Posts Tagged ‘alcohol’

When is a beer with lunch not a beer with lunch?

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Since Kirin launched Kirin Free back in April 2009, non-alcoholic beer has been a huge success in Japan. Now the other three major breweries, Asahi, Suntory and Sapporo, have all launched similar products. Suntory’s All Free is the most popular and sales were up 23 percent in the first half of this year for the same period the year before.

To encourage further growth it seems that Suntory is now promoting the idea of All Free as a lunch-time drink during the work week. Last month they opened up the All Free Garden in Tokyo Midtown Roppongi for a limited 12-day run. Open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., office workers could pop by for a meal accompanied by a cool glass of All Free.

But not everyone thinks it’s acceptable to drink beer during lunch time. According to a survey by M1.F1 Research Survey, 32.7 percent of male respondents between the ages 20 and 34 thought that their colleagues would be annoyed with them if they saw them drinking non-alcoholic beer during their lunch breaks. In comparison, 48.4 percent said they felt their colleagues would be annoyed with them for drinking a normal beer during lunch.

Of 618 respondents of both sexes, 35.9 percent said that if they saw their colleagues drinking non-alcohol beer they wouldn’t be that bothered, and 14.4 percent were tolerant of their colleagues drinking real beer. While these figures are encouraging, it seems that beer manufacturers have a way to go to convince the public that it’s OK to drink non-alcoholic beer at lunch.

Even if beer companies are keen to win the public over and make lunchtime non-alcohol beer acceptable, they themselves are drawing the line at targeting minors, despite the fact that according to the letter of the law, it’s OK for minors to consume anything under 1 percent alcohol.

In an article in Tokyo Shimbun, a PR representative for Kirin made it clear that Kirin Free was not intended to be drunk by children and stressed that the product was developed to help eradicate drunken driving and is aimed at those who are 20 years and over. It seems that Suntory, Asahi and Sapporo are of the same opinion. They encourage stores to display non-alcoholic beer alongside alcoholic beverages and restaurants to list it on their alcoholic drinks menus.

Convenience stores are backing them up: Seven Eleven and Lawson do ID checks before selling the stuff. Family Mart doesn’t check IDs but can refuse to sell it to kids who are obviously under age. A number of schools have explicitly banned the drinks.

The upshot seems to be that while it may soon become acceptable to sip fake beer during the office lunch break, minors will not be openly chugging down non-alcoholic beers.

I’m too sexy for my sutras

Thursday, May 17th, 2012


Kansho Tagai, the rapping monk.

Cute young monks are apparently gaining in popularity among young women in Japan. Whether the draw is the sage advice or unadorned good looks, an event held by young monks at Ginza Modern Art gallery in Tokyo has been attended by eager crowds of women in their 20s and 30s. Furthermore, the popularity of “The Illustrated Picture Book of Beautiful Young Monks,” published last month, seems to indicate that some women are focusing on the physical, rather than metaphysical, attractions of the Buddhist religion.

This illustrated book features hunky monks

The Ginza event is called “Be Healed by Young Monks.” The idea of the monthly gathering is to create an easy-going atmosphere in which members of the public can chat with young Buddhist monks. To encourage an informal atmosphere, beer and snacks are consumed by both lay people and monks. Though sutras are read at the beginning, guests are not necessarily limited to consulting the monk hosts about matters of religion. According to an article in Sponichi, women also ask for advice on matters of the heart, posing questions such as, “Is it bad that I feel so jealous of my boyfriend’s platonic friendship with another woman?”

The event was created last year as a way for members of the public who have been under stress since the quake to get stuff off their chests. The rather salacious article in Sponichi, however, suggests that the women attending have other motives in mind. “The monk held my gaze as he talked to me. He was really adorable,” a 20-year-old university student tells Sponichi. “He spoke beautifully, completely different from the guys I know.”

Though this might not be exactly the kind of attention they are craving from Japan’s youth, some Buddhist monks seem to be willing to employ radical methods to get people interested in the religion.  According to the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, since 2000, hundreds of temples have closed every year.  Monks serve up both alcohol and sutras at the bar Vowz in Shinjuku. Though the bartenders here aren’t specifically chosen to be easy on the eye, the monks of the Jodo sect who run this bar do have an easy-going approach to religious instruction. Hip hop is another unlikely weapon being used to entice young worshipers. According to CNN World, Kansho Tagai has doubled attendance by rapping sutras and holding hip hop events at Kyoouji Temple.

