Nunc est bibendum

© Grigoris A. Miliaresis

The similarity between beer in Japan and “firewater” in America stops at the fact that both were introduced by Europeans in the 17th century; contrary to Native American tribes, the Japanese had already an alcoholic beverage culture of their own and they were very strict on how Western influences were spread in their land. Therefore, the Dutch beer hall at the artificial island/trading post Nejima in Nagasaki was for two centuries the only spot in Japan serving Europe’s popular drink; the torch would be later passed on to the commissioner of Dejima, Hendrik Doeff (1764-1837) who created the first brewery on Japanese soil in Nagasaki and after that to the Norwegian-American Johan Martinius Thoresen/William Copeland (1834-1902) who opened the “Spring Valley Brewery” in Yokohama in 1869. In 1888 “Spring Valley Brewery” transformed to “Kirin” and together with “Sapporo” from Hokkaido, “Yebisu” from Tokyo and “Asahi” from Osaka taught the 20th century Japanese that the only way to endure summer is looking it through a glass of cold beer.

The intolerable Japanese summer is probably the reason that another proposition by William Copeland, that of the outdoors beer garden managed to spread in Japan very quickly and become as popular as izakaya or yakitori-ya . Like all Western ideas they were also modified so as to bear only a slight resemblance to their Bavarian counterparts –they are usually on the rooftop of some major department store, the wooden benches and long tables have been replaced by regular plastic tables and chairs, the trees by potted plants and the sausages by Japanese “agemono” (揚げ物) i.e. deep-fried food- but beer, usually in the form of “nomihodai” (飲み放題that is “drink all you want for a fixed price”) remains the main (and quite often the only) option in the drink menu.

Even though I don’t drink beer, I have a particular fondness for the “beeah-gaaden” for the same reason I like izakaya: they provide one more opportunity to see the “ura” (裏) side of Japanese people, the one that is usually invisible to the visitors shortsightedly limiting their choices to American fast-food (if looking for something familiar) and kaiten-zushi (if looking for something “Japanese”). Exhausted by the alternation of the humid, sticky heat and the polar, chilling cold of the air-conditioners in the offices and the stores in the belly of the Leviathan, people climb on its back in the evenings to breath, joke, defuse the tensions that occurred during the day and relax under a sky that, true to the futuristic stereotype, is studded with red aircraft warning lights instead of stars; beer, despite its undeniable suitability as lubricant for this procedure is only an excuse.

Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. 


Γρηγόρης Μηλιαρέσης
Γρηγόρης Μηλιαρέσης
Δημοσιογράφος και μεταφραστής. Έχει συνεργαστεί με πλειάδα εφημερίδων, περιοδικών (τόσο του γενικού όσο και του ειδικού τύπου) και εκδοτικών οίκων και με ειδίκευση στο Ίντερνετ, τις πολεμικές τέχνες και την Ιαπωνία όπου και ζει τα τελευταία χρόνια. Από το 2012 μέχρι το 2016 έγραφε την εβδομαδιαία στήλη στο "Γράμματα από έναν αιωρούμενο κόσμο" και το 2020 κυκλοφόρησε το ομότιτλο βιβλίο του. Περισσότερα στη συνέντευξη που είχε δώσει στο

Η αναδημοσίευση περιεχομένου του (φωτογραφιών, κειμένου, γραφικών) δεν επιτρέπεται χωρίς την εκ των προτέρων έγγραφη άδεια του


The low country

In Europe, when we say “low country” we mean Holland, the Netherlands. And of course, geographically speaking we are correct but if we come...

Instant conscience

One of the most common reprehensions against the Japanese is that they are not inventive, that they rarely come up with an idea from...

And the people bowed and prayed

What impressed me more the first time I went into a pachinko parlor was not the rows of absorbed players that seemed as if...

A city with no nights

Seen with 21st century eyes and through the filter of social consciousness primarily emanating from the various versions of Christianity and unavoidably accompanying them, Edo’s...

Black and white

The minimalism of its aesthetics –smooth white and black lens-shaped pieces on a simple matrix of horizontal and vertical lines- and the simplicity and...

Summer’s final word

They appear suddenly, when the Japanese summer reaches its peak, after the tsuyu, the monsoon and before the typhoons. In theory you can find...

The aesthetics of the lotus-eaters

It took me a while to realize that the “kaki” (柿) the bright orange colored fruit that seems to flood Japan every autumn is...

Izakaya: One for the road

Many people are surprised to hear that Tokyo has more three-star restaurants in the Michelin guides than Paris. But it isn’t that strange; although...