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Drinking alcohol plays a very important role in Japan. One of the best ways to relax is with drinks and food at an izakaya. Please keep in mind that the legal drinking age in Japan is 20. Always enjoy responsibly!
Nihon-shu is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made of fermented rice. It goes through a double fermentation process, using both fungus and yeast, and this takes about six months. After that, it will go through a filtering process, but some types of sake are sold unfiltered. This type of sake is called nigori. The rice used to produce sake is not the ordinary rice eaten by the Japanese, but a type with larger and stronger grains. The history of sake is so old that it is unclear as to exactly when or where it started.
Originating from Fukuoka prefecture, shochu is a distilled type of alcohol, typically made from rice, buckwheat or barley, and sometimes made from sweet potato or brown sugar. The flavor greatly differs, depending on the ingredients used. People drink this either on the rocks or by mixing it with water (mizu wari), or hot water (oyu wari). Other ways of drinking it would be to mix it with tea or juice, and these drinks are called chu-hai.
Beer production in Japan first started in the 17th century, when Dutch traders opened beer halls for the sailors in Dejima, Nagasaki. Japan reopened to foreign trade during the Meiji period, and imported beers were available in limited quantities in the foreign settlements, but trained brewers from Europe and abroad also arrived to contribute to the growth of the local industry. These are some major brewing companies of today: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory, and Orion. Culturally, beer is ubiquitous in Japan, and is highly enjoyed.
Whisky production in Japan first started at around 1870, and released its first commercial production in 1924 at its first distillery built in Yamazaki, Kyoto. Japanese whisky was produced completely domestically until 2001, when Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt won “Best of the Best” at Whisky Magazine’s awards. Since then it has attracted many whisky fans around the world.
Japanese people often like to drink whiskey with water (highball) which is called mizu wari, and in the wintertime with hot water, called oyu wari. These are the currently active whisky distilleries: Yamazaki (Kyoto), Hakushu (Yamanashi), Yoichi (Hokkaido), Miyagikyo (Miyagi), Fuji Gotemba (Shizuoka), and Chichibu (Saitama).
Awamori is a type of alcoholic beverage made from long grain rice, produced especially in the Okinawa region. It is distilled from the rice and not brewed, which is the difference between awamori and sake. The beverage first got its name in order to distinguish between sake. Awa means foam and mori means to rise up. These are the characteristics you see during the distillation process. The price of Awamori increases as it ages. Anything older than 3 years is called Ku-su.
(Photo Copyright: ©Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau/©JNTO)
Umeshu is white liquor with ume (Japanese plum) pickled together with sugar. It is a very sweet drink, and tends to be very popular among women. People drink it on the rocks, or mix it with water or soda. You can eat the plum too, but be careful because it is very high in alcohol!
There are several different kinds of Japanese tea, but the most common one known is probably ryokucha, or green tea. The tea leaves picked are all young, and they go through multiple, repetitive processes of steaming, rubbing and roasting. This helps the leaves to preserve their freshness. The well known matcha is made of the same leaves, only the process is completely different. They are dried right after they are picked, then go straight to the powdering process. In Japan, tea is often used as a mixer for shochu and whisky.