Can we expect Buddhism to be coming back into style? Perhaps. One reviewer on Amazon of “The Illustrated Picture Book of Beautiful Young Monks”  pointed out that monks might be on the cutting edge, since the shaven head (non)hair style is “gentle on the purse and the environment.” Word.

 

Rediscovering Japan’s ‘lost generation’ and Tokyo Beatles

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Life magazine has dug into its vault and recently released a treasure trove of photos that photojournalist Michael Rougier took for a Life special issue on Japan, published in September 1964. Many of them have never been published before. Rougier contrasted the outer appearance of “youth who seem as wholesome and happy as a hot fudge sundae” with the subcultures he found hanging out in jazz clubs and taking drugs at all-night beach parties. In text that accompanied the photos, correspondent Robert Morse wrote:

Having sliced the ties that bind them to the home, in desperation they form their own miniature societies with rules of their own. The young people in these groups are are bound to one another not out of mutual affection — in many cases the “lost ones” are incapable of affection — but from the need to belong, to be part of something.

Morse and Rougier documented the kids who rebelled against their parents through pill popping, motorcycle riding, swigging booze — and gyrating to the sounds of the Tokyo Beatles. The band was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, with only one album to show for its three years in existence. The music is covers of Beatles’ songs rendered in a mix of Japanese and English. It sounds at once like a straight copy and like something completely new. Judging from the photographs, it hit the right chords with the teens of Tokyo. We strongly recommend that you see the full gallery of photos and read more at LIFE.com. It won’t be time wasted.

A cocktail of AR and social marketing

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Chivas Regal scotch is making a stir with a promotion campaign that harnesses the power of augmented reality. The campaign, which claims to be the first of its of its kind in Japan, is rather unfortunately named Aroma of Tokyo — not really the association you want to make in these sweaty days of extreme heat and power-saving measures.

Nevertheless, the concept is simple and clever: Users, while out and about in Tokyo, collect points via their cell phone that can then be exchanged for a free cocktail or gift. To take part, participants must first download AR app Layar to their cell phones. The app, which is compatible with GPS-equipped cell phones, then directs a user to one of several locations where points can be obtained. Once at a location you need to check in using Foursquare or Livedoor’s social networking service Rocket Touch to obtain points. After you’ve collected 18 points, you receive a coupon for a free cocktail at one of 18 bars around the city. The Chivas Regal cocktails, which are said to be worth ¥2,000 each, have been specially created by top Tokyo bartenders.

If you manage to collect 85 points, you’ll receive free Chivas Regal branded gifts: either a moleskin wallet or a USB stick. Those who check in with Rocket Touch get entered into a weekly lottery for which the prize is a 700 ml bottle of Chivas Regal.

Though the AR element is not particularly elegant, merely consisting of a blue dot superimposed on your cell phone screen that guides the user through Tokyo’s streets, we think it’s nevertheless a clever marketing gimmick. Utilizing new technology is bound to attract a younger crowd, making them aware of the brand. The number 18 (18 points for a cocktail, 18 participating bars) also underlines the message that this is to promote Chivas 18. It’s also a win-win for Chivas because it drives customers to  bar/clients that stock the alcohol.

In many ways the campaign resembles Facebook’s new “Check-In Coupon” service, with which users can obtain coupons depending on their physical location, with the added, yet rather basic, AR element.

 

Bringing nihonshu into the mix

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Fancy a sake and tonic? The owners of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar are hoping the answer from young drinkers will be a hearty yes as they attempt to carve out a new niche in Japan’s crowded drinks market. The bar, which bills itself as the world’s first specialist sake cocktail bar, opened in Ginza on April 20 and is a collaboration between seven different sake brewers who are using the venture to raise the profile of the much-maligned sake cocktail.

Yep, that's what they call a sake bomb.

