For International Business

Agri-Food Trade Service

The Beer Market in Japan

January 2005


Prepared by the
Consulate General of Osaka
and the
Canadian Trade Commissioner Service

© International Trade Canada (ITCan)

Report prepared by
The Canadian Trade Commission Service
Consulate General of Canada in Osaka
Daisan Shoho Bldg. 12F
2-2-3 Nishi-Shinsaibashi
Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0086
Fax: 81-6-6212-4914

Reports are available from:

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The Government of Canada has prepared this report based on primary and secondary sources of information. Readers should take note that the Government of Canada does not guarantee the accuracy of any of the information contained in this report, nor does it necessarily endorse the organizations listed herein. Readers should independently verify the accuracy and reliability of the information.


The Japanese beer industry is again at a cross roads as to what segment of the beer market will see high growth over the next ten years. The early 1990s saw an explosion of imported beer, capturing 5% of the total beer market. However, this was mainly due to the importation of mainstream lagers from huge multi-national corporations. After the imported beer boom, the late 90s and early millennium saw the rise of the happoshu market (a classification of beer in Japan which contains less than 67% fermented malt). Despite retaining a significant market share, happoshu has been on a slippery downward slope since mid-2003.

The current market size of the beer industry, including happoshu, in Japan is 6 532 000 kilolitres, which is down about 10% from its peak in 1994. The beer market in Japan has matured, but is still the seventh largest beer industry in the world, in a country with high disposable income. The imported beer market currently represents only about 1% of total sales, but given the large amount of contract brewing that major Japanese breweries do for foreign breweries, this percentage is deceptively low. The total beer market is not anticipated to grow by huge amounts in the near future. There is, however, excellent potential for companies willing to find niche markets for their specialty beers.

Some recent key factors point to a wider acceptance of bolder flavoured beers: the success of premium bold beer lines introduced by larger breweries; the success of some small international breweries focussing their efforts on very specific target locations and markets; the consolidation of the craft brewing industry; the formalization of specialty beer interest groups such as the nation-wide Good Beer Club; and a 30% increase in imported beer sales between 2000 and 2003.

The position of Canadian breweries in the Japanese market is weak, despite the fact that Labatt Ice was the number one imported beer in the mid-1990s. Unlike other developed nations, there have not been many Canadian breweries that have tried to enter into the Japanese market. At the current time there are only three active Canadian breweries in Japan - Unibroue, Pacific Western Brewing, and Moosehead. It is still possible to find Labatt Blue through grey market channels, but Labatt stopped exporting to Japan in 1998. Canada currently has less than 1% of the import market share and is plagued by low brand awareness of Canadian beers in general, and a lack of initiative by Canadian breweries.


Japan has 127 million people and consists of four main islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Japan is the second largest economy in the world, with two major economic hubs, one around Tokyo that is bigger than the economy of Great Britain, and the other around Osaka that is bigger than the economy of Canada. Japan also has one of the oldest populations in the world, with the current population growth rate near 0%. The forgotten Japanese market of the 1990's is finally coming out of its slumber to once again flex its global economic muscles and is starting to see a sustainable economic recovery that is expected to last at least for the next couple of years. According to the IMF, Japan's economic outlook for 2004 and 2005 looks very strong with an estimated 4.5% growth in 2004. The Bank of Japan is also expecting deflation to stop early in 2005, which should help stabilize the Japanese economy and aid in continued growth. The rise in the Japanese economy has coincided with falling sales for lower quality beer and a rise in imported beers finding niche markets.

The current volume of beer being sold in Japan is approximately 6 532 000 kiloliters per year, down about 10% from of its peak of around 7 125 000 kiloliters in 1995. Nonetheless, Japan remains one of the top seven overall beer-consuming nations in the world and consumers have high disposable income. Market share can be broken down into macro-brewed beers with 52.1%, happoshu (beer containing less than 67% malted barley) 46.4%, micros 0.5%, and imports 1% (See Figure 1.). The industry is dominated by four giant brewing empires: Asahi 38.4%, Kirin 36.2%, Sapporo 14.1% and Suntory 10.5% (See Figure 2.). However, recently there have been efforts put forth by beer interest groups, trade shows, and festivals that are raising the specialty beer profile.

Figure 1.

Market Share of Major Japanese Breweries

Figure 2.

The Beer Market in Japan

Source: Japan Times, 2003

The total size of the Japanese import beer market in 2003 was 38 427 kilolitres representing about $56 million in sales. Domestic contract brewing makes it hard to tell the exact volumes for all foreign brand beers, however, experts say that the actual foreign brand figure could be up to five times greater than the import total. Although import figures represent a 30% increase since 2000, this figure is still only about 1/9th the market size of 1994 when import sales hit 5% of the total beer market. It should be noted that at that time the yen hit an all time high against the US dollar and some Japanese breweries, such as Suntory, contracted out some of their beers to US breweries and then imported the beer back into Japan. Another reason for the decline in the import market is the increased popularity of happoshu over the past ten years, which had a stronger impact on imported than domestic beer sales. During Japan's recession of the 1990s, 'happoshu' was introduced to take advantage of a tax loophole that imposed fewer taxes on beer with lower malt content. This lower quality beer gained immediate popularity due to the increasing price-consciousness of consumers during the Japanese recession. In 2003 beer taxes were revised and taxes on happoshu increased, though still not to the level of regular beer. This increase in taxes, and perhaps the strengthening of the economy, has lead to sluggish happoshu sales since late spring 2003.

