Served according to the seasons, the weather and the available ingredients, Japanese food and beverages are famously geared towards shiki, or the concept of seasonality. As it heats up in Tokyo, the selection of drinks grows vast — with many being unique to Japan. Here are a few local specialties worth sampling.
Cool, fizzy and alcohol-free
Ramune is a carbonated soft drink introduced to Japan in the mid-1800s. Derived from the Japanese word for lemonade, ramune is the local take on the drink. Served in the original old-fashioned glass bottle and sealed with a marble, ramune is a clear, lemon-lime flavored soda. Blueberry, cherry, watermelon and other fruit flavors are available. Enjoy the refreshing drink in the nostalgic bottles, which are sold at drink stands, supermarkets and select convenience stores in the summer months.
The big soft drink companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are in tune with the Japanese passion for seasonal beverages. Every season, in fact, brings a new and exotic flavor that is only available in Japan for that particular time of year. Green Tea Diet Coke was a phenomenal hit, as was the refreshing, summery Ice Cucumber Pepsi. This year’s favorite is pretty and pink: Cherry Blossom Pepsi.
Melon cream soda is a neon-green concoction that is sold in most vending machines and grocery stores during summer. It’s even on tap at fast-food chains. The soda is extremely sweet and actually does have the flavor of green melons. Fanta has produced its own melon soda flavor due to popular demand.
The classic Japanese summer drink is an ice-cold sake, this one perfectly acceptable to drink before sundown. Kozue, on the 40th floor of the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku, has an extensive sake list that is constantly updated each season. Enjoy yours in the finest porcelain cups with a view of Mount Fuji.
Right inside Tokyo Station is Hasegawa Saketen, a fine bar with a huge selection of sake from all over Japan, including a sparkling variety. Upmarket but not too pricey, Hasegawa has English-speaking staff to help select the perfect brew for you. If you like it, you can pick up a bottle on the way out.
If you want to try a summer cocktail in the great outdoors, head to the Four-Star Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo. This luxurious venue with its own private little forest in the heart of the city is one of the few places in Tokyo to spot fireflies from late spring to early summer. While admiring the magical little creatures, enjoy a hotaru (firefly) themed frozen cocktail or highball concoction.
A bevy of brews
Of course, when it comes to drinking, there’s always the most popular choice: beer. Japanese beer is high-quality, cheap and readily available. Favorite brands include Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin and Suntory. Local Japanese pubs, known as izakaya, serve nama (draft) beer for nominal prices.
The other option is the local convenience stores. It’s quite acceptable to enjoy a beer in public areas in Japan as long as everyone is well-behaved, as is generally the case in Tokyo. So, grab a cold can from the fridge and sip it alfresco.