Japanese food has become one of the most popular eating choices in the world in recent years. Hardly surprising since Japanese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest around. But what do Japanese people drink?
You’re probably familiar with the most common drinks in Japan, like sake or matcha. And you’ve probably heard of Japan’s famous vending machines. But what do Japanese people actually prefer to drink? We have taken a closer look at the typical Japanese drinks and selected 32 of the most popular Japanese beverages.
Whether traditional Japan drinks with alcohol, Japanese soft drinks, Japanese tea, or other non-alcoholic refreshments – in the following, you will find typical and traditional drinks from Japan.
Popular and Traditional Japanese drinks with Alcohol
Sake is probably the most famous drink in Japan. Because in many countries, sake is immediately associated with Japan. The rice wine contains around 15-20 % alcohol, making it stronger than most standard grape wines.
Although sake is actually rice wine, the production process is probably more similar to brewing beer. This is because sake is created by the alcoholic fermentation of starch from the rice.
Before our trip to Japan, I was not aware of how many different types of sake there actually are – similar to beer, there are several variations of sake.
While abroad people usually speak of sake, in Japan itself, the famous alcohol is often referred to as nihonshu (“Japanese alcoholic beverage“) or seishu (“clear alcoholic beverage“).
Let’s move on to another popular Japanese alcohol, shochu (“brandy“). Although shochu, like sake, can also be made from fermented rice – other commonly used basic ingredients include barley, sweet potato, or sugar cane – Japan’s two traditional alcoholic beverages are fundamentally different.
Shochu is produced by a distillation process. As a result, the drink is also fundamentally stronger than sake (around 35-40 %).
Due to its high alcohol content, the drink is also often referred to as “Japanese vodka” outside Japan. Although it is assumed that the drink once came to Japan via China or Korea, Shochu is now deeply anchored in Japanese drinking culture.
Shochu is particularly popular among the younger generation as a mixed drink, the so-called Chuhai – which brings us right to the next point.
Chuhai is a mixture of the just-introduced Shochu and another sweet drink, like soda or tea. The name Chuhai is actually an abbreviation for Shochu Highball.
Chuhai is especially popular with young Japanese and can be purchased pre-packaged in cans at any convenience store or beverage vending machine. In addition to popular soda varieties such as lemon, grapefruit, apple, or Japanese plum (ume), mixtures with tea, especially oolong tea, are also popular.
Due to the relatively mild taste of the alcohol, the flavor of the mixed drink particularly stands out in the chuhai.
Let’s move on to another typical drink of Japan that is popular throughout the country, umeshu. Although the drink is often colloquially referred to as Japanese plum wine or apricot liqueur, strictly speaking, it is neither of those.
Umeshu is made from the fruit ume, which looks like plum and is closely related to the apricot, but is still its own kind. In terms of alcohol content, it does resemble a wine or fruit liqueur.
The taste of Umeshu is rather sweet. Mostly, however, the drink also has a slightly sour aftertaste. The traditional drink is enjoyed as a mixed drink, neat, on ice, as an aperitif or digestive liquor, making it a real all-rounder.
Anyone who buys a bottle of umeshu will notice that there is usually a whole ume inside the bottle.
Let’s move on to another Japanese fruit liqueur, Momoshu. This drink is a rather sweet peach wine. Momoshu is made in a similar way to the umeshu we just introduced.
You’ll recognize it by an often slightly pink color – whether it’s the liqueur itself or the label on the bottle.
With its sweet taste, Momoshu is especially suitable for those who do not like to drink (strong) alcohol, as the sweetness of the liqueur masks the alcohol taste quite mild.
As in many parts of the world, the Japanese also like to drink beer. While sake once made up the majority of alcohol consumed in Japan, the Japanese cult drink is now increasingly being replaced by beer.
In addition to the typical international and also national varieties, there is also Happoshu, which, strictly speaking, is not a proper beer at all. The beer-like drink Happoshu, which can be translated as “sparkling alcoholic beverage,” is far lower in malt than conventional beers.