Since the turn of the millennium there has been a shift in the market that has allowed smaller foreign breweries that produce a variety of beers to find niche markets in Japan, while larger foreign breweries selling one mainstream flagship beer, with the exception of Guinness, have watched their market share steadily decline. Despite the decline of large multinational firms, beer consumption per capita in Japan has remained fairly constant over the past twenty years. If beer and happoshu consumption are combined, the per capita consumption was 65.7L/year in 2002. This is roughly the same per capita beer consumption rate as Canada

Current import figures, as presented by the Japan Brewers Association, show that Australia is the number one beer exporter to Japan. This is likely due to the fact that Kirin Brewing purchased a 46% stake in Nathan Lion Brewery in 1998. Nathan Lion is the second largest brewery in Australia and makes such brands as XXXX, Tooheys, and Hahn. With this strong connection to Kirin, it is likely that Nathan Lion's beers have access to Kirin's distribution channels, giving them much better access to the Japanese market than any other imported beer. Guinness also has a distribution tie up with Sapporo, which helped the Irish beer double its market size in Japan between 2001 and 2003.

The import beer market is forecasted to have moderate growth in the future, though this trend is somewhat difficult to follow given the rising number of foreign breweries contracting out their brewing to domestic Japanese breweries. It is unlikely that Canadian breweries will be able to enter into the Japanese market and find immediate financial success without a huge outlay of capital. However, if a company is willing to commit to a longer-term plan of 3-5 years, there is a high possibility that they will be able to expand distribution by establishing relationships with retailers and licensed establishments. Beer sales will likely be small in the short term until a brand has created a significant following, but the long-term potential is extremely high.

Key Factors Shaping Market Growth

Public Policy and Liberalization

Japan has one of the industrialized world's most unrestricted liquor regulation laws. Alcohol can be bought 24 hours a day through a variety of establishments, including supermarkets, convenience stores, privately owned liquor stores, vending machines, restaurants, bars, video stores, and even with pizza delivery. This is mainly due to the deregulation of the liquor licensing law on September 1, 2003, which previously limited the number of licensed establishment within a defined population area. Consumers can also buy beer via the Internet, either through on-line liquor stores or directly from breweries themselves. Accessing beer for the average consumer is relatively easy compared to Canada.

Social/Political Information

Alcohol is viewed as an essential part of the Japanese culture and there are few moral hang-ups about 'the evils of alcohol'. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan and is regularly a part of home and after work pleasures. However, beer does not have any cultural importance over other types of alcohol in Japan, likely due to the fact that beer has only been available there for about 130 years. Major breweries in Japan have moderate influence on the Japanese government, but they have not seen success regarding the major industry issue of lowering the tax on beer.


Specific areas Canadian breweries can succeed

According to a recent JETRO report , some foreign breweries are having success by initially selling draft beer to specialized beer bars or niche pubs and restaurants that have a connection with the brewery's home country. Once the brewery's beers become well known, and there is a higher demand, they then start to sell to retail outlets in either bottles or cans. For Canadian breweries there are only a limited number of Canadian-centric pubs and restaurants in Japan. However, these pubs can be one starting point, in conjunction with targeting beer specialty bars in urban centres. This concentrated effort will also directly target consumers who are most likely to consume Canadian craft beer: Canadians and Japanese specialty beer consumers. Some of these pubs and restaurants may have alcohol importing licenses thereby reducing expensive intermediaries. However, it is advisable for microbreweries to use Japanese agents in order to broaden distribution channels and seek out new opportunities.

Draft beer is very popular in Japan and is sold in many restaurants and bars. In particular, beer is consumed at izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) where it usually is sold in glasses that are classified as small (350 ml), medium (450 ml) and large (600 ml), though exact sizes can vary from establishment to establishment. Sharing pitchers of beer amongst friends is also very popular as people usually share food and drink when they are at a pub. Most traditional bar/restaurants only have one or two types of draft beer, while many foreign-style pubs have several types of draft on tap. Western-style establishments tend to sell more foreign beers, but few have more than three or four draft lines. Some pubs try to create customer loyalty based on a certain type of beer being sold there. Japan has a high number of restaurants and bars that try to offer unique items in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. Encouraging these types of pubs to feature a Canadian brand is a potential opportunity for Canadian breweries.

Another focus for Canadian breweries would be to sell to specialty beer stores, usually located in urban centres. Some of these stores carry up to two or three hundred types of imported beer and often the owner has a specific interest in specialty beers. Although these stores rarely seem to promote the beer at the store's physical location, many offer on-line services with very detailed explanations about each beer. It is also common to find imported beers at large department stores, though the price is usually more expensive than at specialty beer stores. Department stores generally do very little to promote imported beer and usually carry imported brands based on customer demand. Some department stores also sell on-line, but do not go into as much product detail as independent specialty beer stores. An alternative to selling directly to these stores is to use an agent who has a wide distribution channel. It is advised against taking a shotgun approach to placing Canadian beer in as many places as possible due to the fact that Canadian breweries have extremely low product awareness amongst Japanese consumers.

Sectoral Trends and Activities

There has been a large shift in Japan over the past 20 years in the types of establishments that sell beer. Beer sales at traditional liquor stores have dramatically declined, while convenience stores, discount stores, and large-scale retailers have dramatically increased their market share. According to JETRO, "important factors that have contributed to this situation are the revision of the liquor retailer licensing system and the relaxation of rules on issuance of liquor retailing licenses to large-scale retail stores. Since the rules governing issuance of licenses to liquor retailers, liquor wholesalers and other types of outlets will most likely be relaxed further, the trend is expected to hold." . Based on the September 2003 liquor law deregulation, all major convenience stores in Japan, including 7-11, Lawsons, and Family Mart, planned to dramatically increase the number of convenience stores that had liquor licenses. 7-11 had hoped to have licensed all their stores for alcohol and beer sales within a year, but as of October 2004 it had still not occurred.