Though sake cocktails, such as the sake bomb, have made a splash overseas, the concept has yet to gain traction in Japan, according to Food Stadium. Many of the sake producers I spoke to at Foodex, a couple of years ago seemed to view the concept of mixing sake with anything as an aberration, but some were trying to run with the concept with a special stand serving cocktails shaken by bow-tied bartenders from snazzy silver shakers. This new venture is simply raising the profile of a campaign that has yet to gain momentum.

If they can pull it off, the rewards could be huge. Suntory’s campaign to promote the highball has brought the company a whole new generation of whiskey drinkers, who like the idea of whiskey as a sophisticated drink but are put off by the high alcohol content. Nihonshu suffers from the same image problem whiskey did years back: it’s perceived as both expensive and way too strong. Many young drinkers instead prefer to instead drink shochu with a mixer which allows them to enjoy the tipple without getting immediately smashed.

The SAKE nic (¥580) is at the forefront of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar’s campaign to reinvent sake in Japan: The drink is a blend of seven different sakes mixed with tonic and a sliver of orange peel, and is designed to be refreshing and zesty. Their other trademark drink is the Sake Espuma (¥630): sake blended with a special machine that gives the drink a beer-like frothy head. In addition to offering 150 types of sake cocktails, the bar is covering its bases by also offering classic spirit-based cocktails, whiskey and beer.

But a small band of sake producers don’t have the advertising clout that a huge company like Suntory possesses, so even if they can get people drinking these cocktails, it’s going to take awhile for the trend to take hold. In the hopes that trend will catch on elsewhere the bar will be holding sake cocktail workshops for restaurateurs and other promotional events.

Can sake shake off its old geezer image and get with younger drinkers? The owners of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar have certainly got their work cut out for them. According to C Scout, a 2009 survey of women aged 20-30 showed that 75 percent of them hardly ever drink nihonshu and that’s just the demographic they’re aiming to turn around.

Photo: Marcelo Teson

Trends in Japan 2010: food and drink

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This year’s hottest product, quite literally, was taberu rayu, a spicy sauce that made it into the top keywords of the year and even beat smart phones to the top spot of Nikkei Trendy’s hit product list for 2010. Back in July we reported on how the chili-infused condiment, which contains minced onion and garlic, had gone from a foodie novelty to one of the Japan’s hottest new sauces in just under a year. Figuring out that it tasted delicious on burgers, big-name brands like Mos Burger picked up the trend and ran with it. The chain’s crunchy rayu burger, designed by Terry Ito, was a huge hit this summer.

Sales of All-Free were suspended in August due to high demand

Japan’s unusually hot summer was cited as part of the reason behind the taberu rayu craze (spicy food is said to be cooling in hot weather), and other brands profited from the sweltering temperatures as well. Stocks of Japan’s favorite retro ice lolly Garigari-kun were dangerously low at one point during the summer, causing makers to officially apologize to disappointed customers. Suntory also found it hard to keep up with demand for their new All-Free non alcoholic low calorie beer, and in August, according to Daily Yomiuri, were forced to temporarily suspend sales until September.

One of the more unusual food trends to break over the summer was the new Tokyo-based fad for chowing down on a big bowl of ramen noodle broth for breakfast. The idea is for busy workers to stock up on calories ahead of a grueling day, enabling them to either skip lunch or grab a small snack on the fly during the day. While the number of restaurants serving ramen has increased in recent years, the trend hasn’t quite reached epidemic proportions yet. The idea of morning mochi provided an attractive alternative to those seeking a seeking a hearty breakfast at home: Marushin’s Good Morning Breakfast Mochi, launched in April this year, proved much more popular than the company initially expected with sales figures 180 percent higher than the company’s typical mochi sales.

On the marketing end of things, dozens of companies tried to cash in the Ryoma Sakamoto boom, spurred by the popularity of the yearlong NHK taiga drama “Ryomanden.” Be it associated with burgers, soft drinks, ramen chips, curry, or beer — the face of the legendary samurai was everywhere.

Dining out continued to get cheaper during 2010 as izakaya scrambled to outdo each other with cut-price deals. The biggest gimmick of 2010 was offering free drinks of shochu to get customers through the doors. Another gimmick, which isn’t so new but was in full effect during 2010, was the use of cute young girls to entice male custom. We’re not only talking about Hooters’ arrival in Japan, which opened its doors for the first time this year in Japan but other establishments such as Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub and Nadeshico Sushi, which also entered the restaurant market: Both establishments hired bevies of cute girls to serve food to, mostly likely, an exclusively male clientele.

