When it comes to discovering Japan there are the obvious things you could do, like exploring the temples, shrines, and castles around the country to learn about religion and history or participating in cultural events like festivals, tea ceremonies or theaters.
And then there is, of course, the food that will help you gain an understanding for Japan. But rather than just concentrating on the delicious dishes that you can find all over the country (or maybe the weirdest Japanese food) it is also a great idea to check what is stocked at convenience stores, supermarkets, and even the ever-present vending machines. There are many drinks in Japan that you simply have to try to have a complete experience and to understand Japan better.
I love many of the drinks in Japan I introduce in this post, others I don’t enjoy all that much. I always tell you my personal opinion but just because I don’t enjoy something doesn’t mean you won’t. Therefore I encourage you to try all the Japanese drinks, even the ones you might not like.
Let’s dive right in and find 25 non-alcoholic drinks in Japan you have to try!
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 1960s 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 supermarkets and also convenience stores.
The coffee is sold either hot or cold for around 100 yen (1 US dollar). You can not only get black coffee but also sweetened coffee or café au lait in different sizes. It is one of those Japanese drinks that are nothing fancy but still one of the awesome drinks to try in Japan.
I love drinking unsweetened green tea. It is not only really healthy but also refreshing and a nice alternative to 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 barley 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.
Mugicha (Barley Tea)
As I mentioned above, not only green tea can be found in Japan. Mugicha, barley tea is very popular as well, because of its health benefits. Especially girls like to drink it because it is supposed to help you lose weight.
There are many foreigners who don’t like the taste of Mugicha. Try it for yourself and decide.
Royal Milk Tea
Another tea that needs to be mentioned when talking about drinks from Japan is milk tea. I never really liked the Japanese version of milk tea, having fallen in love with super sweet milk tea from Bangladesh or India Japanese milk tea just feels way too boring for me.
Still, it is something very typical in Japan and can be found in every convenience store or supermarket.
Calpis or Calpico
The Japanese love to drink Calpis (カルピス) also called Calpico, an uncarbonated soft drink made from water, nonfat milk, and lactic acid.
It tastes a bit like very diluted yogurt, and while I like yogurt and even Japanese drink yogurt (see below) I can’t stand the flavor of Calpis.
You can not only get it in its normal version but also as a carbonated drink called Calpis Soda. Japanese drink Calpico even with alcohol in Izakaya (Japanese bars) called Calpis Sour or Calpis Chuhai.
Japanese Fanta Flavors
Now you are going to tell me “Fanta? But we also have Fanta in our country. There is nothing special about Fanta.” But hold on. 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.
As Japanese soda goes, Fanta is one of the best you can try. 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.
Melon soda is a bright green Japanese beverage that tastes nothing like a melon. It does, however, taste like a bubbly super-sweet fizzy drink that could only be created in Japan. It is probably one of the best Japanese soft drinks.
For my taste, it is way way way too sweet, and it really is very popular with children because what straight thinking adult would drink something as crazy as a bright green fizzy drink? The answer is Japanese adults, apparently.
One variation of melon soda is a melon float, melon soda served with vanilla soft serve ice cream floating on top. You can find this drink for example in many Karaoke places and some Izakaya.
Why do people drink aloe drinks? Benefits range from better skin and a healthier liver to hydration and better constipation. But when we were told aloe drinks are healthy they didn’t really mean the kind of aloe drinks you get in Japan.
Here the aloe drinks are mixed with other juice and with lots and lots of added sugar. I feel like the aloe vera was only added for its texture, as it adds a jelly-like quality to the drinks.
Clear soda saw a boom in Japan in recent years. You could get a clear version of anything from Coca Cola to coffee.
The reason for this popularity is the Japanese work etiquette since you shouldn’t bring anything aside from water into a meeting in Japan. If you have a sweet drink that looks like water you can bring it with you to your next meeting with your client. Just take off the label.
Acerola is a type of cherry and acerola soda tastes exactly like you would imagine cherry soda to taste like. It’s delicious!
Japanese Marble Soda Ramune
If you were wondering what the name of the Japanese drink with marble is, that’s Ramune (ラムネ). Ramune is a soft drink sold at festivals during summer all over Japan.
It is popular not only because of its 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 pushed into the bottle where it will rattle around while you drink it. Ramune is especially popular with children but also much older Japanese because of the nostalgia Ramune manages to evoke.
By the way, many people ask ‘Does Ramune have alcohol?’ and the answer is ‘No’. It’s a drink for children. It’s just soda, Ramune is not alcoholic.
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 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 and white Yakimochi made from rice flour 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 because they are all delicious.
Flavored Soy Milk Drinks
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, Tonyu (豆乳) has been a popular Japanese drink for a long time.
Soy milk is produced by grinding soybeans in water. You can get this Japanese non-alcoholic drink not only in its 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.
Japanese Yogurt Drink
My first experience with drink yogurt (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 cereal and took the first bite I almost gagged. That wasn’t because drink yogurt tastes bad, it doesn’t, I was just expecting a completely different flavor from the sour yogurt flavor I tasted.
After the first shock, I have grown to love drink-yogurt, one of the really weird Japanese drinks. But I don’t recommend pouring it over your cereal. 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.
