10 Popular Japanese Alcoholic Drinks You Should Try

nihonshu sake Food & Drinks
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Bryce was born in California, but raised from the age of 3 near Seattle, Washington. He’s been living in Tokyo for about 7 years, and graduated from Temple University, Japan with degrees in economics and international business. He loves traveling of course, but also cooking, snowboarding, some video games as well. His biggest interest is songwriting/music production, more specifically electronic music… (think Skrillex, Marshmello, Daft Punk, etc.) He also has terrible humor as you’ll notice, but he hopes you’ll enjoy it!

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If you’re planning a trip to Japan, or you’re already living here, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the culture is through trying out the different drinks Japan has to offer. Japan has a very fun, lively drinking culture that is integrated into many activities and traditions. There’s always a drink to go along with a good time! From traditional rice wine to trendy highballs, there is a drink for every preference in taste and strength. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at ten must-try Japanese drinks and give you the lowdown on what to expect. You’ll be able to find all these drinks at a standard Izakaya! After reading this you’ll know exactly what to order and why it’s so good!

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1. Nihonshu (Sake)

Nihonshu, commonly known around the world as sake, is a fermented rice wine that has been a staple of Japanese culture for centuries. Why isn’t it called ‘Sake’ in Japanese? Well, it is, but ‘Sake’ (usually O-Sake,) is actually the overarching term for alcohol in general. If you want the iconic ‘Sake’, make sure you order nihonshu to make sure there’s no mistake! There are many different styles of nihonshu, ranging from reishu (cold) to atsukan (hot), nigori (unfiltered) which has a creamy texture and is a mostly opaque white color, and sparkling. Atsukan is a great way to enjoy nihonshu in the winter, and there are types of nihonshu made specifically to be enjoyed this way, same with reishu. One popular style is called genshu, which is undiluted and has a higher alcohol content. If you’re not sure where to start, try a flight of nihonshu to discover your favorite style, there are many different flavors. Be sure to check out our articles that go into more detail!

2. Beer

Beer is a universal drink that is enjoyed all over the world, and Japan is no exception. The country is home to many excellent breweries, such as Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi. Craft beer is definitely a thing here as well and is certainly growing. There are some great festivals, such as the Shiga Kogen Snow Monkey beer festival, where you can try a multitude of different kinds of beer. If you’re feeling adventurous there are many microbreweries in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto that offer all kinds of craft beer. One chain that offers pints in immense variety and for a very good price is called iBrew. They also offer a wonderful selection of food that matches perfectly with the beers.

3. Shochu

Shochu is a distilled liquor that is made from various ingredients such as rice, barley, and sweet potatoes. The tastes are very different depending on the ingredient, and our recommendation is mugi (barley) as it has a very balanced flavor! But be sure to try all of them, they’re all tasty and distinct. It usually is about 25% alcohol, so it’s a nice, versatile middle ground between wine-level strength drinks and hard alcohol. This makes it tolerable to sip on the rocks, but also a great base for a cocktail. Some popular shochu-based cocktails include the chuhai, which is kind of like an alcoholic soda (which comes in a variety of flavors) and oolong hai, among other types of tea.

4. Lemon Sour

Lemon Sour
Tatsuo Yamashita, CC BY 2.0, Via Flickr

Speaking of chuhai, The lemon sour is arguably the most popular in the category – you can find it anywhere! This Japanese cocktail is made with shochu, lemon juice, and soda water. It’s a refreshing drink that is perfect for a hot summer day. It is a bit reminiscent of sprite, for any soda lovers out there. Though, as the name indicates, it’s pretty sour in comparison to sodas like sprite! Regardless, the refreshing citrusy flavor is on point. Many izakaya offer different variations of the lemon sour, such as grapefruit sour, yuzu sour, and even green tea sour. There are some very creative flavors, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled! And, its helpful to keep in mind that it’s a common, if not standard option in Nomihodai menus!

