If you ask someone what is the best way to start their day - they will say coffee. Coffee is the thin liquidy line that separates us from being the living dead, it is our main living source, the thing that drives us everyday. So, who exactly is our cult leader that brings life to us every -single-day? The one and only wavy haired green Siren - Starbucks. Whether you like your coffee black, bold or sweetened to death, the iconic Starbucks can subside any cravings for caffeine.
Starbucks first humbly opened their doors in Seattle in 1971 as a small local coffee shop, and has risen to become a world dominating franchise. Who knew a single coffee shop would revolutionize how we drink coffee, how it would become a landmark in almost every continent, and how it would induce a buying frenzy with every collectible item drop and must-drink drink every season and seasonal holiday.
Image: Starbucks Asia
As of January 2022 there are over 34,000 stores across the world, with an estimated 1,600 of those stores being in Japan. What exactly made Starbucks a beloved symbol of Japan? Well when Starbucks opened their first store in Ginza's shopping street in 1996, it was truly one of a kind in Japan at that time. Having the ability to customize orders with different sizes, milks and specialty drinks made it a star studded coffee shop from the beginning. Starbucks saw a gap in the Japanese coffee market and ran to the opportunity. Starting as a joint venture with Sazaby League - a lifestyle and restaurant company that aids foreign brands entering into Japan, Starbucks and Sazaby joined forces. By entering Japan as a joint venture it allowed Starbucks to begin its coffee house empire by creating a strong foundation to grow on, by having access to general knowledge about culture, language and Japanese business systems. Since then Starbucks has purchased back the remaining shares from Sazaby League in 2014. This has now allowed them to grow even further into canned coffee and other ready-to-drink products that are available in supermarkets and convenience stores now.
Image: Been There Series - Tokyo mug
One way to always remember your time away is rushing to a Starbucks and getting a “Been There” mug and tumbler. With the two-toned doodles of famous landmarks and attractions, regional cultures and cuisines. In Japan, there are 20 different styled mugs showing the 19 prefectures of Japan and one exclusive Japan mug. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the Tokyo “Been There” mug or tumbler you’ll see the iconic Shibuya Crossing, Nakameguro’s famous cherry blossom trees by the Meguro river and the loyal Hachiko Shiba Inu statue meeting spot. However, these exclusive tumblers and mugs were not the beginning of Starbucks collectible cup culture, before the “Been There” mugs, there was the “You Are Here” mugs. The two different styled mugs created almost a riff between the die-hard Starbucks fans… Starbucks Been There vs You Are Here battle if you will. The “You Are Here” mugs are now a stylish and colorful design that show a memorable illustration of the city or specific location you’re in. The “You Are Here” mugs are designed to be more stylized and simplistic, perhaps preferred because of a modern clean aesthetic. Whichever design you prefer, doodled or simplistic, Starbucks has it covered! Now, with every collectible collection there are rarities that are sought-after, and the Starbucks cups are no different! The rarest Starbucks cup is the Seattle - Mount Rainier cup, with a simple misprint the mug can be worth over $1000 (USD). So who knows, next time you’re at Starbucks keep an eye out for misprints and you could be a thousandaire.
Starbucks or ‘Sutaba‘ (スタバ) for short, skyrocketed in popularity in Japan and became increasingly successful. Starbucks did this by identifying and adapting to ideas that are ingrained in Japanese society, and what exactly is that I hear you ask… the three holy grails - exclusivity, rarity and limited editions. The limited edition seasonal buying frenzy for spring is the must have drink - with the perfectly pink sakura. If you’ve ever watched an anime, seen a photo of Mt Fuji or even a simple postcard of Japan, you will have seen the ever-famous cherry blossom trees adorned with the nation's most loved blossoms named - sakura. Dubbed ‘sakura season’ from mid-February to the mid-March Japan gets a kick in their step with anticipation of the blossoms blooming. Everything in Japan turns to a pastel pink, think train station entrances, small dogs in pink sweaters, pastries and of course our beloved Starbucks limited drinks.
Starbucks spring sakura drinks change from year to year, but we can expect at least two different types of sakura inspired drinks per season. Starbucks makes their sakura latte by blending sweet and tart strawberry sauce, steamed milk of your choice and carefully handcrafted latte art of a blooming cherry blossom. If this description doesn't make you salivate for the sweet taste of the Starbucks sakura drink, I don't know what will… well maybe the anticipated Cherry Blossom frappuccino. The frappuccino is a personal favorite - an absolute dreamy blend of strawberries, cream and a sprinkle of spring happiness. Starbucks Sakura Frappuccino has a unique combination not only strawberries and cream, but also mochi (もち) - deliciously chewy rice flour dumplings, all topped off with a sprinkle of sakura strawberry chocolate shavings. However, if you missed out on sakura seasonal exclusives - here’s a secret menu hack to order an altered cherry blossom drink from Starbucks: Start with a Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino, add white mocha sauce and matcha powder, then top it off with whipped cream and matcha powder! Now you’ve got your speciality sakura themed drink that you can sip on all season long!
