 and the first commercial distillery, Yamakazi distillery in Osaka, opened in 1924.
Smokier, dryer, and less sweet than typical American Bourbon, Japanese Whisky is produced with imported barley from the British Isles to mimic the taste of traditional Scottish and Irish whiskies.
Japanese Whisky ranks up there with some of the best in the world and is becoming increasingly popular outside of Japan.
With its increase in popularity worldwide, Japanese Whisky is often in limited supply, so it’s best to sample some in the country to avoid missing out on Japan’s twist on a classic liquor.
Yuzushu is a Japanese liqueur made from the yuzu, a citrusy, mandarin-like fruit from mainland China.
The yuzu fruit is used in various dishes, products and drinks but is rarely consumed on its own.
The abundance and popularity of the yuzu in popular Japanese dishes led to the creation of Yuzushu.
The yuzu gives Yuzushu its fruity and tangy flavour.
It’s enjoyable as an aperitif, as part of a cocktail, or to spice up a dessert.
While most people think of sakura as Japan’s colourful cherry blossoms, sakura is also a popular Japanese alcoholic drink.
Sakura liqueur is made by mixing rice sake with the Sakura flower’s sweetness to create a delectably authentic Japanese drink.
It’s a seasonal drink produced by various distilleries across Japan, so getting your hands on a bottle can be challenging.
The best time to visit Japan to taste Sakura liqueur is in spring when the Sakura trees are in full bloom and ripe for picking.
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Asahi, which means ‘morning sun’ is one of Japan’s most popular beer brands.
It originated in 1889 in Osaka, making Asahi beer well over a hundred years old.
Asahi is a Japanese ‘Karakuchi’ style beer with a dry crisp taste that’s perfect for enjoying during hot summer days.
It’s a rice and barley-based lager, which gives the beer its distinct light colour and flavour.
Asahi contains about 5% alcohol by volume and is the perfect beer to sample during your stay in Japan for its refreshing taste.
Happoshu might seem like a regular beer, but once you take a sip of this Japanese alcoholic drink, you’ll quickly realise it’s different from traditional pilsners or lagers.
Made with less than 67% malt, a crucial ingredient of any traditional beer, Happoshu is a refreshing drink that combines ingredients such as soybeans, starch and corn with malt to give it a unique flavour.
While beer puritans might frown upon a glass of Happoshu being called beer, the drink is a health-conscious alternative to light beer and cheaper than other Japanese beer due to the country’s strict alcohol tariffs.
Japanese Beverages And Non-Alcoholic Drinks
8- Green tea
Japanese green tea is consumed throughout Japan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and other times as well.
Green tea is so prevalent in the country that there is a ‘Green Tea Day’ Ryokucha No Hi, even though green tea did not originate in Japan.
Brought to the country by Japanese Buddhist monks from mainland China in 805, green tea was a favourite brew of the clergy, however, the beverage quickly caught on with aristocrats before becoming a staple beverage across Japan.
Shōgayu is a hot beverage often served during winter months to combat symptoms of colds and flu.
The honey ginger tea is popular throughout Asia for its health benefits and has been used for generations as a home remedy of sorts.
Every Japanese household produces a version of Shōgayu, with some adding a hint of citrus while others may add a dash of honey or other types of tea leaves for flavour.
This makes sampling traditional Shōgayu a unique experience, as no two recipes taste the same.
Matcha is a potent Japanese drink made by grounding the Camellia Sinensis plant’s leaves (the same plant used to make green tea) into fine green dust.
This Japanese drink contains even more caffeine, antioxidants and health benefits than Japanese green tea.
Matcha has become popular in recent years due to claims of aiding weight loss and reducing the risk of heart disease.
You can find it in lattes, teas and desserts.
Uroncha tea, or Oolong tea, is a hot beverage with a flavour profile that places it somewhere between green tea and black tea.
Uroncha tea’s natural oxidation properties give the blend a unique floral taste, with Uroncha tea believed to be a digestive and blood sugar level regulator.
This blend of tastiness and health benefits makes Uroncha tea a favourite Japanese beverage for many.
While Uroncha tea is often served at Izakaya bars as a digestif after consuming alcoholic drinks, you’ll find Uroncha everywhere in Japan.
Look for packaged dried tea leaves and ready-to-drink Uroncha in Japanese grocery stores and vending machines.
Aojiru, which translates to ‘green juice’ in English, is a vegetable-based drink usually enjoyed as a healthy alternative to alcohol and sugary sodas.