5. Japanese Whiskey

Japanese whiskey has gained popularity worldwide in recent years, and for good reason. It’s known for its smooth and subtle taste that can be enjoyed straight or on the rocks. Some of the most famous Japanese whiskey brands include Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Nikka. In fact, Yamazaki has won the award for best whiskey in the world before – it is truly remarkable. If you’re into whiskey, you’ll absolutely love Japan’s ability.

6. Umeshu

Matt@CKG, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Via Flickr

A favorite among the ladies, Umeshu is a sweet plum wine that is made by steeping green plums in shochu or sake. It has a fruity flavor and is often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink. This drink, similar to shochu, can be enjoyed over the rocks or mixed with water or soda. Even though it’s a drink commonly loved by women, anybody with a love for tasty drinks should give it a try. If you’re not a fan of the sweetness, try a less sweet version called Karinshu, which is made from Chinese quince instead of plums.

7. Highball

Norio NAKAYAMA, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), via flickr

Another great option for whiskey lovers, The highball is a trendy drink that has been gaining popularity in Japan in recent years. It’s made with whiskey and soda water and is often served in a tall glass filled with ice. Many Izakaya offer different variations of the highball, such as ginger highball (a personal favorite) and grapefruit highball. Fun fact, the name actually comes from the US; highballs were a popular drink there in the 50s and were brought over to Japan!

8. Japanese Wine

Japanese wine is a hidden gem that is not widely known outside of Japan. The country produces many different types of wine, ranging from red to white and sparkling. Some of the most famous Japanese wineries include Chateau Mercian, Grace Wine, and Katsunuma Jyozo. Japanese wine’s ‘delicacy’ is the distinctive trait, and this makes it very suitable to be paired with a variety of Japanese dishes.

9. Ochawari

ochawari drink

Ochawari is a popular Japanese cocktail that is made with green tea and Shochu. It’s a refreshing drink that is perfect for those who enjoy green tea. We said shochu was versatile, didn’t we? Well, as odd as it may sound in terms of a cocktail, it’s surprisingly tasty and subtle. It’s kind of like the long island iced tea’s refined cousin that has a love for Japanese culture!

10. Japanese Gin

Last but certainly not least, Japan has begun to replicate its success in the world of whiskey with Gin. In recent years, craft Gin has been making its presence known in Japan; the inherent versatility of Gin lends itself wonderfully to Japan’s ability to innovate and refine. If you’re a fan of spirits of high quality, then you’ll be sad to miss Japanese gin!

Drinking tours in Tokyo

If you’re visiting Tokyo on your next trip to Japan, nightlife is something you definitely need to have on your list. Explore the city’s endless drinking hubs on a tour to experience the local parts of Tokyo with an English speaking guide that knows the city like the back of their hand!

Shinjuku Biggest Drinking Town Izakaya Hopping Tour
Asakusa Local Food and Bar Hopping Tour

Have a look below for some other great drinking tours throughout Japan!

Japan Wonder Travel Food Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are traveling in, our knowledgeable and friendly guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need some help! 

Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market Food and Drink Tour
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo where you will have the chance to try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake along with your friendly English speaking guide! 

tsukiji tour

Shinjuku Bar Hopping Tour: Experience Tokyo’s Nightlife in Izakaya
Check out the best spots in Shinjuku while bar hopping through the lively and vibrant area. Try some delicious local food and drink as you explore the narrow yet photogenic alleys that the town has to offer. Experience Japanese izakaya culture and drink in Shinjuku like the locals!


Explore Nishiki Market: Food & Culture Walk
If you’re looking to learn more about the culture and the local cuisine of Kyoto, this is the perfect tour for you! Take part in this Kyoto food and drink tour and explore the 400-year-old market and the surrounding areas.

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Happy traveling!

Stay informed of the best travel tips to Japan, the most exciting things to do and see, and the top experiences to have with the Japan Wonder Travel Newsletter. Once every two weeks we will introduce you to our latest content.

Stay informed of the best travel tips to Japan, the most exciting things to do and see, and the top experiences to have with the Japan Wonder Travel Newsletter. Once every two weeks we will introduce you to our latest content.

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