Fancy a gulp of curry lemonade? Or how about some refreshing salty cider? Sold in department stores and over the Internet, regionally produced cider and ramune are becoming increasingly popular with both people nostalgic for the past and young people who dig the look of retro ramune bottles and cider labels.
Japanese cider is a nonalcoholic drink similar to Sprite, while ramune, introduced to Japan in 1876, resembles the British version of lemonade (clear, not cloudy). For me, the drinks are indistinguishable in taste, but that certainly can’t be said for the plethora of locally made cider and ramune that have been popping up all over the country. According to Kyodo News, in January of this year there were 127 varieties of regionally produced soft drinks, 2.4 times the figure four years ago.
The fun thing about the boom is that each area has its own take on the classic summer drinks, introducing local ingredients and using local water that has its own distinctive taste. Take Hokkaido’s melon ramune, for instance, which tastes of locally grown akaniku (red meat) melons. And as the largest producer of wasabi in Japan, Shizuoka naturally produces a kick-ass wasabi-flavored ramune, which probably should be placed in the “drink if you dare” category.” There’s even a salt cider, useful in summer to help rehydrate the body, made in the salt-producing village of Okunoto in Ishikawa Prefecture.
In at least one case, the selling point of the product is spiritual. Hiyoshiyo Goukaku (Certain Success) Daruma cider is blessed at Shizuoka’s Tenshin Shrine and claims to ensure students who buy it success in entrance exams. Personally I don’t think they need to make any mystical claims, as the cute daruma bottle already had me sold.
According to MSN news, department stores last year did a brisk business in locally made cider and ramune, with the help of attractive natsukashi (nostalgic) displays during the summer months. This year, online retailer Rakuten has got some good offers on mixed cases of cider and ramune for aficionados.
As the weather heats up, so should sales of cider and ramune, possibly making this summer the best yet for local producers. It looks like a locally made cola might also be a hit this summer. There’s already an Okinawan cola made from black cane sugar on the market and March saw the release of Iwate Koharu (Indian summer), a sugar-free cola made by a local beer brewer.