Small liquor stores have traditionally been the major retail outlet for beer sales. However, as we can see in Figure 1, the portion of beer bought in traditional liquor stores, which generally fall under 500 sq. metres, has steadily decreased over the past twenty years. Consolidation is forcing these small liquor stores to specialize in order to remain competitive. As this trend continues, more and more specialty stores will emerge, providing better opportunities for imported beers.

Figure 3.

Sales Share of the Japanese Beer Market

Source: JETRO, 2003

In-line with stricter drinking and driving laws, that took effect in June 2002, many rural and suburban bars that have traditionally been frequented by driving clientele, have begun selling non-alcoholic beverages to stay in business. This has consequently lowered traditional beer sales in these areas. However, more so than in Canada, the shift to non-alcoholic beverages has included non-alcoholic beer.

Long-Term vs. Immediate Sales Prospects

As with any mature market in the food and beverage industry, there is little chance for immediate success in Japan. There is, nonetheless, an opportunity for increasing sales over a longer period of time with increased brand awareness and expanded distribution channels. One key factor to success for Canadian breweries is to allocate the resources needed for their products to succeed. This requires allocating money for marketing, time to work with the agent/importer to focus on marketing the products and building brand awareness, and creating strategies for increasing distribution channels. The immediate sales prospects may be limited to specialty beer bars, beer stores, and Canadian-run or focussed establishments. Medium-term prospects may include distribution with major department stores, convenience store chains, and general import stores. Long-term prospects may include distribution with large liquor store chains and expanding sales into traditional and non-traditional Japanese pubs. A slow growth approach may work best to deal with increased capacity requirements, especially for breweries with small capacity or those near maximum capacity.

Opportunities for Strategic Partnering

In the short-term there is little need for any type of strategic partnering, such as a joint venture. There are, however, long-term possibilities for partnerships between Canadian and Japanese microbreweries in the form of contract brewing, partnering for increased distribution channels, etc. If a brewery is flexible and willing to make special labels for a store, there is strong interest in Japan for private label products. There may also be a possibility to team up with chain restaurants or bars to offer private labelled draft or bottled beer. For exporting logistics, Canadian breweries may want to partner with other Canadian breweries or food and beverage exporters to lower shipping costs and increase the frequency of shipping.


Local Capabilities


Asahi has gone from the brink of bankruptcy in 1987 to surpassing Kirin as the industry leader in 2001. In the past 17 years Asahi has revolutionized the beer industry in several ways. First and foremost, Asahi introduced a new product. Brewers in Japan had previously only introduced new bottles to the same products, but the beer itself essentially never changed. The reason for introducing a new product, according to CEO Shige Fukuchi, was through a survey, Asahi found that people wanted a beer that was very easy to drink. Asahi's new product, Super Dry, has little aftertaste, in response to this demand. The introduction of this new beer proved to be an overnight success and has led all major breweries to introduce new beers, hoping to realize the same success as Asahi Super Dry. So far, the other major breweries have failed to achieve similar results.

A second innovation was that Asahi changed the way in which beer was marketed in Japan. Before 1987, beer was primarily marketed to older people. Super Dry, however, focused its advertising towards Generation Xers willing to try something new. Asahi revolutionized how beer was marketed by employing thousands of sales people across the country handing out samples. They also broke industry ranks and ran television advertisements throughout the year, instead of just in the summer as had previously been practiced.

Thirdly, Asahi was the first to introduce new product packaging such as beer in cans, seasonal gift packs, and three-litre jerry cans. This innovative spirit has given Asahi a strong domestic advantage. Asahi is now looking abroad, currently cultivating opportunities in China, which has recently become the largest beer market in the world.

The above three reasons are only part of the reason why Asahi is poised to remain the industry leader for some time to come.


Although Kirin dropped out of first place in the beer industry in 2001, it is still a major player that is fiercely competing with Asahi to regain its previous dominance. Kirin, in an attempt to match Asahi's Super Dry, created its own dry beer shortly after Asahi's came on the market. In doing so, they turned off many of their loyal customers that wanted the company to keep its original recipe. Kirin's market share sharply dropped but then stabilized a little with the reintroduction of their original Kirin beer recipe. Kirin is aggressively developing new technology that will better serve their customers. For example, in the summer of 2003 they developed a five-litre draft keg that Kirin claims to be "self-cooling".


Sapporo is the only major Japanese brewer to have continually boasted two lines of beer: their flagship Sapporo and Yebisu, a slightly premium brand. Despite the fact that the Yebisu line has been around a long time, it recently introduced a schwarzbier called 'Dark' that has found tremendous popularity in Japan. Despite this, Sapporo will likely remain in third position in the beer industry for the foreseeable future.


Suntory is best known for their premium whiskey rather than their premium beer. They also import over 1500 kinds of wines and spirits into Japan. Suntory has focused primarily on the draft market and can be found in many pubs and restaurants throughout Japan.

Premium Brands

In the past year there has been a flurry of premium beers created by the four major breweries. These premium beers usually contain only hops, malt, water, and yeast and usually have a more refined taste. The most successful of these is Kirin's line of premium 'chilled beers' that have a 60-day shelf life and must remain cold from the time they leave the brewery, until the customer buys the beer. There are three beers in the 'chilled' line that in 2003 sold a total of 340 000 cases of 20, and in 2004 are expected to sell 940 000 cases. These beers include a moderately hopped pilsner, called Hojun, an unfiltered wit beer called Maroyaka, and a latte stout that is aimed at coffee drinkers. In 2003, when Sapporo introduced their Yebisu Dark which is roughly in the schwarzbier style, it became an instant hit and now has wide distribution throughout Japan. In the summer of 2004, Suntory introduced New Suntory Malts, which had four versions, using four different water sources from all over Japan and slightly different recipes. The end product was four beers with more flavour and depth than Suntory's flagship beer. Asahi also introduced a premium beer in 2004 called Kiwami, but with less success than the other beers.