Major beer companies diet excessively while craft brewers beef up

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Rest your liver, say the big brewers. Low-alcohol beers and sugar-free beers are booming.

Rest your liver, say the big brewers. Low-alcohol beers and sugar-free beers are booming.

The big four Japanese beer companies – Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory – are in a constant turf war. Game theory keeps them intertwined in a fierce marketing dead heat, and the types of beer they release seem to be hamstrung by a monkey-see-monkey-do strategy and Japanese tax laws.

Over the past seven years, beer companies have produced cheaper and cheaper products by dancing around Japanese tax laws that define beer by barley content,  and politicians have continuously revised the regulations to combat deficits. Brewers first pushed happoshu, a low malt beer, through the tax loophole. Not surprisingly, the beer sold extremely well. Politicians modified laws in 2003 to tax happoshu, and brewers began to “third-type beers” such as Sapporo’s Draft One, which eschews all barley and uses fermentables from peas and corn instead. In 2006, politicians redefined these as “other fermented beverages” to bring them under tax laws.

As the law currently stands, 100% malt beer is taxed at ¥222 per liter, beverages with a barley content of 25-50% at ¥178, and those with less than 25% at ¥134.

Japanese "beer": So much alcohol, so little barley.

Current-day Japanese “beer”: So much alcohol, so little barley.

Most of these beers have maintained the standard 5% alcohol by volume level, but recently companies have been experimenting with sugar-free beers, alcohol-free beers and beers with higher alcohol content. Kirin just released its strangely titled “Yasumu hi no Alc. 0.00%” (“0.00% for the days you rest”), and the advertisements encourage drinkers to “Please, rest your liver” with some Japanese punnery. The movement for sugar-free beers culminated finally in Asahi’s awful Strong Off – a 7% beer that mysteriously has 60% less sugar – and Suntory’s Relax, a sugar-free brew that boasts seven hops. These beers rely on novelty to help them sell, and the big brewers will continue to swap their mutant beer lineup in and out so their marketing campaigns can stay fresh.

Japanese craft beer companies and craft beer bars, on the other hand, are experiencing the opposite phenomenon: They are brewing more barley-heavy beers, and they are building a substantial audience of good beer fans.

While Japanese craft brewing has existed since 1994, when changes in laws reduced the minimum brewing volume required for a brewing license, only recently have Japanese brewers started pushing the envelope with extreme beers that make use of large quantities of barley and hops.

Continue reading about craft brewers in Japan →

Japan’s chocolatiers search for the sweet spot

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Left to Right: Sapporo's Chocolat Brewery Bitter beer, Suntory's Chocolate Sparkling soda and Asahi's Chocolat Cocktail

Left to right: Sapporo’s Chocolat Brewery Bitter beer, Suntory’s Chocolate Sparkling soda and Asahi’s Chocolat Cocktail

With weeks to go until Valentine’s Day (and its younger Japanese cousin, White Day), the barrage of new chocolate products and chocolate marketing has begun. Japan’s 285,000-ton-a year habit pales in comparison to western consumption, but the sweet stuff plays an major role in the country’s snack and dessert markets, as well as in societal traditions such as the o-chugen, o-seibo and omiyage. What was once considered a yearly social obligation for many women is now changing, but people continue to buy cacao products (including luxury items), if for no one else but themselves.

Recipes are not restricted to candy, however. A variety of chocolate-flavored beverages are now available at convenience stores. Japan Pulse’s independent and unscientific taste test found that the flavor of Sapporo’s Chocolat Brewery Bitter beer fits the winter palate quite well (although some disagree), but the brew loses points for being happoshu instead of proper beer.

Suntory’s Chocolate Sparkling soda was surprisingly drinkable, but the sensory equivalent of a trompe-l’œil for the tongue: How could something that goes down like Perrier taste like a Cadbury? W. David Marx over at CNNGo postulates that the drink might be have been engineered this way to appeal to the sweet tooth who watches their weight. Clear as club-soda with an equally clean finish, Chocolate Sparkling lacks the viscous, creamy texture one associates with chocolate beverages.

Continue reading about chocolate in Japan →

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