Big (only) in Japan? Rooftop beer gardens

August 6th, 2010 by Daniel Morales

Hankyu Top Beer Garden

Quaffing brews in the beer garden on top of Hankyu department store

The global economy is in shambles. Summer temperatures and humidity have reached record levels all across the northern hemisphere. In Japan this means two things for certain – an increase in the sales of odorless underwear and an increase in the sales of cheap no- and low-malt beer and beer-like beverages. However, this year real beer has also made a small comeback thanks to a boom in beer gardens.

While beer gardens are a Bavarian tradition (the term comes from the German “Biergarten”), the Japanese have been at the game since 1953, when one debuted on top of the New Tokyo Osaka Daiichi Seimei Building, and they’ve added their own unique touches to the fun. Technically beer gardens can and do happen on the ground (or below ground, in which case they are called “beer terraces”) or in any open area with enough space, but in Japan there is a romantic attachment to ones held on the roofs of department stores and other tall buildings. This makes them top draws in late summer after the rainy season has passed and when fireworks season has started.

Generally the drink service at beer gardens is “nomihodai” (unlimited refills) for a set period of time (90 minutes to two hours), and often food is included as well, putting the ¥3,000-¥4,000 ticket within the budgets of many consumers.

This year Yomiuri and Nikkei Shimbun have both noted that the customer base has also diversified. While the rooftop atmospheres lit with lanterns evoke a Showa-era scene filled with smoke and businessmen, more and more women are taking advantage of the offerings, and some beer gardens are offering healthier, low-calorie fare that incorporates hijiki seaweed and burdock as well as sweets such as tai-yaki. Nikkei Trendy Net also noted that there are more women working and therefore probably more women who want to take advantage of the liberating atmosphere of beer gardens as a form of stress relief.

On a linguistic sidenote, in Japanese beer is normally written “biiru,” but when put next to the Japanese “gaaden,” it is written and spoken “bia.” Japanese commenters on Yahoo! note that this is because it’s closer to the English pronunciation of the word “beer,” but that begs the question why it isn’t always pronounced like that.

Photo: Karl Baron

Tags: , ,

2 Responses

  1. Biya is the Australian pronunciation for beer and probably is the result of many Aussies frequenting beer gardens. Biru is closer to the U.S. and Germanic pronunciation and inasmuch as I believe it was the Germans who set up the Japanese beer industry back in the Meiji era, that is where the pronunciation comes from rather than from the U.S. occupation

  2. Was just reading some stuff about the Dutch in Japan and according to the author the term comes from the dutch birru. There are so many loanwords that making the simplification that katakana=english just doesn’t work.


Recent Posts

  • J-blip: Ipsa’s Face Melody

    Every face has a name, a story and . . . a song? That’s the idea behind cosmetic company Ipsa’s newest creation. We should, uh, take it at face value, but the company claims that its Face Melody program can measure the user’s appearance and write a unique tune based on their attributes. The application […]

  • Japan celebrates the GIFs that keep on giving

    GIFs — which stands for graphics interchange format, don’t you know — have made the Internet an even more enjoyable place than before, and we have the receipts to prove it. These digital designs were technological wonders back in the days of AOL and Netscape (Google it, kids). But they eventually went from high-tech animation […]

  • Smart absolutions: Send off your sins with just one click

    The two-step method to purification.

  • Attack of the plant hunters, green carnivores and fleshy girls

    Never promised you a rose garden, but how about a fleshy plant or a stag-horn fern?

  • Make 12th-century art using 21st-century tech

    The Choju-Giga, the famed animal caricature ink paintings displayed Kyoto’s Kozan-ji Temple have been captivating people for centuries. The four scrolls, which date to the 12th and 13th centuries and depict rabbits and monkeys getting into mischief, are often cited as the first manga comics in Japan’s history. Now art lovers can create their own […]

  • Fuji Rock bound? Make sure you survive in style

    A few items that will help you stay dry and happy during Fuji Rock Festival’s unpredictable weather.

  • Pokemon ages ungracefully with middle-aged ‘Ojisan Monsters’

    “Ojimon” is a new mobile game where players can catch middle-aged pocket monsters and make them do their bidding.

  • The new face of Japanese beauty products

    A wise woman once said that beauty is pain, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. With designer face masks, even the simple act of skin moisturizing can become fun. Face masks rose to popularity after the 2011 Korean BB Cream craze. Over the past four years, the “lazy girl” alternative to […]

  • Dominique Ansel caters to Tokyo’s (semi)sweet tooth with cronuts and s’more

    Long queues will mark the spot where Dominique Ansel wil be serving a vast array of creative desserts and, of course, his famed Cronut.

  • Load up YouTube because it’s morphin’ time!

    Summon your Megazord because the Power Rangers are heading to YouTube — and it’s all in Japanese. “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” was a hit children’s show back in the ‘90s that featured campy acting, ridiculous monsters and possibly the best theme song of all time. It was actually based on the long-running “Super Sentai” TV […]