The beer industry in Japan saw significant changes with the deregulation in 1994 that had previously required breweries to produce a minimum of 2000 hectoliters per annum, change to 60 hectoliters per annum. The purpose of this deregulation was to help revitalize rural economies: many municipal governments were, and still are, heavily involved in the management of microbreweries. The revitalization of rural economies has been an important issue in Japan since the end of the Second World War, as rural population and wealth have declined. Many of these microbreweries were started by local governments or corporations who saw this as an opportunity to get rich quick with ingredients costing a few cents producing a product worth several dollars. However, since home brewing was, and still is, illegal, there were very few capable brewers in the country. It is understood that any artisan product requires years of practice to combine artistic talent with technical knowledge to build a foundation for success. Some breweries thought they could achieve this foundation by hiring foreigners for technical and artistic assistance on a short-term contract basis. This often proved to be an incorrect assumption as Japanese brewers were unable to master brewing techniques in such a short period of time. This damaged the industry, as some consumers concluded that all microbreweries produced bad beer.

The emergence of microbreweries has now slowed to a trickle and the latest figures show that there are only 250 microbreweries in Japan, down from a high of approximately 350. Of the 250 breweries listed in Japan, not all of them are in operation at the moment, and this number is a moving target that only represents about 1/6 of the number of microbreweries in the USA. This drop in the number of breweries hardly points to a declining industry, but rather a situation of trimming the excess. The breweries that got into the industry without a business plan, or knowledge of how to brew good beer, were the first to go bankrupt. There were, and still are, some very serious brewers in Japan. Bryan Baird of Baird Brewing has taken the art of brewing to new levels in Japan and produces incredibly well-made beers in a variety of styles. The serious brewers who are expanding their operations will help raise the profile of the Japanese specialty beer market.

International Competition

There are several hundred foreign beer brands operating, in one capacity or another, in Japan. The top three are Budweiser, Corona, and Heineken. However, market share for these three is declining while the smaller breweries finding niche sales points are increasing.

In 2002, Australia became the leading exporter of beer to Japan for the first time. Ireland also saw a dramatic increase in beer exports to Japan, mainly due to the FIFA World Cup Soccer tournament, which led to increased sales of Guinness. Imports from the USA, Netherlands, and Germany have been declining due to the fact that major brands from these countries (Budweiser, Heineken, and Lowenbrau) are now being contract brewed in Japan.

Excluding these large multi-national companies, there have been a few smaller foreign breweries doing well in Japan. Perhaps most notable is Rogue breweries from Newport, Oregon which started exporting to Japan in 1989. They have developed several beers specifically for the Japanese market along with Japanese labelling for their product. Their beers are primarily sold in bottles, though they do sell several draft versions of their beers to American-style pubs.

The Wychwood brewery from England has opened a couple of pubs in Tokyo which sell several of their draft beers, along with cask-conditioned versions of their beers. In addition to their pub sales, they also sell bottles in supermarkets and specialty beer stores. Wychwood`s colourful cartoon label helps make their beers attractive to Japanese consumers.

Anchor Brewery from San Fransisco sells several of their beers, including Steam, Porter, Old Foghorn, and Liberty Ale, in specialty beer stores and supermarkets. However, most imported beer from around the world is sold through agents with many beers in their portfolio, who consequently spend minimal time promoting specific beers.

Canadian Position

At the moment there are three Canadian breweries that export to Japan: Moosehead, Unibroue, and Pacific Western Brewing (PWB). Moosehead is commonly available at larger import beer stores around the country. In the mid-1990s Labatt Ice was the number one imported beer in Japan and had a wide distribution network that included convenience stores, department stores, and chain liquor stores. This is no longer the situation and Labatt has stopped exporting to Japan, though their beers can still be found in numerous retail outlets. Unibroue only entered Japan in the early 2000s and sells primarily to beer stores and beer bars that sell a wide variety of Belgian style ales. PWB of Burnaby, BC, has been operating in Japan since the mid-1990s and has perhaps the largest distribution network amongst Canadian brewing companies in Japan, due to a distribution contract with AEON, which owns Japans largest supermarket, JUSCO. PWB's CEO, Kazuko Komatsu, has been directly involved in dealing with the Japanese market, which may attribute to their high rate of success. Despite the success of these three breweries, the Canadian share of the import beer market in Japan is minuscule, with only about 44 kilolitres of the 38,427 kilolitres of beer imported into Japan in 2003.

The main constraint for Canadian breweries exporting to Japan is the very low awareness of Canadian beer. Beer in Japan is primarily associated with German and Czech styles thus there are a great number of import beers from Europe, relative to imports from North America. Domestic competition may include Japanese microbreweries, but they rarely seem to compete directly with imports as specialty bars and retail store usually carry a lot of either microbreweries or imports, but not both. Canadian breweries should, however, be aware of which similarly-styled import beers are in Japan.

Competitive Advantage through Canadian Government Policies and Initiatives.

Canadian Commercial Corporation

The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) gives Canadian companies access to financing and good payment terms under the Progress Payment Program (PPP). The PPP concept was developed as a partnership between major Canadian financial institutions and the CCC. It enables the exporter's bank to open a project line of credit for the exporter's benefit, based on CCC approval of the project and the exporter's ability to perform. The CCC will also act as a prime contractor on behalf of Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises, giving those businesses increased credibility and competitive advantage.

