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Japanese lagers have become a classic kanpai (“cheers”) to start the evening

In 1870, Japan’s first beer brewery opened in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Before long, beer had become one of the nation’s favorite beverages.

At first, beer was considered a luxury beverage, but entering the 19th century, it became readily available at establishments such as cafes and beer halls, and has since become commonplace in most households. In recent times, it has become customary to begin dinner parties with a round of beers for the initial kanpai (“cheers”).

Japanese beer is best known for light lagers which bring a pleasing bitterness to the palate. However, there are a number of small-scale breweries throughout the nation which produce a great variety of types of craft beers, which are also known as ji-biiru (“local beer”) in Japanese.


Of the “big four” Japanese beer brewing companies, three have breweries in Hokkaido. A number of small-scale breweries are also found throughout Hokkaido’s bountiful countryside.

Map / Main Producing Municipalities

Abashiri City, Kitami City, Asahikawa City, Furano City, Sapporo City, Yubari City, Noboribetsu City, Otaru City, Hakodate City, Nanae Town

Sapporo’s beer industry holds a major role in the history of beer in Japan

Sapporo’s beer history is distinguished by the Kaitakushi Brewery, the first beer brewery to be established by a Japanese person. Even today, visitors can enjoy beer together with Genghis Kahn (Hokkaido-style lamb barbecue) in one of the historic red brick buildings, which dates back to 1892.

Production of two-row barley, an ingredient in beer, is a prosperous industry throughout Hokkaido. A number of farms also raise hops under contracts with beer producers. Hokkaido is also blessed with abundant supplies of clean water, which are extremely useful for the operation of major beer factories.

In 1994, reform of Japanese alcohol taxation laws allowed beer to be brewed in greatly reduced minimum yearly quantities, sparking a craft beer boom throughout the nation. The Okhotsk Beer Factory in Kitami, together with Echigo Beer in Niigata Prefecture, were the first two companies to receive beer brewing licenses under the reformed laws. A number of small-scale breweries can now be found throughout Hokkaido, producing unique beers with emphasis on regional specialties, nature, and traditions.

Beer Family

  • Okhotsk Beer
    Hokkaido’s first small-scale brewery to begin production and sale of craft beers. Two-row barley locally grown in Kitami is blended with aromatic hops imported from Germany and Czechoslovakia to produce four signature beers in ale, pilsner, weizen, and mild stout styles. Every year, they release highly-anticipated seasonal brews, as well as two to three new beers.
  • Abashiri Beer
    This brewery began production in 1998, under a contract to research and develop wheat beer production by the Tokyo University of Agriculture Faculty of Bioindustry. Their “Okhotsk Blue Ryuho Draft” happo-shu (low-malt brewed beverage) uses water from Okhotsk sea drift ice and natural gardenia blue pigment to represent the region’s vibrant oceanscape. They also produce a number of other originally-colored happo-shu brews.
  • Otaru Beer
    Otaru Beer was founded in 1995 with a goal of bringing traditional German brewing methods to Japan, by inviting expert Brauingenieurs (brewing engineers) to oversee the entire process, from cultivation to sales. Main products are pilsner, dunkel, and weiss, and the brewery also offers seasonal brews and alcohol-free beers.


Most of the best-known beers can be enjoyed throughout the year. Major beer producers also release limited seasonal brews, such as autumn-themed beers emphasizing the freshness of the summer’s newly-harvested hops, or richly flavored winter-themed beers.

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