A Guide to Alcohol for Foreigners in Japan

You might know it already, but you can buy alcohol anywhere in Japan. Most Japanese people don’t know that this is unusual all over the world. When we travel abroad, we realize the fact. If you look like an adult, you don’t have to show your ID card, and you can buy whatever you want. Sometimes you are required to push a button on the screen saying,”Are you 20 years old or above?” at a cashier. That’s a breeze.

Generally speaking, drinking alcohol outdoors is legitimate in Japan. So you don’t have to worry about getting arrested by the police. That being said, you seldom see people who drink alcohol on the train. Why? This is because Japanese people are very conscious about the smells around themselves. We’re really worrying that we might get someone in trouble by the smell. Only exceptions are the shinkansen and a long-trip train. These allow you to bring food and drink because it takes time to arrive to the destination.

As I wrote about Izakaya in my previous article, so, today I’m going to tell you how to enjoy yourself by buying alcohol in Japan. Let’s get started! 

My previous article below.

Where Should You Buy It?

You can buy alcohol everywhere like convini (convenience stores), grocery stores, discount stores, drugstores, and also hyakkin (dollar stores). 

There is a variety of alcohol out there. Most of them offer beer, sake, shochu, chu-high, wine and whiskey. Here I can tell you below.      

Beer: Many breweries in Japan offer a variety of beers – from lagers to ales. We’re good with making something precisely and making the recipe our own in the end. It will never let you down when you pick up a Belgian beer, Stout, Pilsner, or anything. These days, not only small businesses, but also giant breweries like Asahi, Kirin, and Suntory sell their craft beers. One of my favorites is “Indo no aooni.” It has a nice aroma of hops and has a bitter taste. I’m sure you can find your favorite one.

Sake: These packages are either a bottle, a glass cup, or paper.  Many breweries sell seasonal products. For now, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Daiginjyo (大吟醸) which goes for JPY1,000 to JPY2,000. It tastes fruity and smooth.

Shochu (焼酎): It is sold in the same package as sake, so please watch the name of label. Other than that, the big difference is its alcohol by volume (which is called “ALC *% or アルコール度数 *度” in Japan – “%” is the same as “度”) Sake has 12-15%, while shochu has 20-25%. 

Chu-high (酎ハイ): It’s a cocktail made from shochu and can use soda and fruit syrups.  When we use calpis, we call it a “sour” (サワー). There are a variety of tastes. Green tea chu-high (緑茶ハイ), lemon chu-high (レモンハイ), and grapefruit chu-high (グレープフルーツハイ) are popular in Japan. 

High-ball (ハイボール): It’s a cocktail made from whiskey with soda. 

What is that? This is “beer ball.”  Suntory, one of the giant beverage companies, invented the first beer which is meant to be used to make  beer cocktails. So you can drink it with soda however you like. When you get a chance, you might want to drink it as it is. It’s ABV 16%, so don’t drink it too much.


You may notice that there are a lot of giveaways on the packages of alcohol, such as beer glasses, shopping bags, picnic blankets, bags, towels, snacks, and things like that. Looking at these items, I can learn about what consumers want. It might be a popular anime character or maybe a hot item that everyone wants to get. Every single brewery bends over backwards to develop something interesting or to offer new giveaways. Sometimes these giveaways are selling at a high price at auction sites because they are limited items. 

What Is Otsumami?

Otsumami means snacks and finger foods which you can pair with drinks. Most of the time, they are sold at the same places, so you can find them easier. Dried sea foods are really tasty but they don’t pair with beer and red wine. You should choose sake or white wine instead. 

Kanzume (缶詰) is a canned food. It’s not only a Japanese thing – you can find it everywhere in the world. However there are various canned foods like yakitori, mackerel in curry soup, boiled pacific saury with miso, and smoked salmon, to name a few. Once you stock it  you can enjoy it anytime. You don’t want to miss it.

How was that? Of course, going out for drinks with someone is awesome, but the more you know about buying alcohol in Japanese by yourself, the more you get. I hope my article is of some help. Thank you for taking time to read my article to the end. See you next time!

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