After compiling a list of the weirdest snacks I have ever tried in Japan, I thought there are also many unique Japanese non-alcoholic drinks in Japan you might be interested in. I have tried the below drinks all for the first time in Japan. Because I liked most of them, I really hope you will enjoy trying them as well.
I always encourage you to make your own decisions, so even if I don't like something, that doesn't mean you wont so please make a point to always try everything I introduce you to. For me trying new foods and drinks is the highlight of every trip and I try to be as open minded as possible even if what I am served looks very off putting.
You can buy most of the drink I am mentioning either at supermarkets, convenience stores or vending machines. Some I recommend you try at a festival while you are in Japan. Let's dive right in, shall we!
Speaking of vending machines. Have you realized how much the Japanese love their vending machines? They are literally around every corner, offering you nice and refreshing drinks in summer and warming drinks that will heat you right up during winter. The most modern vending machines nowadays have touch screens and some even remember what you like to order. Japan really is a high-tech country.
Should buying a drink at a vending machine be on your Japan bucket list? In my opinion: Definitely. And what kind of weird drinks can you get at many vending machines? How about canned coffee, unsweetened tea, Calpis and Fanta in different flavors and even red bean soup.
Japan is, like China, traditionally a tea drinking culture. But they had started to embrace coffee even before the second world war and in the 1960 it started to really take off. This is also the time when the first canned coffee (缶コーヒー) was produced. The idea was to create coffee that can be enjoyed everywhere. This is true even today. You can get canned coffee everywhere in Japan either at vending machines or at supermarket and also convenience stores. The coffee, is sold either hot or cold for around 100 Yen. You can not only get black coffee but also sweetened coffee or café au lait in different sizes.
I love drinking unsweetened green tea or oolong tea. It is not only really healthy but also refreshing and a nice alternative to always just drinking water. I am not really a soft drink or juice person, so while I was living in Germany I would mainly drink water. In Japan because of the different kinds of tea I have a wide variety of drinks I can choose from that are not sweet, healthy and delicious. You can not only get bottled green or oolong tea but also Jasmin or buckwheat teas. There are stronger brewed versions and some with or without caffeine. And in winter when it gets cold they even sell warmed up green tea at your convenience store or any vending machine.
Calpis (カルピス) is an uncarbonated soft drink made from water, nonfat milk and lactic acid. It tastes a bit like very diluted yoghurt, and while I like yoghurt and even Japanese drink yoghurt (see below) I can't stand the flavor of Calpis. You can not only get it in it's normal version, but also as a carbonated drink called Calpis Soda or even with alcohol in Izakayas (Japanese bars) called Calpis Sour or Calpis Chuhai.
Now you are going to tell me "Fanta? But we also have Fanta in our country. There is nothing special about Fanta." But hold up. The Fanta in Japan comes in the strangest flavors. For me, it is a lot of fun trying these different new Fanta flavors. So far, I have seen Mango, Peach, Melon, Lime, Strawberry and of course Grape.
For my taste, they are all way too sweet as most soft drinks are but if you love Fanta it is a lot of fun to try all the different flavors you can find here in Japan.
I wouldn’t have called Oshiruko (お汁粉 ), red Azuki bean soup, a drink but it is sold canned in winter at vending machines and convenience stores, so for the purpose of this list, it is a unique Japanese non-alcoholic drink. The red bean soup is thick, warm, sweet and really delicious (if you like the red Azuki beans).
If you want to get a real (meaning not canned) version of Oshiruko or Zenzai (ぜんざい), which is basically the same thing just with a thicker consistency, you will have to visit a Japanese sweets shop. There the red bean soup will have a thick Yakimochi floating in the soup which makes it even more delicious.
Azuki beans are used in a lot of other Japanese sweats such as Dorayaki (two pancakes filled with red bean paste), Daifuku (mochi filled with red bean paste), or Taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste). I recommend you try all of these.
When you visit a supermarket, or convenience store, which I highly recommend because of all the different and unknown foods and drinks you will be able to discover, you should have a look at the following drinks: Soymilk in different flavors, drink yoghurt and Kinako Mochi drink.
By the way, most drinks you get at vending machines you will also be able to find at a supermarket or convenience store.
While soy milk is becoming more and more popular all over the world with people who are health conscious or as a milk alternative for vegans or lactose intolerant people, in Japan Tonyu (豆乳) has been popular for a long time.
Soy milk is produces by grinding soybeans in water. You can get this unique Japanese non-alcoholic drink not only in it's natural flavor but with a wide variety of added flavors such as chocolate, banana, matcha, coffee or tea, and seasonal flavors such as Sakura or Ume (plum). The soy milk in Japan is most commonly sold in small 250 ml drink packs but you can also get it in 1 liter cartons like cow milk.
My first experience with drink yoghurt (飲むヨグルト) in Japan wasn't a very good one. I bought something I assumed was 1 liter of milk. After I poured it over my cerial and took the first bite I almost gaged. That wasn't because drink yoghurt tastes bad, it doesn't, I was just expecting a completely different flavor from the sour yoghurt flavor I tasted. After the first shock I have grown to love drink yoghurt. But I don't recommend pouring it over your cerial. Just drink it as it is and you will have a nice refreshing drink. The most common flavor is plain and this is also the one I enjoy most, but you will be able to find others such as strawberry or banana as well.
I found the Kinako Mochi (きなこもち) drink at the convenience store close to my house and just had to try it. Kinako (黄粉) is roasted soybean flour which is commonly used for cooking or in sweats such as Dango (団子), which are mochi dumplings coated in sweatened Kinako powder. And this dango flavor was made into a drink, that you can buy either hot or cold.
It tastes very sweet and milky with the distinct Kinako flavor and is delicious. I couldn't drink very much of it at a time because it was so sweet. It really tastes like a desert made into a drink.
Some of the unique Japanese non-alcoholic drinks you should best drink at Japanese festivals. It is not only the drink but the whole atmosphere that makes the experience very special and a great memory. There are bigger and smaller festivals at all shrines and temples all over Japan. At Japanese festivals you will find booths that sell a variety of delicious foods and also drinks such as Amazake and Ramune.
Amazake (甘酒) is a unique Japanese non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice. There are also versions with a low amount of alcohol in them so be careful what you buy if you don't want to buy alcohol. Many Shinto shrines provide it during the New Year. This is also where I have tried Amazake for the first time. I spent the New Years holiday in Aichi Prefecture with my boyfriends family. For our first shrine visit of the year called Hatsumode we visited the local shrine along with many other people. The Shrine provided not only the delicious hot Amazake but also real Sake and some soup for all the people who were waiting in line in the cold weather to make their New Years wishes.
Ramune (ラムネ) is a soft drink sold at festivals during summer all over Japan. It is popular not only because of it's refreshing taste but also because of the unique design of the bottle. The glass bottle is closed using a marble, to open it the marble is bushed into the bottle where it will rattle around while drinking it. Ramune is especially popular with children and many Japanese because of the nostalgia Ramune manages to evoke.
I hope you liked my list of unique Japanese non-alcoholic drinks. Have you ever tried any of them? And are there any other Jpaanese drinks you would definitely mention? I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!