Japanese Probiotic Drink Yakult
Yakult is a probiotic drink that has been sold since the 1930s. I never knew Yakult was originally from Japan because it was sold in German supermarkets since as long as I can remember and it is very popular there as well.
Yakult is sold in tiny containers and it is recommended to drink one every day to help create a healthy gut flora and to support regular bowel movements. This is according to a study done by a Nutrition Center in the Netherlands. I had no idea Yakult actually worked. As a child, I just always wanted to have some, because who doesn’t want to drink something that comes in a tiny bottle, am I right.
It really is one of those healthy Japanese drinks everyone is always talking about.
Japanese Jelly Drinks
The Japanese love jelly. It’s everywhere, in desserts in the form of coffee jelly or as a snack in little packs, but of course, they also have a wide variety of jelly drinks.
The one in the picture is one of these drinks that is supposed to give you instant energy from calories added to the jelly. There are a wide variety of flavors and additions such as vitamins, energy (whatever that entails), protein and minerals.
There are jelly drinks for children as well such as Purun Purun Qoo which is a popular drink in Japan.
Aojiru (Green Soup)
Aojiru is a Japanese vegetable drink, and it is one of the most popular drinks in Japan. There are countless TV commercials selling you the benefits of Aojiru, and how important it is to drink at least one every day. A wide variety of producers make Aojiru, most of them sell it in the form of powder which you can prepare easily at home just by adding cold or even hot water.
Every commercial is trying to tell us how delicious Aojiru is (even though it is famous for having an unpleasant bitter taste). I have never tried this Japanese drink, but if I ever get the chance to I will let you know how it tasted.
Japanese Energy Drinks
Drinks such as Tiovita or Lipovitan are the energy drinks of Japan. They come in 50 to 100 ml bottles, very small compared to our western energy drinks such as Redbull or Monster.
The Japanese energy drinks are supposed to help with concentration, fight weakness and fatigue, boost strength and nourishment. They are popular drinks in Japan among students studying for exams as well as working adults who have to do a lot of overtime work.
The benefits of these drinks are depicted in many TV commercials where drinking one small bottle of your chosen energy drink will revitalize you so much you can go another couple of hours more.
Collagen Drinks from Japan
Have you ever heard about collagen drinks? Japan loves them. Especially the female half because drinking The Collagen (made by Shiseido the beauty company) is supposed to make your skin more shiny and young looking.
I’m not convinced but if you have the spare change to buy a bottle every day be my guest and try it.
Japanese Vitamin Drinks
When I feel a cold coming or all my colleagues at work start sniffing I start drinking C1000 Vitamin drink. It comes in lemon or orange flavor and contains lots and lots of vitamins, at least that’s what they write on the bottle.
I don’t know how true it is, and I don’t know how much it has really helped me over the years, but it tastes great and I fell I am doing something for my immune system.
Japanese Hangover Cure
The Japanese love drinking alcohol, so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that they also found the cure for the hangover that comes around the next morning.
Their answer to every hangover is turmeric an Asian root that is used for cooking and apparently also in Japanese drinks to cure a hangover.
It is important that you drink your hangover cure before you start drinking. You can buy one small bottle at every convenience or drug store. For people who like to drink alcohol, this might just be the best drink in Japan.
Kinako Mochi Drink
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 sweetened 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 is one of those Japanese sweet drinks that really taste like a dessert made into a drink.
Of all the traditional Japanese drinks Amazake (甘酒) might be the most popular today. It is made from fermented rice.
Amazake alcohol content is between 0 and 8%. When you buy it at the supermarket it is mostly non-alcoholic, but you should check the labels.
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 with my Japanese 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.
Japanese Non-Alcoholic Beer
I am not a beer drinker so I was never really interested in beer in general. But recently I learned that non-alcoholic beer in Japan is a great alternative to normal alcoholic beer, especially if you are the designated driver for the evening. In Japan, there is no tolerance for drinking and driving and even one glass of beer can get you in big trouble.
So, if you are the driver for the night out make sure to order non-alcoholic beer only.
Japanese Plum Wine (Non-Alcoholic)
If you are like me and don’t like beer the alternative to non-alcoholic beer is non-alcoholic Japanese plum wine or Umeshu. I love Umeshu and I think it is great that they made a non-alcoholic version. They sell it at some restaurants but also at the supermarket.
The drinks in Japan are very diverse and especially for western people from Europe and the US the Japanese drinks are unique and strange. And definitely a little everyday adventure.
If you are not only interested in drinks but also Japanese food check out what to eat in Japan and also my Nagoya Food Guide where I teach about the local Nagoya food including many restaurant recommendations in Nagoya. You can also learn about Hitsumabushi, my favorite food of all.
To gain a real understanding of the food scene in Nagoya you might want to consider participating in one of the food tours we at Nagoya Foodie offer every day. Check out the Nagoya Meshi Food Tour page for more information.
If you are planning a trip to Nagoya or other parts of Japan you could check out the following posts to plan your trip there:
- One Day Nagoya Itinerary
- Things to Do in Nagoya
- Day Trips from Nagoya
- The Best Hotels in Nagoya
- Day Trip to Shirakawago
- Where to Buy the Japan Rail Pass
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In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.