Export Development Canada

Export Development Canada (EDC) offers export financing and insurance to Canadian exporters. Additionally, insurance can be provided for larger transactions that are subject to the terms and conditions established by the buyer. EDC prefers to work through letters of credit, bank credits, or bank guarantees. Approval for financing is considered on a case by case basis.


Buying Preferences and Key Factors to Determining Purchase Decision

Some of the determining factors that may influence private sector customers are the reputation of the brewery and its beers, the quality of the beer, a special attribute of the beer (i.e.. Organic), and what is the minimum purchase they can make. The reputation of the brewery may largely depend on word of mouth through people in the industry in Japan or by noted beer writers such as Michael Jackson who has published such books as the Great Beer Guide and Ultimate Beer. Lesser known breweries will have to rely on the quality of their beer to convince private sector customers to buy the beer. If a private customer does agree to purchase beer from a brewery, Japanese importers will likely make frequent purchases in small batches, as opposed to larger, less frequent purchases.


One unique characteristic of Japanese consumers is their affinity for the packaging of a product. In some cases, such as laundry detergent, packaging -not content of product - is the most import factor for consumers. When selling draft beer, packaging is perhaps less important, but on bottles it can be very important and should be taken into consideration. Japanese have been known to like cartoon characters or some type of cartoon drawing on the labelling of various retail products. Paying attention to packing will help Canadian breweries expand their target market beyond specialty beer drinkers and into the mainstream market. Rogue Brewery has used silkscreen drawings with Japanese writing on their beer to sell to the Japanese market. Some of the beers they initially only sold in the Japanese market, (i.e. Chocolate stout, which featured a picture of a teddy bear and a heart drawn on the label), were successful enough that they decided to introduce these beers to the North American market with different labelling.

Popular Styles of Beers

Beer in Japan has drawn its influences from the old world brewing styles of Germany and the Czech Republic, particularly beers in the pilsner style. The only flagship beer sold in Japan that is not based on the pilsner style is Sapporo's Yebisu line, which is in the dortmunder style. In addition to pilsners, many microbreweries in Japan are producing alt and kolsch style beers, though these styles are not widely known to the general population. Each major brewery also produces a dark beer, which is roughly in the schwarzbier style, though there are some stouts as well. Perhaps because beer containing roasted malt is labelled in Japanese as simply 'dark beer' it was easy for dark beer drinkers to adapt to the stout style, which has lead to Guinness being one of the most popular imported beers. Stylistically speaking, the overwhelming majority of Japanese people do not know the difference between a schwarzbier and a stout, and categorize them both as 'dark beer'.

In 1987, when Asahi came out with their Super Dry, it was to cater to the tastes of beer drinkers at that time who wanted a beer with little aftertaste. Asahi Super Dry today remains one of the most popular beers in the country. However one of Kirin's recently introduced chilled beers, Hojun, is a pilsner that is moderately hopped with North American hop varieties and has an aggressive, bitter finish. Given the recent popularity of these chilled beers, Kirin may have found a population segment that is looking for bolder beers. It should also be noted that Kirin is selling, in very limited quantities, a pale ale and a stout on draft at some of their Kirin City restaurants around Japan.

Canadian microbreweries looking to move beyond specialty beer drinkers and expand their market share in Japan should consider what styles are already commonly known in Japan to see if there is a match with any of the current beers they are producing. In particular, stouts, both dry and sweet, and pale ales may have a higher chance for success. Stout is a well-known style, but there are very few commercial examples of the beer. Kirin Latte Stout, Mackesons, and Guinness are likely the three most widely known of the style. There are very few imported stouts and most, if not all, come from the United Kingdom. There are numerous Irish and English style pubs operating in Japan, especially in urban centres that offer draft Guinness. If these pubs want to differentiate themselves from other Irish and English style pubs, they may be interested in selling other types of draft stouts. Pale ale is a common style made by microbreweries in Japan and the style is somewhat known, in part due to Bass Pale Ale which can be found on draft in numerous places throughout Japan. Given the fact that major brewers have started producing premium beers with more hop flavour and bitterness than before, it may be the start of an acceptance by beer consumers of hoppier beers.

Although the Japanese beer industry primarily consists of mainstream lagers, it is not recommended that Canadian breweries sell this style of beer in Japan unless they have a well thought out distribution plan and are willing to spend a significant amount on advertising. The competition in this market is very fierce and there are literally hundreds of import and domestic beers competing in this category.

Private Sector Customers

Please see the end of this report for a list of potential private sectors customers


Japanese domestic beer prices are the second most expensive in the world after Norway. The price is due to costs associated with importing ingredients, high taxes on beer, and the multilayered distribution system. The average price of a 20-ounce pint of domestic beer is $6-7 . Because ingredients for beer are not generally grown in Japan, beer has become the target of high alcohol taxes and is discriminated against when compared to other types of alcohol, such as sake. The Japanese Brewers Association is continually trying to have taxes lowered on beer, but have had no success. If it looks and tastes like beer, it is likely the Japanese government will heavily tax it. There are no tariffs on imported beer from Canada, but Canadian beer is subject to Japanese beer taxes.

The price of imported beer in Japan varies greatly. Some cheap imported mainstream lagers sell for as little as 100 yen ($1.18) per bottle and some 750ml bottles of Belgian beers for over 3000 yen ($35.40). In general a standard 330ml bottle of imported beer sells in the price range of 250-500 yen ($2.94 - $5.88) with liquor specialty shops selling in the lower price range and high-end department stores selling in the higher price range. Japanese consumers often associate price with the quality of a product, so trying to sell cheaper than other imported brands may damage a beer's reputation. Foreign draft beer often sells for around 700-1000 yen ($8.24 - $11.76) for an Imperial pint, which is moderately higher than domestic draft from major producers.