The popularity of this drink can be attributed to more than just its mild taste. Because of its low malt content, the beer also falls into a different Japanese tax bracket than conventional beers and is, therefore, less expensive.
While the name Happoshu once referred only to this particular beer-like beverage, today other carbonated alcoholic mixed drinks are also called Happoshu.
More popular alcoholic drinks in Japan
While you might not think of Japan immediately when you think of whisky, connoisseurs have appreciated Japanese whisky for some years now. While the rather high price might put some off, Japanese whisky is considered very classy and definitely worth a try.
This delicious liqueur is made from the local yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit. The exquisite liqueur has a strong sour taste and is therefore perfect for cocktails. However, it can be enjoyed just as well as a long drink or on the rocks.
Similar to shochu and sake, this Japanese alcohol is also made from rice. However, the rice is usually particular long-grain rice that is often imported from Thailand. Awamori actually comes from Okinawa but is now also found in the rest of Japan.
Awamori Fun Fact: Traditionally, it is drunk in a small vessel with a kind of marble in the middle. Today, however, this is usually not the case anymore.
Common Japanese beverages without Alcohol
Let’s now move on to Japan’s non-alcoholic beverages. Perhaps you have already heard of the typical vending machines in Japan, which can be found on almost every corner in big cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Here you can find various types of soft drinks and similar beverages.
In the following, we will introduce you to traditional Japanese teas as well as typical Japanese soft drinks and other popular beverages in the country.
Okay, okay, strictly speaking, this drink is not always completely without alcohol. However, it usually contains only such a small amount that the drink is often even served to children.
Amazake is also known colloquially as rice milk or sweet sake. The comparison with sake is not so far off the mark, because like sake, amazake is also made from fermented rice.
The non-alcoholic version becomes slightly sweet due to the fermentation process and is therefore often served as a dessert. Despite the sugar, amazake is considered very nutritious and healthy. So its popularity in Japan is hardly surprising.
Pocari Sweat is one of Japan’s absolute cult drinks and part of many vending machines in cities. The Japanese sports drink is considered one of the best-selling drinks for athletes and sportsmen and is also a popular option among hikers.
Enriched with ions and electrolytes and a sweet taste (and a very slight salty aftertaste), Pocari Sweat also offers simply everything a good sports drink should.
If I had to name one drink off the top of my head that I associate with Japan, it would definitely be CC Lemon. After we tried it in a vending machine in Tokyo on a hot day, almost no day went by in Japan without Eduardo buying a bottle of it. And this as a person who usually drinks almost only water.
CC Lemon is a lemon soda similar to Fanta. However, its taste is much milder and, in our opinion, much more natural than Fanta.
Calpis is another cult drink on Japanese supermarket shelves. It has simply been a part of many Japanese people’s daily lives since the 1940s.
Although it is a soft drink, the taste of Calpis reminds many a bit of yogurt. This is probably because the drink is milk-based. This process leads to its incomparable creaminess.
Over the years, various fruity and, typically Japanese, more unusual varieties have been introduced to the market, such as Matcha or Mikan. Today, you can even find Calpis carbonated.
Calpis Fun fact: Since the name does not sound good in English, the drink is also internationally available under the name Calpico.
Ramune is one of those drinks that takes many Japanese right back to their childhood – and has done so for many generations. You can recognize the bottles by their colorful design and unique shape. Hardly surprisingly, it is considered THE summer drink in Japan.
The bottles are also clearly different from other drinks when you open them, as you first must press a ball into the bottle before you can finally taste the drink. Nowadays, however, you can also find Ramune in conventional plastic bottles.
Ramune comes in various fruity, very sweet varieties, with lychee probably being the most popular.
Mitsuya Cider is another cult drink in Japan that has been enjoyed for several generations – since 1884 to be exact. In such a long period of time, of course, one has a lot of time to bring lots of new varieties to the market.
