Guide to Japanese Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic beverages are popular in Japan and are enjoyed at the end of a busy workday, for fun, or with a delicious meal. Japan is home to an assortment of drinking establishments, from bars and pubs to izakaya, where you can enjoy tasty treats alongside your drink. We take a look at some of the alcoholic drinks commonly enjoyed in Japan.



Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan. In fact, they have a saying in Japan – “toriaezu biru” – meaning “let’s start with beer”. There are a number of different types of Japanese beer, including nama biru (draught beer), a range of craft beers and bin buru, which is half litre bottle of beer which can be shared.

Beer made with less malt, called happoshu, has also been produced in Japan. They are often cheaper beers, due to less taxation from the malt.



Sake, also known as nihonshu in Japan, is a rice wine, made from rice, water and koji mould. Rice wine is produced by both local producers and major brands throughout Japan. Sake can be drunk either hot or cold, and typically has an alcohol content of 10-20%.



Shochu is a distilled spirit made from a fermented mash. Commonly used ingredients for the mash include mugi (barley), sweet potato, sugarcane, rice or buckwheat.

The flavour of this drink is dependent on the ingredient used. For example, mugi shochu is mild, while shochu made with sweet potato tends to be stronger in flavour. Sugarcane shochu offers a sweet taste, whereas buckwheat gives the drink a slightly bitter taste. Shochu can be enjoyed over ice, mixed with other drinks, or warmed.



Despite the fact that Japan has only been producing whisky for around 100 years, the country is now one of the world leaders in whisky production, working on par with some of the top Scotch distilleries.

Japanese whisky has recently seen a huge surge in demand, and has won a range of accolades, including being named ‘Best Whisky in the World’.

Whisky is commonly enjoyed as a whisky highball in Japan; whisky served with sparkling water and ice.

Find out more about the history of Japanese whisky.



Umeshu is a plum wine made from Japanese plums called ume. Umeshu can be enjoyed on its own, mixed with other drinks or served with ice. It has a sweet flavour and smooth consistency that makes it easily drinkable.



Yuzushu is a drink reminiscent of limoncello and is a similar concept to umeshu, but with this alcoholic beverage made using yuzu. Yuzu is a citrus fruit, a bit like a lemon, and yuzushu tastes like an alcoholic tangy lemonade. It can be enjoyed mixed, on its own or over ice.


Japanese Drinking Etiquette

As with many aspects of Japanese culture, there are a number of customs that should be followed when drinking. Firstly, when drinking with others, you must pour their drink before your own. Drinks should be replenished before they are empty, so it is important to keep an eye on each other’s drinks.

When drinking with a meal, you should not take a sip until everyone’s drinks have been served and the glasses have been raised for a toast.


Have you tried any of these Japanese drinks? If so, which is your favourite? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts on these beverages!

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