Table 1., below, is an example of domestic and imported retail beer prices in Japan for one single 330 ml (or approximately) can or bottle:

Table 1. Retail Beer Prices in Japan for a single 330ml can or bottle
Beer Name Price (in yen) Price (in $)
Domestic Flagship Beers
Asahi Super Dry 230 2.71
Kirin Lager 229 2.70
Sapporo Draft 218 2.56
Suntory Malts 223 2.62
Yebisu 233 2.74
Premium Domestic Releases
Sapporo 100% Organic 238 2.80
Kirin Hojun 248 2.92
Kirin Latte Stout 250 2.94
Asahi Stout (8%) 233 2.74
New Suntory Malts 255 3
Larger Japanese Microbreweries
Yaho Yona Yona Ale 260 3.06
Ginga Kogen Wiezen 248 2.91
Small Japanese Microbreweries
Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale 417 4.91
Hitachino Nest White Beer 393 4.62
Minami Aizu True Blue Lager 491 5.77
Imported Beers
Chimay Red 250-450 2.94-5.29
Anchor Steam 370 4.35
Rogue Chocolate Stout 370 4.35
Moosehead 270 3.17


One of the stumbling blocks when sending kegs internationally is the need for some form of reciprocation/exchange of kegs, as brewers often charge distributors/ importers for the kegs until they are returned. It takes about 500 kegs to fill up a 20 sq metre container and although this may seem to be a large number, brewers can combine shipments with other breweries sending beer to Japan, with other Canadian companies exporting non-beer items to Japan, or go through shipping consolidation companies in Vancouver or Toronto that ship regularly to Japan. Agents usually cover the cost of kegs until they are returned to the brewery. This reduces risk and frees up money for the breweries, while making exporting relatively easy. One alternative to shipping a full container of beer to Japan is to use Shipping Finder; a service that allows you to post your container needs on a website and shipping companies with extra space will sell you the required space at a discount. Of course the problem is consistency, but if importers are flexible this may prove to be a viable alternative for shipping small amounts of beer to Japan. Another alternative is to use the company Trenstar, who specializes in global asset management, particularly of beer kegs. They rent kegs to breweries and then transport them to the desired destination locally or abroad. A new alternative is one-time usage plastic kegs, which are currently in testing stages, but are scheduled to be available by summer 2005 in North America.

In Japan, small 20L or 30L styles of keg are popular because space is at a premium in many restaurants and bars. Some specialized pubs with a high turnover of beer may be willing to accept 60L, but this reduces the amount of space they have under their bar. Perhaps the main advantage to exporting in 20L or 30L is that beer is less likely to go stale if it does not sell quickly, thereby avoiding customer turn-off of what would otherwise be great tasting beer. It would be best to have an agent talk to specific pubs about their needs in order to assess the shipping situation.

Channels of Distribution

Distribution channels should initially be focussed on selling to a few specialized establishments. Using agents that have broad, but unfocused distribution channels may not be effective because there is a greater chance the agent will not be able to focus on specific beers in their portfolio. Although the large Japanese beer manufacturers do have a lot of power over distribution channels, they are focussed on competing with each other and pay little attention to imported beer.

Japan is notorious for having a multilayered distribution system that contributes to the overall high prices of goods. Over the past few years this multilayered system has been consolidated and wholesalers and retailers are looking for ways to purchase products as cheaply and as effectively as possible.

Direct Sales

Restaurants/bars that exclusively sell any alcohol at their establishment, and do not re-sell to any other restaurants or retail stores, do not need an importing license. This means it is possible for Canadian breweries to target specific restaurants/bars and sell directly to them, eliminating expensive intermediaries and allowing better control over how beer is marketed, sold, and the conditions in which it is kept.

Market-entry Considerations

Recently, there has been an expansion in urban centres by the major convenience store retailer, Lawsons, into natural food-focused convenience stores called Lawsons Natural. Lawsons Natural carries many organic and wholesome products, including several organic beers from micro and major breweries. What is significant about Lawson Natural stores is that the majority of the beers they are selling are in the premium lines or craft beer. Currently, the only imported beer in Lawsons Natural is Verte De Mont-Blanc from France, which uses a high altitude flower called Genepi from the French Alps. Though this beer is not organic, it gives the impression of being healthier, due to the use of an Alpine flower, than does regular beer. There may be an opportunity for a Canadian company that uses organic ingredients or can somehow market their beer as 'Natural' so it fits with the natural theme. Even if their beer does not fit with the 'Natural' or organic theme, many Japanese people have an image of Canada as being very clean and a place with lots of nature. One angle that could be taken to market the beer is to emphasize that 100% Canadian water is used to make the beer, or that the beer comes from beautiful Canada with its abundance of nature.

Organic beers are also likely to find a greater acceptance of their beers outside of beer specialty bars and stores and may be able to sell to organic cafés, restaurants, and stores with the focus being more on the organic quality of the beer and less so the beer itself. The organic industry in Japan is small compared to Western countries (about $600 million in 2003), but it is expanding rapidly with concerns over Avian Flu and BSE. In particular some organic products that are seen as having high nutritional qualities, such as blueberries, cranberries, flaxseed, etc. are experiencing very high growth rates.

Target Market

Canadian breweries may initially want to focus on specialty beer drinkers and Canadians living in Japan. Specialty beer drinkers in Japan have a more balanced ratio of men to women than in Canada, but their attitudes are no different than specialty beer drinkers the world over and they are curious to try many types of new beers. Proper placement in Canadian focussed pubs may create brand loyalty amongst Canadians in Japan, which could remain strong when they return to Canada.

