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Japan is a country known for their wacky and wonderful cuisine. Think infamous natto - fermented soy bean, refreshing Curry Bread Cider, and delicious snacks like Sweet Potato flavored Kit Kats and crunchy Cricket Rice Crackers. Whatever takes your liking there is no argument that Japan is a wonderland for your taste buds, and Japanese drinks are no different.
In Japan you can find an array of carbonated sweet drinks, coffees, and teas that are readily available in convenience stores and vending machines. From week to week you can find uniquely designed bottles, seasonal flavors, limited edition Japanese soda flavors and even regional drinks. Like Coca Cola which is readily available in Japan and it has its own unique twist: limited edition designer bottles! There’s the limited edition bottle design for Hokkaido, speciality design for the Japanese girl pop group, Niziu and even Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios. Japan is truly a bottle collector’s paradise!
There are many things that benchmark the seasonal flavor changes in Japan. Like, Sakura Cola in Spring, Green Tea in winter, Sour Plum Ume in fall and of course ramune in summer. Like so many things in Japan over the years, drink flavors have become cultural icons and ramune is no different. Whether it’s slowly unwrapping the little plastic opener, hearing the marble sofly clink against the glass or the pop of the lid, there is something undeniably exciting and fun about ramune. Ramune was first introduced at the end of the 19th century with the japanification word for “lemonade”. The first ramune flavor was lemon-lime, but over the years ramune has evolved into weird and wonderful flavors.
Nowadays ramune doesn’t particularly taste like lemons at all. The classic flavor of ramune sort of resembles a mildly lemony tasting bubble gum that sits on the somewhat sweet side. But the modern flavors are really where it gets exciting, there are the variety flavors like Blueberry, Melon soda, Strawberry and Lychee and “dare you try” flavors, like Spicy Kimchi, Yakisoba noodles, Corn Potage and French Fries!
Image: Sugoi Mart
Ramune soda drinks work slightly differently compared to classic soda drinks. Ramune, also known as the marble soda is notoriously difficult to open in comparison to most bottles, this is because it is shaped as an old-fashioned style of bottle. This type of bottle uses a stopper with a marble held in place by the pressure of carbonation inside. To open the bottle, the marble must be pushed down into the neck of the bottle with a plastic plunger attached to the top. Be aware though, the soda must be drunk slowly to stop the marble from rolling back into the opening. While it’s a bit challenging not just to chug down the yummy contents, it’s worth savoring each sip of the Japanese drink with marble! Between the distinctive bottle shape, clinking marble sound, and unique flavor, one sip of the sweet, crisp drink on a hot day is all that’s needed to see why.
No Japanese drink list can be complete without mentioning the non-carbonated, milk-based Japanese soda Calpis, also known as Calpico. Calpis was created in 1919 and is made of water, sugar, and non-fat dairy milk. Calpis has a light, somewhat milky, and slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain flavored yogurt or Yakult. Although similar in taste Calpis is not the same as Yakult. Both Calpis and Yakult are good for digestion and are gut-friendly; the main difference is that Calpis does not contain active and live probiotics. However, Calpis is not technically a healthy drink, but it is a healthier option than many other sweetened soft drinks and would be a great alternative to sodas!
It’s no secret that Japan has crazy extended working schedules and work-focused lifestyles. So it’s no wonder that Japan has an abundance of revitalizing and energizing drinks available. You can see them lined across the kombini fridge wall and inside vending machines on every corner. There are two categories of popular Japanese energy drinks, the full sized cans like Red Bull, Godzilla Energy drink, Monster Super Cola Energy, Zone Energy Drink, Lifeguard Energy Drink and PS5 Energy Drink and the mini sized energy drinks. The mini energy drinks are perfect for a shot of vitamins, power and energy, like the Lipovitan D Energy Drink and Ukon Power Energy Drink which are very popular in Japan for helping to alleviate physical and mental fatigue.
Image: Sugoi Mart
Speaking of energy, there’s of course another popular deliciously energizing drink loved in Japan, coffee and specifically canned coffee. Canned coffee is a major celebration in Japan, not only is it yummy but it also provides the convenience that Japan loves. It’s easier than ever to find a can of coffee like Georgia Max coffee in vending machines, whether it be at the train station, in the onsen change rooms or just next to the office. Canned coffee is popular in Japan purley because of convenience, I mean, it takes almost zero time out of one’s day for a full caffeine fix!
Beyond the ease of getting a grab and go coffee, canned coffees sometimes feature characters from anime and of course limited edition! "Collab-cans" featuring anime characters have become increasingly popular over the years. There are different anime licenses that are featured on coffee cans, like Attack on Titan, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Evangelion, Naruto and recently DyDo released a Jujutsu Kaisen coffee can collab.
Collecting coffee cans is a great hobby to have, but it’s so much more than that because in 2020 it actually saved a struggling company. Dydo DrinCo credited their collab with Demon Slayer (Kimetsu no Yaiba) anime as helping save their struggling canned coffee firm in Japan. Dydo launched its Kimetsu-can range, which included 28 different designs with a wide range of characters on the front. Tanjiro Kamado, Nezuko, the Hashira Demon Slayer Corps., and even minor characters like the sparrow Chuntaro were all included. These speciality designed cans were sold only through vending machines. Meaning that you can't tell what design will pop out! Many Demon Slayer coffee lovers went to social media to declare their collections complete, or talk about designs they couldn't find. By creating limited editions designs and by making it a draw of luck, fans flocked to vending machines to complete their Demon Slayer drink collections, and thus saving Dydo and their canned coffee!