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Alcoholic beverages in Japan

About alcoholic beverages in Japan

Bottles of sake When you travel in Japan, you can drink beer, wine and whisky.
Additionally you can enjoy the traditional Japanese alcoholic beverages.

Major traditional Japanese liquor is "sake" and "shochu".
Sake is the alcoholic beverage made by fermentation, and shochu is distilled alcoholic beverage.
You can drink sake at most restaurants or all Japanese style pubs, and you can enjoy shochu at many pubs.

In passing, if you are under 20 years old, you must not drink alcoholic beverage in Japan.
Of course, if you have drunk, you never drive a car.

Sake (Nihonshu)

I guess that you understand that "sake" is the most common traditional liquor.
That's right. But in Japanese "sake" commonly means all types of alcoholic beverage.
So we call it "nihonshu" (means Japanese liquor) when we differentiate from other liquors.

Kan-zake Sake is produced by the multiple parallel fermentation of polished rice.
The alcohol content of sake is higher at 15 to 16 % than beer (4 to 6 %) or wine (12 to 15 %).
The sake which we usually drink is clear and colorless and has sweet scent and taste.

For making sake, rice and nice water are needed. Fortunately both are gotten in various regions in Japan.
So there are 2,000 brewers all over Japan.

Japan Sake brewers Association
Sake World : Great website by Mr.John Gauntner who is a profound sake fun.

How to enjoy sake

Reishu We can enjoy sake cold, hot and room-temperature.

When we order hot sake, usually it is served in ceramic flasks called "tokkuri". Tokkuri filled with sake are put in hot water to heat up before serving.
Please pour into small shallow cups (called "choko") and drink.
The temperature of hot sake ranges from 35 to 60 degrees Celsius.
The heated sake is called "Kan-zake".

When we order cold or room-temperature sake, generally it is served in chilled glass tokkuri. Probably choko are also glassware.
The non-heated sake is called "Hiya-zake", and chilled sake is called "Reishu".

Chilled sake is often drunk in summer, but we can enjoy hot sake and cold sake through all season.

Shochu & Awamori

Shochu and hot water with umeboshi "Shochu" is the liquor made by fermenting grain or sweet potato.
It is mainly produced in the south area of Kyushu Island and Ryukyu Islands, because the climate is warm and unfits for making sake.

Main ingredients are rice, wheat, buckwheat or sweet potato.
Shochu is clear and colorless and has a distinctive smell according to the ingredient.
The alcohol content of general shochu is about 20 to 25 %, and it is lower than whisky or brandy.

Specially the shochu made in Okinawa region is called "Awamori", and it is a well-known brand in Japan.

Okinawa Awamori Distillers Association

How to enjoy shochu and awamori

You can drink shochu / awamori straight or on the rocks.
But many people drink it with hot water or cold water.

When you order shochu at pub, a waiter asks you how to drink.
Tell him that you want to drink straight, on the rocks, with cold water or hot water.

Umeshu In many cases, the waiter brings a bottle of shochu/awamori, glasses, crushed ice and cold water, or a pot filled with hot water.
Please make yourself a glass of favorite shochu on your table.


 "Umeshu" is most popular Japanese liqueur, and is made from steeping ume fruits (Japanese apricot) in shochu and sugar.
It has a sweet,refreshing and sour taste and amber color like whisky.
You can get it at any liquor store. Many people also make their own umeshu at home.
In pubs or restaurants, umeshu on the rocks and "Umeshu Sour" (umeshu with soda water) are popular favorites.

Chuhai / Sour

Lemon Sour "Chuhai" is the shochu with soda water and a flavor is mixed into it.
You can select from some flavors, and they are lemon juice, grapefruit juice, umeshu, oolong tea and so on.
It is refreshing drink, and you can drink at Japanese style pubs.
This drink is also called "Sour". (Of course, the name come from English)

Other popular liquors


Beer is most popular drink in Japan and the consumption is overwhelmingly more than sake.
When we join a drinking party, we always start with toasting with a glass of beer.
In Japan there are only 5 beer makers: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory and Orion. Orion Beer is sold in only Okinawa region.

Brewers Association of Japan


Wine is a nifty liquor for Japanese people.
So we don't have so much opportunity to drink wine as beer or sake. But there are not a little wine lovers in Japan.

Generally we can drink wine at western style restaurants or pubs.
In Japan, nice wine is produced in mainly Yamanashi Prefecture and Hokkaido region.


Whisky is also beloved of many Japanese for a long time.
Generally it is drunk on the rocks or with water.
It is served at not only bars but also Japanese style pubs.

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