Over the past decade there has been a rise in the popularity of Belgian style beers in Japan. Belgian beer is renowned for its complexity and appeals to Japanese women who seem more open than men to trying new types of food and drink products. Unlike Canada, Japanese breweries are allowed to advertise the health benefits of their beers. Women in Japan tend to be more health conscience than men, therefore breweries seeking to attract women may want to create advertisements that focus on the beneficial health qualities of their beer, or beer in general.

Suggested Business Practices

There are some cultural etiquette practices Canadian breweries should be aware of if they start exporting to Japan. Selling products in Japan often has a lot to do with building a relationship with the buyer. This can be time consuming and costly, but if relationships are fostered with key personnel, the future benefits will eventually outweigh the costs. People from the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe) have a reputation for being much more direct and to the point compared with other Japanese, and they are also more price conscious. In general, when dealing with the Japanese, you should try to never show anger or frustration. It is recommended to build a relationship with your counterpart in a social setting and get to know them better before doing any serious negotiations. It is customary to bring gifts from foreign countries, such as smoked salmon or maple syrup. If you are dealing with senior people in a large company, something more extravagant may be necessary.

Import Regulations

The importing of liquor into Japan is relatively straightforward and can be summarized in the diagram below.

Figure 4.

Procedures for Importation Under the Food Sanitation Law

Source: JETRO, 2003

Liquor taxes are collected on all alcohol once it leaves the bonded area. Beer that is non-alcoholic, or has less than 1% alcohol, is not considered alcohol and therefore is taxed in accordance with soft-drink taxes.

Beer from Canada can enter into Japan tariff free, but it is still subject to domestic beer taxes of 222 000 yen ($2612)/Kilolitre or 222 yen ($2.61)/litre. In the case where the malt content is less than 50%, but higher than 25% the tax rate is 178 125 yen ($2096)/Kilolitre. For beer with a malt content of less than 25% the tax rate is 134 250 yen ($1579)/Kilolitre.

Table 2. Beer taxes based on malt content
Malt Content Tax
Malt Ratio 50-100% 222,000 yen ($2612)/kilolitre
Malt Ratio 25-50% 178,125 yen ($2096)/kilolitre
Malt Ratio 0-25% 134,250 yen ($1579) /kilolitre

Source: JETRO, 2003

Consumption tax in Japan is 5%. As of spring 2004 all retail prices in Japan must be inclusive of the 5% consumption tax.
Local Standards, Certificates or Regulations

One consideration Canadian breweries need to think about is that labelling typically needs to be done before sending goods to Japan. Few importers are willing to label the products when they are in storage, though this may be negotiable. Labelling must be in Japanese and must include:

When Canadian exporters want to export organic food and label it as "organic" at Japanese liquor stores, products must meet with the JAS organic food guidelines.

Export Credit Risks, Restrictions on Letters of Credit, Currency Controls

If you are a first time exporter it is advised that you consult with Export Development Canada (EDC) to ensure you fully understand the procedures required to export products from Canada. There are no unusual restrictions on letters of credit. Additional information can be found at:


Makuhari Messe (Japan Convention Center)
Chiba, Japan

Annual International Food and Beverage trade show in March attracts more than 100,000 people.

World Craft Beer Festival
Sunshine Building, Ikebukuro
Tokyo, Japan

Mid September, Annual beer festival attracts close to 5,000 people to try over 100 kinds of Japanese and foreign craft beers.

Osaka International Beer and Wine Summit
Sky Building
Osaka, Japan

This festival usually coincides with the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend in October and attracts in excess of 30,000 people.


Canadian Government Contacts

Consulate General of Canada in Osaka
Daisan Shoho Bldg. 12F, 2-2-3 Nishi-Shinsaibashi Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan 542-0086
Contact: Mr. Toshihisa Seki, Trade Commissioner
Tel.: 011-81-6-6212-4910
Fax: 011-81-6-6212-4914

Honorary Consulate of Canada in Sapporo
Tokyo Tatemono Sapporo Bldg. 2F, 20, Kita-7, Nishi-2 Kita-ku, Sapporo, Japan 060-0807
Contact: Shinichi Tsujio, Trade Commisioner

Canadian Consulate in Nagoya
Nakato Marunouchi Bldg., 6F 3-17-6 Marunouchi, Naka-ku, Nagoya, Japan 460-0002
Contact: Maki Mizuhara, Trade Commisioner
Tel.: 011-81-52-972-0450
Fax: 011-81-52-972-0453

Canadian Embassy in Tokyo
7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan, 107-8503
Contact: Agri-Food Division
Tel.: 011-81-3-5412-6247 (3482)
Fax: 011-81-3-5412- 6327

Honorary Consulate of Canada in Hiroshima
#709, 5-44 Motomachi Naka-ku, Hiroshima, Japan 730-0011
Contact: Scott McKeeman, Trade Commisioner
Tel./Fax: 011-81-82-211-0505

Canadian Consulate in Fukuoka
F.T. Building 9F, 4-8-28 Watanabe-dori, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Japan 810-0004
Contact: Mr. Koji Fujii, Trade Commissioner
Tel.: 011-81-92-752-6055
Fax: 011-81-92-752-6077

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
International Markets Bureau
930 Carling Ave. , 10th Floor
Ottawa , ON K1A 0C5
Contact: Amit Dutt, International Market Development Officer
Tel.: (613) 759-7523
Fax: (613) 759-7506

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)
5 Ville Marie Place, Suite 400
Montreal, QC H3B 2G2
Tel.: (888) 463-6232
Fax: (514) 283-0617

Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC)
50 O'Connor St., 11th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0S6
Tel.: (800) 748-8191 or (613) 996-0034
Fax: (613) 995-2121

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
59 Camelot Dr.
Nepean, ON K1A 0Y9
Tel.: (613) 225-2342
Fax: (613) 228-6653

