What are Japanese alcoholic drinks like?

Last time we covered Japanese beer. We’ll finish off by talking about spirits.


The word sake in Japanese means anything alcoholic – it’s only ignorant foreigners like you and I that persist in calling nihon-shu, sake. Sake is Japans big drink – it’s drunk all the time, well apart from during work time. (I assume.) In summer it’s drunk cold, in winter it’s warmed up. Some sake’s can be drunk cold or warm – some are best cold or best warm – the person who you buy the sake from will tell you.

Sake is used for both drinking and cooking. Like whiskey there are many varieties available and I would recommend you find an old Japanese man who is enthusiastic about sake and ask him about it. Old people know everyone and tend to be extremely pushy. An old person will do everything in his mighty social power to teach you about sake. This will most likely mean lots of free drinks and food.

Many sake bottles from kamome's stream on flickr
In Japan beer is often eaten with beer snacks – like crisps / chips, small bready things, steamed soy beans, sticks with meat on, vingeared octopus etc Sake is more of a meal thing – a little like wine. Sashimi (raw seafood) is eaten with sake. Sake usually comes in a fat little bottles with a small sake cup. You aren’t really suppose to get drunk off sake. Rather you should drink one of two of the stubby little bottles – to just relax you enough. But don’t let tradition tell you what to do – it can be heated in the microwave in a Tupperware container and then drunk from pint glasses with ginger ale … that was a fun night.

You may have never tried sake before so let me tell you about it. Sake tastes a little like weak vodka that is drunk straight. The alcohol content is about the same as wine. It’s quite a clean taste but flavour varies wildly from sake to sake so drink around!

Sake can also be purchased from convenience stores, liquor stores and special sake shops. A small juice box of sake will set you back a entire 100yen, including straw – that’s about 50p or 65c (ish). The juice box especially the one for a 100yen will have a demons face on the box. This face stands for “extremely unpleasant sake”. You can also buy jar sake – yes sake in something that looks quite similar to a jam jar. You just pop the lid and drink. A few nights ago we drank green tea sake from a plastic jam-jar and I can assure you it was potent and as unpleasant as it sounds. Other sake packages include various size bottles – a little like wine bottles or cartons – that look a bit like fruit juice cartons or milk cartons.


This would be the ladies drink of choice. It’s the Japanese version of the alcho-pop. Basically carbonated alcoholic fruit juice – it comes in the same size cans as beer. It’s the perfect drink for those who like the feeling of being a little drunk but don’t like the taste of alcohol. I’m almost certain these drinks would get extremely sickly after a while.

All the other drinks in the world

Japanese whiskey from formfaktor's flickr stream
The Japanese love whiskey – the olderand more important the man the greater the chance that he enjoys whiskey. It’s an esteem thing, I guess, where Scotch is the very best. Spirits and cocktails tend to be extremely popular as they are extremely cheap – especially when compared to beer. Foreign drinks are popular too but quite expensive – you will commonly see Guinness (Around seven times more expensive than in the UK) and it’s surprisingly common to see Corona too for about the same price as Japanese beers.
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