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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Beer Me-iji - A Short History Of Beer In Japan

When Japan closed off its international borders to global visitors, or for their own seeking to leave, it kept a small port open at Dejima in Nagasaki, where small amounts of trade continued with both the with Dutch and Portuguese.

I suspect that trade with the Dutch was always looked forward too, because the Dutch brought guns… which kind of sucks, as it takes away the somewhat romantic notion of war - where everyone could now kill from a distance.

I know, bow & arrow.. but still… anyhow… the Dutch also brought beer to Japan.

Booze, guns… all they needed to bring in were narcotics and prostitution for the total Dutch treat.    

Now… most people know that the Dutch make a decent beer—Heineken, Amstel and Grolsch, to name some of the biggies… ever heard of anyone raving about Portuguese beer?

Right. In Holland, it's weed, prostitution, beer and windmills. Apparently windmills supplanted gunpowder-based weapons. 

Anyhow… beer. The Dutch actually managed to open up a special beer establishment for its sailors in Dejima

Take from that paragraph what you wish, but it does NOT appear as though the Dutch beer was made available to the local Japanese, who had to rely upon their sake and waaaa-der… or something like that.

Anyhow… the Japanese essentially remained a beer-less nation - effing Shogun - until the Meiji Restoration that pretty much began in 1868.

At that time, small amounts of Bass Pale Ale and Bass Stout (Mmmmm, that's great bass)

SNL video



Pity it’s not the full video…

Anyhow… the small amounts of beer that made its way into Japan was only available in the new foreign settlements of the country.

While the Japanese might occasionally get a taste, it was not readily available to them.

Still, soon enough European brewmasters began arriving in Japan, and either trained the Japanese or attempted to startup their own brewery, and by 1869, the Spring Valley Brewery was born.

What you might not know, however, is that while the Japanese soon couldn't get enough of that wonderful duff, the beer makers were running afoul of the sake manufacturers.

Booze War!

Yes, this new-fangled thing called bieru (beer) was competing with the rice-wine products produced in Japan by the Japanese for the Japanese.  

Because the sake shops would not allow beer to be sold at the wholesale sake shops, the beer manufacturers began selling it within other shops - like at wholesale drug companies—yup, good for what ails ya.

The main thing to come from this, was that since beer (and wine) was now being distributed differently from sake, it was not taxed as heavily as sake.

But so what if sake and wine & beer are being distributed differently - shouldn’t the taxes be the same?

In this case, because of the Meiji government’s attempts to drag Japan and the Japanese to the 18th and eventually the 19th century, it penalized the sake drinker, and made the prospect of buying the more inexpensive wine and beer products even more appealing.  

Yes, Europeanization… which seems odd, but what image comes to mind when one thinks of 1860s North America? Canada wasn’t Canada until 1867, and we had a beaver infestation (kidding), and the U.S. was either embroiled in or just concluding its first Civil War. I assume there will be another one.

So - cheap beer made its way around Japan.

It wasn’t until 1901, that beer began to be taxed, but wine was not.

Sake had, until the end of WWII, a brewing tax, a commodity tax, and a tax on the total shipment.

Beer only had the brewing tax.

When WWII ended, and people could begin to rebuild their lives, they could do so with affordable beer and wine.

So… once again, Japan can blame the gaijin for their alcoholism.

Kanpai!
Andrew Joseph
Image from www.japantravelmate.com 

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