Japan has a drinking problem... but if you've got a thirst for adventure, it's where you want to be.
In honor (or in horror) of these bizarre beverages seemingly not fit to rinse your septic tank, raise a cracked glass to the Top Ten Bizarre Japanese Soft Drinks, our first ten inductees into the Soft Drink Hell of Fame... Jeers!
Our rundown of the Top Ten Bizarre Japanese Soft Drinks gives a pretty good indication why most of the 1000 or so new soft drinks and beverages launched in Japan every year fail miserably.
Look on the bright side, though: they may not be good to drink, but you can't say they're not good for a laugh.
10) Pepsi Ice Cucumber: It's lean, green and sounds obscene
When American companies introduce products tailored for foreign tastes, we often experience discomfiting culture shock. Sort of like when Homer Simpson uses his toaster time machine to go back 10 million years, steps on a slug, and then comes back to an oddly different world. Maybe that really did happen, and Springfield is now Tokyo!
Exhibit A: Pepsi Ice Cucumber, introduced to the Japanese soft drinks market and Pepsi vending machines on June 12th (2007) and to our Top Ten Bizarre Japanese Soft Drinks listing immediately thereafter. Pepsi? Good... Cucumbers? Great! Cucumber-flavored Pepsi? DOH!!
9) Hot Calpis: the drink that makes you think - about NOT drinking it
Cue suave voiceover: "Next time you're out on the town with the one you love, treat her to a cup of Hot Calpis"... then trudge home alone after she pours it over your head. Yes, delicious Calpis - I can't even read it without grinning - is known as Calpico in other countries (for obvious reasons) and is one of Japan's most popular and enduring soft drinks .
Milk-based with a sweet yogurt taste, Calpis comes in original and a variety of fruit flavors. Some drink vending machines offer this bizarre beverage hot... steaming hot.
8) Coolpis: Who wouldn't want to drink something with a name like Coolpis?
Ahh, refreshing Coolpis... THE soft drink to offer guests - before removing their blindfolds. Actually a Korean copy of the disturbingly named Calpis, Coolpis comes in Peach flavor and (stop reading now, if you can...) Kimchee flavor.
Kimchee, for those unacquainted, is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented cabbage and LOTS of red pepper. Makes Peach flavored Coolpis almost appealing, doesn't it? Anyone for a Calpis vs. Coolpis taste test? We could call it a pis-ing contest.
7) Mother's Milk: the breast-tasting drink ever!
And now, for something close to the heart... Mother's Milk. Is there anything in the world more wholesome, more natural, more life-giving than mother's milk? Is there anything in the world that would make you drink it from a store bought carton? NO, on both counts. If I was a baby, maybe, but not from an udder - I mean, another - mother!
I shudder to think of the scene inside one of the manufacturer's factories... those poor farmgirls, milkmaids or what have you, shackled up to cold, pitiless machines that never, ever stop... and then I woke up.
6) Black Vinegar Juice Bar: dispenses acid trips
After chugging down a pint of Mother's Milk, head on down to your local Black Vinegar Juice bar to give it a good curdling. Black vinegar is noted for its health benefits; the trouble has always been making it drinkable.
Mixing it into bizarre soft drinks with soy milk, blood orange juice or blueberry juice is supposed to solve that problem, but we remain skeptical. At least you can splash some on the salad (via Plastic Bamboo).
5) Speaking of which, consider Water Salad... for what, we're not sure...
The creative types at Coca-Cola (yes, THAT Coca-Cola) who devised Water Salad are probably still shell-shocked from the New Coke and C2 soft drink fiascos and wouldn't risk another..or would they?
Water Salad is... well... salad-flavored water. You know, the stuff you get after centrifuging your rinsed romaine in the salad spinner. Funny, we pour it down the drain here; in Japan they can it and put it up for sale in a varied selection of flavors. Not laughing now, are you, smart guy?? (via Trendhunter)
4) Diet Water: all the taste and none of the calories of regular water. Huh?
And now, from the "selling ice to the Eskimos" department, we bring you Diet Water: the soft drink for the soft headed. "None of that rich, fattening Perrier for me, I'm serious about shedding pounds!" Not to mention shedding money. "Diet Water of the rich and famous"? We're not sure what the appeal of Diet Water is... maybe it has negative calories.
3) Final Fantasy Potion drinks: for those who think life really IS a game
Got a gamer at your house who lives, breathes and eats role-playing games like Final Fantasy? Now you can add "drinks" to the list, thanks to Final Fantasy Potion soft drinks. Let's see, at last count the stores were stocking Final Fantasy 13.
No way to know if drinking a Final Fantasy Potion soft drink will restore your health, energy level - or make you invulnerable. Kids, don't try this at home! (via Japan Newbie)
2) Canned Coffee = Canned Laughter
Canned coffee has been a staple of those omnipresent Japanese drink vending machines since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Nothing wrong with the coffee itself, which is actually quite good. It's the wacky names (c/o engrish.com ) the manufacturers insist on giving it that elevates Japanese canned coffee to immortality (one brand in particular - read on). There may just be a Top Ten Bizarre Japanese Canned Coffees list coming to this site one day soon. A few "can"-didates:
BM Coffee - Nothing beats a good BM to start the day!
BJ Coffee - I stand corrected.
Deepresso Coffee - Is this the opposite of Espresso, or a coffee designed to bring down Type A personalities?
Black Boss Coffee - Decaffeinated AND desegregated, for the equal opportunity executive suite.
GOD Coffee - What does one serve with GOD Coffee? Communion wafers?
1) Kidsbeer: the Popeye Cigarettes of children's drinks
We've saved the most bizarre drink for last... Kidsbeer. We kid you not: Kidsbeer. What can be said in defense of Kidsbeer, except maybe that it's alcohol-free? That would be like saying Hitler wasn't all bad because he liked dogs. Kidsbeer is so wrong on so many levels it makes my head spin, yet it is so popular in Japan that monthly shipments are approaching 100,000 bottles. As for the ad campaigns, nothing else will make you feel more like you've blundered into Superman's Bizarro world then seeing pre-teens - heck, pre-toddlers - joyfully guzzling their bottles of Kidsbeer.
A little background: Kidsbeer used to be a normal, average soda called Guarana until 2003, when restaurant owner Yuichi Asaba renamed the bubbly brew "Kidsbeer" and watched sales go through the roof. Normally, some sort of government watchdog would step in at this point and read Asaba the riot act, but nope. Encouraged, Asaba farmed out production to the Tomomasu company, who made it less sweet, more frothy - more beer-like, if truth be told - and introduced brown bottles with labels resembling those of early Japanese beers.
Still the government watchdog slept on (or maybe it's drunk and passed out), so naturally other beverage, soft drink and soda makers scrambled to get a piece of the near-beer action. Sangaria took one look at Kidsbeer's skyrocketing sales and decided to go one better: wine and sparkling wine for kids! Their product website is jaw-dropping in its audacity - and nicely done as well. Wanna be like mommy & daddy, kids? Drink Kidsbeer, the Little Prince of Beers!
And that wraps up our list of the Top Ten Bizarre Japanese Soft Drinks, although we've saved up enough dishonorable mentions to form the better part of a follow-up list. Japan sure is a wonderful place, but it's far from home in more ways than just travel time.
Barkeep, a frosty Kidsbeer for my friend - in a jelly glass!
UPDATE: Here's 10 Even More Weird and Bizarre Japanese Soft Drinks