Export Development Corporation (EDC)
151 O'Connor St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 1K3
Tel.: (613) 598-2500
Fax: (613) 237-2690

Health Canada
International Affairs Directorate
Brooke Claxton Building, Room 814A
Postal Locator 0908A, Tunney's Pasture
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9
Tel.: (613) 941-3136
Fax: (613) 952-7414

International Trade Canada (ITCan)
125 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2

Authentication and Service of Documents (JLAC)
Tel.: (613) 992-6602
Fax: (613) 992-2467

International Business Opportunities Centre (IBOC)
Contact: Charline Daigle, Research and Liaison Officer
Tel.: (613) 944-2015
Fax: (613) 996-2635

Contact: Guylaine Poirier, Research and Liaison Officer
Tel.: (613) 944-3524
Fax: (613) 996-2635

Korea and Oceania Division (PKE)
Contact: Jason Reeve
Tel.: (613) 996-7582
Fax: (613) 996-1248

Market Research Centre (TMR)
Contact: Sean McLean, Senior International Market Analyst
Tel.: (613) 996-0688
Fax: (613) 943-1103

Market Support Division (TMM)
Contact: Clément Côté
Tel.: (800) 267-8376 or (613) 995-1773
Fax: (613) 943-8820

Japanese Government Contacts

Embassy of Japan in Canada
255 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, ON K1N 9E6
Tel: (613) 241-8541
Fax: (613) 241-2232

Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO)
JETRO Headquarters
2-5 Toranomon 2-chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-8466
Tel: (81-3) 3582-5511
Fax: (81-3) 3587-0219

Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
1-2-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo , Japan 100-8950
Tel: (81-3) 3591-2874
Fax: (81-3) 3501-3720

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
1-2-2 Kasumigaseki Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo , 100-8916 Japan
Tel: (81-3) 5253-1111



A selection of Canadian owned or focused establishments in Japan
Specialty Beer Bars with numerous draft lines and/or a wide bottle selection
Specialty Beer Stores

Kawachiya - Carries over 200 imported beers and has some of the cheapest prices for imported beer in Japan. They have several stores in the Tokyo area.

Yamaya - Primarily a wine store, but they seem to import an interesting selection of foreign beers. They have dozens of stores around the country.

Asahiya - Located in Osaka and carries a wide variety of specialty beers.

Uehata - Located in Osaka and carries a wide variety of specialty beers, though mainly focuses on European imports.


Electronic Sources

Asahi Brewery Japan. "Asahi Breweries' History." Accessed from on 1 Nov 2003.

Asahi Shimbun. "Beers that cheer from Japan's crafty brewmasters." Accessed from on 29 Sept 2003

Brewers Association of Japan. "Beer Tax Report." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003

Brewers Association of Japan."Beer and Taxes." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003

Brewers Association of Japan. "Consumption per Capita." Accessed from on 22 Oct 2004

Brewers Association of Japan. "Imported Beer Volume." Accessed from on 27 Oct 2004

Brewers Association of Japan. "World Beer Consumption Volume." Accessed from on 27 Oct 2004

Brewers Association of Japan. "World Beer Production Volume." Accessed from on 27 Oct 2004

Canada-Japan Society of Toronto. Spring/Summer 1998. "What's Trendy Now? The Japanese Beer Market." Accessed from on 12 Oct 2003

Celebrator Beer News "Japan's Beer Century." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003

Japan External Trade Organization. "Marketing Guide Book for Major Imported Products - Beer". Accessed from on 11 Oct 2003.

Japan External Trade Organization. "Marketing Guide Book for Major Imported Products - Beer, Wine and Whisky". Accessed from on 10 Oct 2004.

Japan Times Online. "Brewers Slam Happoshu Proposal." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003

Japan Times Online "Self-cooled kegs? Suds too good to be true." Accessed from on 9 Oct 2003.

Japan Times "Slightly cooler July puts beer drinkers on wagon." Accessed from on 12 Oct 2003

"Japanese drinkers dump real brew as happoshu 'near beer' ferments price war". Accessed from on 12 Nov 2003

Kirin Beer USA. "The Kirins. 1997 - 2000." Accessed from on 20 Dec 2003

Lion Nathan Breweries. "Ownership." Accessed from on 28 Oct 2004

Mitsubishi Monitor. "Winning Back Market Share." Accessed from
on 10 Oct 2003.

REITI (Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry). "Bad Tax, Bad Beer." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003.

Sake Drenched Postcards. "Cheap Beer's Burp in the Road." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003.

Suntory. "In Pursuit of Even Higher and Taste of the "Draft." Accessed from on 11 Oct 2003 .

The Journal of International Institute. "Japan After the Bubble Burst: Traditional Values Inhibit Quick Comeback." Accessed from on 29 Dec 2003

Times Online. "The beer that conquered Japan with a dry bite." Accessed from,630-771514,00.html on 29 Sept 2003

Tokyo Food Page. "Brew News - Issue #17." Accessed from on 2 Dec 2003

Tokyo Food Page. "Brew News - Issue #28." Accessed from on 10 Oct 2003

Tokyo Food Page. "Brew News - Issue #44." Accessed from on 2 Dec 2003

Tokyo Food Page. "Brew News - Issue #43." Accessed from on 2 Nov 2003

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. "Japan Rice Policy." Accessed from on 22 Sept 2003.

United Press International. "China a close second to US beer drinkers." Accessed from on 30 Dec


All About Beer. "Extreme Brewing: Pushing the Envelope West Coast Style." Sept 2003

All About Beer. "What's Brewing." July 2003

All About Beer. "What's Brewing." Sept. 2003


Useful Internet Sites