During the summer months here in Japan, when it is far hotter than any self respecting place really should be, it is really refreshing to come home after a hard days work and pour yourself a nice cold beer.
Only the drink pictured above isn’t beer, it isn’t even alcoholic. It is the wonderfully titled Kodomo no Norimono (Children’s Drink).
Kodomo no Norimono is a drink designed to look like beer when it is poured into a glass but it is in fact an apple flavoured fizzy drink. It even makes a head when you pour it. I wonder what sort of reaction this kind of drink would garner if it was released in the UK. Probably some sort of Daily Mail inspired ‘won’t somebody protect our children from this evil‘ letter writing campaign.
Perhaps this kind of thing exists here because of Japan’s group drinking culture. When the entire family is tucking into a specially prepared feast, the children can pretend to act like mum and dad and drink their own ‘beer’ too. I very much doubt that this kind of thing promotes alcoholism.
What is and isn’t alcohol can be very confusing to someone just arriving in this country. Take this very popular drink as an example:
When I first saw a young boy walking down the street drinking from a bottle of it, I got one hell of a shock. His mum was next to him acting all blasé about it and I began to think this was one clear case of bad parenting. That was until I discovered that cider in Japan is just another of the many words out there for carbonated soft drink and nothing to do with something that Magners would produce.
The taste of Mitsuya Cider is very similar to something like Sprite and definitely does not contain any alcohol at all.
When I first came to Japan I became obsessed with Calpis and would always try to sample all the various types of it as I came across them. Once I was on my lunch break and picked up a can of Calpis Sour, something I hadn’t seen before. As I drunk it returning to my classroom I noticed it had a bit of a strange after taste and I wasn’t too fond of it.
It wasn’t until weeks later that I realised that the strange after taste was a result of vodka being mixed in there. I can’t imagine what my students were thinking when they spied it on the table behind me. The main reason I didn’t cotton on to the alcohol present in the can was that I had never associated the word ‘sour’ with alcoholic drinks before. In Japan however it refers to a drink containing a soft drink mixed with shochu.
If you come to Japan and you are unsure if the drink you have just picked up contains alcohol, I wouldn’t go by the name of it, that may confound your expectations. Instead have a look on the packaging for this symbol: 酒. It is the kanji for alcohol and thus is a sure sign that the drink you are holding is some form of liquor.
It may also be worth knowing that sake, traditional Japanese rice wine, is not called that here either, it is known as nihonshu. Sake is the generic Japanese term for alcohol.