The perfect companion for the limited Starbucks Sakura drinks are the Starbucks Spring Series tumblers, cups and Starbucks gift sets. The obsession with Starbucks cups started in 2018 when Starbucks launched their first reusable Cold Cups. The attraction - they’re cute and incredibly functional. You can find Starbucks tumblers at almost every single Starbucks with original and seasonal designs now but since their launch, the hype has not died one single bit. On release day you can wait in a long snaking line to get your hands on the season's hottest Starbucks cups, whether that's the Starbucks Spring Cups or Starbucks Fall Cups . The cuppa-holics are not driven not by the caffeine coursing through their veins, but the hope of scoring the most desired new releases.
Keeping in theme of course, Starbucks offers the most tantalizing tasty at home blends with the Starbucks Sakura Coffee Collections. With exclusive an sakura cup and coffee gift sets, and the huge Starbucks Sakura Via Ready Brew and Origami gift box, you have access to the most sought after collections that Starbucks offers, just so you can have the taste of Japan wherever you are in the world. But, if you’re after the perfect blend of mystery and surprise, the Sugoi Mart Starbucks Japan Lucky Bag is the way to go. A Lucky Bag also known as fukubukuro, (ふくぶくろ) is a Japanese custom where merchants fill a bag with unknown themed items. In the Sugoi Mart Starbucks Japan Lucky Bag there are 7 different items that are exclusively from Japan, perhaps a Seasonal Exclusive Mug, or a Japan regional tumbler or even Origami Coffee Packs that tease your tastebuds. All in a one of a kind, custom designed Sugoi Mart Lucky bag. You’ll be wondering... where it has bean all my life.
There are so many traditions that make Japan incredibly unique, like the Lucky Bags, but one aspect that has stood out against the test of time is the architecture of Japanese buildings. Japan offers the most uniquely and architecturally designed Starbucks in the world, there’s not one, two or even three must-visit Starbucks - but 12! Twelve magnificent stores that warrant their own tour guides. Some coffee houses feature Japanese-style architecture, and others stand out for their specialty services that they offer.
Image: Adobe Stock
In February 2019 Starbucks opened their biggest Starbucks Roastery in the world in Nakameguro, Tokyo alongside the Meguro river. The expansive four-storey building, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is sensationally designed and worth the 5 hour wait in peak season. When you first walk through enormous floor to ceiling glass doors you'll be greeted by an industrial interior that perfectly compliments the fresh coffee scent whirling through the air. Making your way up the stairs past the freshly baked cronuts, pizza and bread from Milanese bakery Princi, then Teavana tea room on the second level, you'll arrive at the Arriviamo Cocktail Bar. You’ll find yourself in coffee heaven with cocktails infused with coffee, and an array of pasties. During sakura season make sure you take your limited edition sakura cocktail out onto the terrace for a stunning view of blooming cherry blossoms.
Image: Adobe Stock
Another uniquely designed Starbucks is set within a greenhouse at Yomiuriland Hana Biyori, Tokyo garden. You will be in a floral fantasy land with the lush landscape of flowers in every corner. Make sure you nab a counter seat facing the coffee house's aquarium where you'll be treated to a view of vibrant fish from Okinawa. But, if flowers aren’t your thing, the 100 year-old building housing a Starbucks should do it! In Nineizaka Yasaka Chaya, Kyoto down a traditional historic street you’ll find the unsuspecting coffee house nestled. The traditional-looking store is the first Starbucks ever to offer tatami floor seating, designed to look like a classic Japanese tea house with zabuton cushions and walls displaying beautiful scrolls. Towards the back of the old machiya (まちや) townhouse is an inner courtyard that have been transformed into a Japanese garden. With these awe inspiring details Starbucks received the Kyoto Scenery Award for its efforts in preserving and combining tradition with contemporary in their inspiring design.
Image: Adobe Stock
One final Starbucks that warrants some recognition is the Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Although not architecturally innovative, it is an iconic building that offers the most spectacular view of the legendary Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Whether you are a newcomer waiting to get the best Instagram shot of the glowing neon lights and the busy crosswalk or a salary man having a coffee break, it truly is a wonderful spot that encompasses what Starbucks is. A place for locals, a place for tourists, a place for collectors and a place for caffeine enthusiasts.
Over the years Starbucks has not wavered in popularity one bit. With every season, holiday and opening of a new store, there is alway a frenzy. It is inspiring after all of these years Starbucks has created loyalty throughout so many nations. Starbucks Japan has a short history but has quickly become a must-visit, must-taste, and must-buy coffee house. However, wherever we are in the world now we are fortunate enough to be able to capture the true taste of Japan with the Starbucks Lucky Bags and Starbucks Coffee Gift Sets. To remember the iconic roots of the coffee power house in Japan, let's look back to Ginza, 1996, 6.30am, a humid August morning. A little over 100 people waiting in line for their first American-styled caffeine hit. In rushes the first customer, a delighted young man in his early twenties, he hurries to the counter excitedly and blurts out the only English he knows: “Double shot latte!”.