I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog series about how I deal with being away from Japan. I fear it may be coming to an end though as there is only so much I have really do to abate my desire to get back to Japan. It has been a fun activity with research, photography and some careful thought on how I want to share with you just how easy it is to get a taste of Japan. I bumped into a friend today who also loves Japan and has been before. We commiserated each other on not being in a position to travel to Japan anytime this year. It is quite disheartening to not have it to look forward to. And upon further reflection it made me feel sad and empty inside…..So, as a result, I drink. I drink Japanese beer of course.
The first time I travelled to Tokyo in 2015, I was going through a dry spell and so did not drink anything other than Prosweat water drinks ice cold from the vending machines that were everywhere. It was summer after all. They helped to rehydrate. Then on my trip through Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima I tried a lot of different beers with amazing meals and would often look for the smaller locally brewed variants. A bit like craft beer. On my last trip to Tokyo it was incredibly hot and humid. And large glass 500ml steins of beer were the usual pour at most eateries. I even recall going to a park in West Shinjuku one afternoon just to sit in the shade with the hundreds of other families. There was this tiny shack selling shaved ice and tall bottles of Sapporo beer. So nice just sitting in the park and enjoying the space with a cold beer.
I grew up as a kid and a teen surrounded by a strong beer culture. Strong drinking culture actually. But all my dads friends drank beer and if there was a social occasion then out came the beers for the blokes. Then as a teen I think my first underage drink was beer. And it was certainly my go to drink at a night out with mates as a young adult. But then I found that whilst Australia does have a beer culture, much of that is negative compared to other countries. Drunken rowdiness, loud aggressive behaviour late at night outside a club, intoxicated fans ejected from sporting events, all of that is certainly a part of it. In Japan I see a much stronger beer culture but it is much more self managed in terms of drinking behaviour. Beer is accessible from convenience stores usually in single cans. And I remember when I caught a Shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima that I was surprised that all these businessmen had a tall can of beer with their lunch whilst they took the train. I was in Shibuya one night when a festival was in full swing. And there were lots of younger people drinking beers. But there was not of that associated poor behaviour. It was really interesting to observe.
And when eating out and about in Tokyo, the beers come in these gorgeous ice cold steins and you can choose from large or enormous. And believe me, there is nothing more refreshing on a 30 degree day than ducking into a restaurant for a serve of freshly made Sushi with a tall cold glass of beer. Or two. Or after being out since very early in 90% humidity to come home in the afternoon and have a cold beer whilst watching the Sumo Wrestling on the television before you have a nap, holiday gold as far as I am concerned. Japanese beer just seems to do its job so well. It is a great accompaniment for so many different types of food.
So when I am back in Australia I tend to drink Japanese beer and I also have tall 500ml beer steins. Of course I do. Now these days there are a lot of Japanese beers readily available especially here in Australia. Some Japanese breweries are amongst the biggest in the world with many brands falling under their umbrella. Here in Australia Asahi is probably one of the most popular Japanese beers with many pubs and bars having it on tap. Here is a little about Asahi Breweries. In 1889, the Osaka Beer Brewing Company was founded with the purpose to produce a world class beer in Japan. They employed German brewing techniques and introduced Asahi Beer. By 1903, it had become the best selling beer in Japan. Much later and more recently, Asahi launched a brand new beer in Asahi Super Dry. It was considered to have a revolutionary taste that Japanese consumers desired. This comes in several size cans and glass bottles and there is also an Asahi Black beer which I am yet to try.
Then we come to Sapporo Premium Beer from the norther town of Sapporo. I love this beer as it is a gorgeous full body and full flavoured beer. I would often be served this beer in tiny alleyway bars like in Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku. Here in Australia, I can buy this beer bottled or in large and striking 650ml silvers cans. Sapporo is the oldest beer brand in Japan as it was founded in 1876. Again a very young 17 year old left Japan to travel to Germany to learn the craft of beer brewing and returned home to become Sapporo’s first brewmaster. Well I would like to thank him for his service to his country.
My next favourite would have to be Kirin. In Australia, unless buying from a Japanese grocery, you can only get this Kirin Megumi or a Kirin light beer. Megumi is a really delicately flavoured beer. In Japan however, you can buy Kirin Ichiban beer, a premium Japanese beer brewed from 100% malt using the First Press method. Ichiban, meaning ‘first’ and ‘best’ in Japanese, is a distinctively smooth, and full-bodied beer. And again, served ice cold in glass is a fantastic style of beer to enjoy with many different types of meal. Whilst walking the streets of Tokyo at night I would come across stacks of empty Kirin beer crates. Or every so often, I would see a guy on a bike with a full crate cycling through winding streets with an emergency order for some little bar.
They are three main Japanese beers that you can buy here in Australia directly from a supermarket or alcohol retailer. But there are others than can be purchased from Japanese and Asian grocers that have a licence to sell alcohol. Some boutique bottle shops may stock more boutique style beers as that is a growing interest in Japan also. Yebisu is another very popular beer in Japan and there is also a brewery tour your can undertake for that one. Orion, Suntory Premium Malts are just a few of the many available. You can find them around if you are of a mind to look. I have even found a 1 litre can of Asahi Super Dry in a bottle shop in Melbourne. Just one of those would put you to sleep! If you enjoy a beer then I recommend you try out a Japanese beer. They are really exceptionally well crafted beers with amazing taste. All images shots with the Fujifilm X-T2, Fujicilm XF50mmF2 and the Fujifilm EF-X20 flash. Happy, and safe, drinking!