Although the name cider might suggest it, there is no alcohol in the drink. Instead, you can think of Mitsuya Cider as a mixture of Sprite and ginger ale.
Today, however, there are plenty of other varieties on the market, such as grape, lemon, or white peach. In addition, there are always special varieties that are only on sale for a certain period of time.
You may have heard the name cream soda before in the context of American drinks. The Japanese version, however, is a little different.
The Japanese cream soda refers to a bright green melon soda. Often, the drink is served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle.
For many Japanese children (and former children, of course), the drink is an absolute must in the hot Japanese summer and wonderful childhood memory.
You’ve probably heard of soy milk before. According to European law, the drink can now only be called soy milk drink, but that’s another topic.
The milky drink is very popular in many Asian countries and often replaces cow’s milk there. As you have already guessed, soy milk is not real milk, but a vegetable variant made from soybeans.
However, if you find the whole thing too boring, you can find soy milk in Japan in dozens of varieties, such as coffee, vanilla, or chocolate.
Yakult is one of the Japanese drinks that have also made it to us in international supermarkets. In total, the drink is offered in about 40 countries. The yogurt drink is especially promoted for its health benefits.
Yakult consists of fermented skim milk, which contains many lactic acid bacteria with probiotic effects. For this reason, the drink is said to be particularly good for the stomach and intestines and for health in general.
Yakult is sold in small cans, each containing one serving of the drink. These can then be purchased in a set of several of these cans.
Tea has a long tradition in Japan and is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Whether at traditional tea ceremonies or in everyday life, tea is simply part of life in Japan. That’s why we can’t help but take a look at the range of Japanese teas among the country’s most important beverages.
Green tea is one of the most popular teas in the world. And Japanese green tea is not so innocent of this fame. With its full-bodied aroma, green tea from Japan is considered one of the most popular green tea varieties.
While there are different types of green tea, probably the most famous of them is Japanese Sencha. This is also the most commonly drunk type of green tea in Japanese everyday life.
Other popular Japanese green tea varieties include Sincha, Bancha, and Hojicha.
Those who speak of Japanese green tea often have directly in mind one of Japan’s most famous products: matcha. Unlike other Japanese teas, matcha is not dried tea leaves, but a powder extracted from the green tea plant (usually tencha).
While the powder is traditionally prepared with a Japanese bamboo whisk first to a paste and then to a green tea, today there are various variations with the popular matcha powder, such as the, also internationally popular, Macha Latte.
But also sweets, such as Kit-Kats, ice cream, or the like has now been coated with the bright green powder, which is so popular in Japan.
Cherry blossom season (Sakura) in Japan is a real event for locals and visitors alike, turning Japan into a real pink blossom dream every spring. So it’s hardly surprising that the cherry blossom is also used in culinary terms, namely in cherry blossom tea, sakurayu.
Sakurayu, or sakura-cha, is an herbal tea made from pickled cherry blossoms and hot infused water.
The special blossoms are collected while they are in bloom and then pickled in plum vinegar and salt for a long period of time. This way, they can enjoy the individual tea all year round.
Uroncha is a middle grade between green and black tea. You may have even heard of this type of tea before. Internationally, it is known by its Chinese name Oolong tea.
The tea is especially popular for its subtle fruity aroma. Depending on the brewing time and number of infusions, the taste and strength of the tea can vary.
But Japanese oolong tea is popular not only for its taste. Many health benefits are also attributed to it.
Let’s move on to a drink you’ve surely heard of: kombucha. However, this name can cause some confusion, as there are two types of tea with this name.
The first drink is the tea drink, also popular here, which is made by fermenting a kombucha culture called scooby. Even though this is also available in Japan, the name is mostly used for another drink that is far more popular in Japan.
Namely the Japanese seaweed tea. As the name suggests (sometimes pronounced Konbucha), this is a hot drink in which seaweed, Japanese leaf kelp to be precise, is infused with boiling water.
