Japanese Beverages and Drinking Traditions


Japanese culture is known for its keen attention to detail, traditional values, and rich history. This is true for the beverages and drinking traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Japanese beverages have become increasingly popular in recent years, from green tea to sake, and even Japanese-style cocktails. In this article, we will explore the different types of Japanese beverages, their cultural significance, and traditional drinking practices.

Japanese Beverages

1. Green Tea

Green tea is ubiquitous in Japan, consumed on a daily basis and often served in traditional tea ceremonies. This is largely due to the health benefits of green tea, which is high in antioxidants and has been shown to improve brain function and reduce the risk of heart disease. Different varieties of green tea can be found across Japan, each with its unique characteristics. For example, Matcha is a vibrant green tea powder used in traditional tea ceremonies, while Sencha is the most common variety of green tea in Japan, with a delicate, grassy flavor.

2. Sake

Sake is the national drink of Japan, made from fermented rice and water. The brewing of sake dates back over a thousand years, and the drink is still an important part of Japanese culture today. Sake can be enjoyed in many different ways, from warm to chilled, and its alcohol content can range from 15% to 20%. Sake is often served in small cups and is used in various rituals and ceremonies.

3. Shochu

Shochu is a spirit made from various sources, including rice, barley, sweet potatoes, and buckwheat. Shochu is typically distilled at a higher alcohol content than sake and is often mixed with cold water or used as a base for cocktails. This drink is popularly consumed on the rocks or mixed with soda water; its flavor is clean and refreshing.

4. Umeshu

Umeshu is Japanese plum wine and is made by soaking ripe Japanese plums in shochu and sugar. Umeshu is sweet, fruity, and has a distinct sourness. It is often served as a digestif after meals or used in cocktails. Many households in Japan will make their Umeshu at home by macerating plums in sugar and alcohol.

Traditional Drinking Practices

1. Pouring Drinks for Others

In Japan, it is considered polite to pour drinks for others, rather than pour your drinks yourself. It is customary to pour drinks for guests, and the more senior person is usually the one who pours the drinks. The person pouring drinks should always hold the bottle with both hands, and the recipient should hold their cup with one hand and rest the other hand on the bottom of the cup.

2. Say “Kanpai!”

“Kanpai” is the Japanese equivalent of “Cheers” or “Salud.” It is customary to shout “Kanpai” before drinking, and this is seen as a way of showing respect and gratitude to those around you.

3. Sake and the “One Cup”

In traditional Japanese drinking practices, sake is often served in small, ceramic cups called “ochoko.” It is customary to pour sake for yourself and your guests slowly to avoid creating a “white crest” in the drink. Drinking from the same cup (oyu-wari) was also a regular practice in Japan. Today one of the most frequently consumed sake is “One Cup Sake,” which comes in a small metal can and is perfect to take on the go.

FAQ Section

1. Why is Green Tea popular in Japan?

Green tea is popular in Japan due to its health benefits, which are well-known in the country. Additionally, green tea is a key part of Japanese culture and is often served in traditional tea ceremonies.

2. What is Sake, and how is it made?

Sake is Japanese rice wine of ancient origin that is made through the fermentation of rice. The process begins with rice grains that are polished to remove the outer layer called the bran, which is where unwanted flavors reside. The resulting rice is washed and then soaked in water. After this process, it is steamed and mixed with koji mold, water, and yeast.

3. How is Shochu different from Sake?

The main difference between shochu and sake is the production process. Shochu is distilled, while sake is brewed. Shochu is also typically made from different ingredients, including grains such as rice, wheat, and barley, or tubers like sweet potatoes.

4. When is Umeshu typically consumed?

Umeshu is often consumed after meals as a digestif or used in cocktails. It can also be enjoyed as a mid-day refreshment in the summertime.


Japanese beverages and drinking traditions have a rich cultural history and are an integral part of Japanese society. Drinking practices, such as pouring drinks for others and saying “Kanpai,” highlight the importance of respect and gratitude in Japanese culture. With increasing interest in Japanese cuisine and culture around the world, exploring the different types of Japanese beverages and their traditional drinking practices can provide insight into Japanese culture and foster an appreciation for Japanese art and traditions.