Thursday, October 2, 2008


I am thoroughly convinced that Japan produces 95% of the strangest things in the world.

It's weird, it's wonderful, and it's all so very... Japanese. I've never been there, sadly, but perhaps when a former housemate gets married. He's currently in an omiai (speaking of uniquely Japanese). His boss is basically forcing him into an arranged marriage.

When it comes to alcohol, Japan has many social norms that are wildly out of sync with the U.S. And it's perhaps illustrative to view a few examples, if only to think about just how unlawful/impractical/unimaginable such things might be in the U.S. Here's just a couple examples.

Example 1: Bottle Keep. From Lisa Katayama's blog Tokyo Mango. Apparently there is a tradition of regulars in Japanese bars purchasing bottles of sake and just store them at the bar, taking a glass whenever they come in. Each person gets a little tag that stays on the bottle and identifies it as theirs. Would this work in America? Mmmm, no I'm thinking... I've got a personal mug that hangs at the Titanic, but I don't think 1) they'd be willing to put up with the storage space requirements if I wanted to store bottles, 2) they make more money selling glasses of wine that bottles of it, and 3) I have no faith that the collective sense of social propriety in the US would in any way prevent moochers from drinking my bottle while I was gone. At least if anyone "borrows" my mug it'll get washed before it's put back on its hook...probably.

Example 2: Kids Beer. Via Fermentarium. Beer for kids! No it's not actually beer, per se, it's a brown, foamy tea-based drink aimed at kids. The commercials are great, and can be viewed here on the company's website. Alcohol advertising to kids? Candy cigarette anyone?

Example 3: Micros! It used to be that if you wanted a Japanese beer you had a choice between Asahi, Kirin, or Sapporo. (Ok, so there are a few other smaller ones as well.) Reason being, in order to get a license to brew in Japan you had to produce over 2 million barrels a year, meaning only big industrial conglomerates could brew.

In 1994, the rules were relaxed and micros began to appear. On a return from a recent trip home, my housemate brought a horizontal flight from Baird Brewing, an American style micro started in Numazu by American Bryan Baird and his wife Sayuri. The beers were good. There was a wheat, a pale, an IPA, a brown, a stout, and a porter, and if I had one observation it was that the hops tasted a little strange, perhaps they use New Zealand varieties? My wife is also fond of the Hitachino Nest beers, although the adorable owl on the label probably has something to do with it. But beers like this bode well for the micro movement in Japan.

Not that American Micros don't make it over. I managed to snag a bottle each of Rogue's White Swan and Red Fox beers, brewed for Newport's sister city in Japan. Not to mention Rogue's Morimoto beers: the Imperial Pilsner, Black Obi, and Soba Ale.

Image from (I'm not at home to take a photo of my bottles!)

Example 4: Suntory. I can't think of Japanese whiskey without thinking of Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. They make a fine whiskey, and are one of the oldest alcoholic beverage companies in Japan.

"Santori Time"

Example 5: Bartenders. This article
from last month's Bon Appetit says it all, though there's also a great segment in the Tokyo episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Cocktail-do is taken very, very seriously. The thought of a bartender on South Beach putting even a fraction of that effort into a drink is hilarious.

Finally, for good Japanese food in Miami go to Matsuri or Maido. An unsolicited plug because both these restaurants are amazing.

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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.