Royal Milk Tea
Royal Milk Tea is one of the most typical teas enjoyed by the Japanese, both hot and cold. Cold, it can be found in bottles in almost every vending machine and in supermarkets or convenience stores.
Warm, it is often drunk at home or in bars. As you can already guess, Royal Milk Tea is a milk tea. It is made of black tea, milk, and sugar.
, Unlike English milk tea, however, the three ingredients are already boiled together and not added to the tea after it is brewed. In addition, a larger amount of milk is used instead of just a dash of milk.
While most teas in this category are made from real tea, in other words tea leaves, Mugicha is not authentic tea. After all, mugicha is barley tea.
Traditional Mugicha has been prepared in Japan in this way for centuries. In terms of taste, Japanese barley tea is usually compared to , a mild version of coffee. However, since it does not contain caffeine, it is enjoyed by young and old alike.
While Mugicha is usually drunk directly hot in winter, in summer, it is better to let it cool down and then drink it cold. You can even find it bottled in the supermarket as iced tea.
Let’s move on to the last tea on our list. This variant of green tea is especially popular for breakfast and contains a very popular ingredient that is found in many of the other drinks on our list: rice.
To be exact, Genmaicha contains puffed brown brown rice in addition to green tea. Adding rice helps neutralize the bitterness of the green tea and provides a roasted malt flavor.
According to legend, the tea was invented by a servant of a samurai who accidentally added rice to his superior’s tea.
Genmaicha today is credited with any number of health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, or soothing the stomach.
More bevarges in Japan without alcohol
Even though Fanta is actually a German drink, it should definitely not be missing from this list. Because in Japan there are numerous unique varieties of the internationally popular fizzy drink that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
In addition to the standard orange and lemon varieties, you can find varieties such as grape, white peach, melon, or various varieties with yogurt.
Bikkle is another popular drink from Japan. You can imagine it similar to the already presented Yakult. Accordingly, it is also a yogurt drink with a similar taste.
Bikkle is sold in small glass bottles, but is now also available in larger bottles. In addition to the standard flavor, there are also others, such as orange.
Whether this can really be called a drink is not quite clear to me yet. To me, it seemed more like some kind of thick Jell-O out of a tube. However, I don’t have any doubt that kids and jello fans love these jelly drinks.
You can find them in supermarkets and convenience stores in various flavors and from various vendors. Typically Japanese, the packages are often printed quite Kawaii-like and the taste is similar to what you would expect, very sweet.
If you are looking for a somewhat healthier alternative, you might make the right choice with Aojiru. This is an (intensely) green juice. Although the juice is not exactly known for its good taste (it is relatively bitter), it is supposed to be absolutely healthy.
The main ingredients of Aojiru are said to be kale (hence the bitter taste), barley grass, and komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach).
Aojiru Fun Fact: “Ao” in Japan actually stands for a mixture of blue and green.
Japanese canned Coffee
While we have canned coffee in Western countries as well, Japan wouldn’t be Japan if they didn’t top it all off. In addition to dozens of varieties, from coffee with milk, mocha to vanilla-flavored coffee and more, everything is available.
The special thing, however, is that you can buy the canned coffee not only cold, but also hot. And that directly from the vending machine.
In this way, the Japanese can easily enjoy their hot coffee on the way to work in the morning without having to wait in line at a café first.
Aloe Vera Drinks
And that brings us to the last drink on our list. Aloe vera is generally known for its health benefits and is used in Japan from the outside as well as from the inside.
While you can also find aloe vera skin care products here in Europe, aloe vera drinks are probably not as popular here. In Japan, however, you can find them in different varieties, with or without sugar, and even with mixed other ingredients, such as coconut.
Which of these Japanese drinks would you like to try? And if you’ve been to Japan yourself, which drink absolutely has to be on this list? Let us know in the comments below!