Annals of cheap: Daigoro
Like many people, I had many surprises when I first arrived in Japan, and one of them was the sight of men (always men) drinking openly on the street. Often it was canned beer, but if any one product was ubiquitous it was One Cup Ozeki, which for years I assumed was actually marketed with street drinking in mind. Actually, it was developed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as an all-in-one package for nihonshu-lovers. The packaging itself is a sturdy glass “cup” with a metal pull top and a plastic replaceable cover, meaning you can enjoy it without having to provide your own container. This was just the sort of thing that street drinkers, a class of recreationists that includes a good portion of day workers, chronic alcoholics and homeless, were waiting for, so to speak, especially since a 180-ml portion was less than ¥220. In fact, Ozeki, the major sake brewer behind the brand, had to contend with an image that associated One Cup with the indigent. For a while, the company actually embraced this image indirectly with award-winning TV commercials that showed how the cups could double as flower vases and containers for household items, a utility to which the homeless had been putting discarded One Cup Ozeki containers for years.
However, the liqour containers that have proved to be more useful in my neighborhood (I live on the edge of Sanya, Tokyo’s traditional day-laborer mecca) are 2.7- and 4-liter PET bottles for Daigoro shochu. To the street drinker, One Cup Ozeki, with an alchol level of 14 percent, is a mere pick-me-up or hair of the dog. Daigoro, made by Asahi Breweries, is the real thing at 20 percent. Discount liquor stores sell the 2.7-liter bottle for less than ¥1,400 and the 4-liter monster for about ¥2,200. And when the contents are drained you’ve got a sturdy, handy container that’s good for shlepping water from the nearest park drinking fountain or water faucet to your custom-made, blue-tarped lean-to overlooking Sumida River. They can also be filled with sand or pebbles and used as weights for holding down the flaps of your tent. Everyday, I see guys in my neighborhood peddling their broken down bicycles with Daigoro PET bottles, empty or full, strapped to the frames, ready for whatever service is needed.