Mostly consisting of kale or barley grass and various other vegetables, Aojiru is said to combat ageing and help weight loss and decrease the risk of cancer, which is why the drink has become so popular among the health-conscious in Japan.
In the past, Aojiru were notoriously unpleasant to drink and served to contestants on popular Japanese game shows as playful punishment.
These days, Aojiru has become a more palatable drink by adding fruit juice or milk to the mixture.
While Aojiru is an acquired taste, it’s a Japanese drink you should try after working up a thirst while wandering around the temples of Japan.
13- Pocari Sweat
Pocari Sweat is Japan’s most popular sports drink and the Japanese version of Gatorade.
Marketed as an ‘ion supply drink’ in Japan, Pocari Sweat is drunk by athletes and outdoor enthusiasts who require a boost of electrolytes while on the go.
First produced in 1980 by the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company, Pocari Sweat is today sold across Asia, the Middle East and even Australia.
Non-carbonated and slightly salty, Pocari Sweat comes in sachets that you can mix with water and ready-to-drink bottles.
A sweet-tasting drink made from fermented rice, Amazake is a Japanese staple that originated during the Kofun period between 300 and 538 AD.
Amazake is very high in nutrients and is often enjoyed throughout the country as a dessert, snack, smoothie or simply as a tasty beverage.
Amazake has a rich milky texture and is the alcohol-free version of sake.
The best place to enjoy authentic Amazake is, without a doubt, in a traditional Japanese mountaintop hut, where you can sip Amazake while gazing at misty mountains from high above.
15- Japanese Highball
Japanese Highball is a cocktail that mixes authentic Japanese Whisky with sparkling water to create a palatable everyday drink.
Inspired by the traditional Whiskey Highball from the 1900s, the Japanese Highball is a low alcoholic cocktail usually made from one part Japanese Whisky, four parts of sparkling water and one lemon to top the drink off.
Despite being easy enough to make at home, there’s something special about knocking back a couple of Japanese Highballs in a bar in Tokyo or Osaka.
16- Matcha Hai
Many Japanese cocktails use matcha as a mixer to add a uniquely Japanese taste, with the Matcha Hai being one of the most popular.
This bright green concoction is a highball cocktail, diluting the alcoholic content of shochu with matcha and sparkling water into an easy-to-drink cocktail that slides down at any time of the day.
Found in bars and restaurants across Japan, a green tea version of the Matcha Hai known as a Roku Hai is just as delicious as the Matcha Hai cocktail.
17- Umeshu Tonic
Umeshu Tonic is a cocktail of Japanese Umeshu plum wine and tonic water to create a classic Japanese drink fit for any occasion.
The Umeshu Tonic was created out of a need to dilute the Umeshu plum liqueur’s sweet taste into a lower alcoholic drink that most people can enjoy at any time of the day without getting too drunk.
Umeshu can be mixed with other mixers like gin and lemon soda, but its unique flavour is best savoured with tonic water.
Although its exact origins may remain unknown, sake is an iconic Japanese drink that has been part of the culture since the 3rd century.
A type of wine made from fermented rice traditionally served in one of three types of cups, an Ochoko cup, a Sakazuki cup, or a Masu cup, sake is the most well-known Japanese drink worldwide.
Sake was offered to the gods during rites and festivals throughout Japanese history.
There are currently over 1,500 varieties of sake produced in Japan, with each having a unique flavour and intensity.
Some have undertones of fruits, herbs, or flowers, while some may taste sweeter, making sampling Japanese Sake an intriguing experience for the tastebuds.
Even though Umeshu is more of a liqueur than traditional wine, this Japanese favourite is perfect for sipping at any temperature and can be used as a mixer in cocktails, such as Umeshu Tonic.
Umeshu is a plum-based ‘wine’ made from plums soaked in liquor and sugar, with 10 to 15% alcohol.
With a sweet-sour taste and various fruity undertones, Umeshu comes in all sorts of varieties and can be made using either fresh plums or plum flavouring.
Umeshu can be found all over Japan, however, some of the very best Japanese Umeshus are the homemade versions crafted by following family recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Momoshu, much like Umeshu, is a half-wine, half-liqueur Japanese drink made from white peaches instead of plums to create a divine sweet and fruity delicacy.
Made by soaking white peaches in sugar and liquor for anywhere between 6 to 12 months, Momoshu’s alcoholic content is significantly lower than your typical liqueurs or wines.
Excellent to use in a cocktail or to be savoured by itself, Momoshu is the ideal drink to cap off your journey through Japan.
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