Most of the foreigners I meet complain ‘you can’t find any good beer in Japan’ – which, of course, I think is unfair. You most certainly can find plenty of good beer, or even the old foreign “Classics” like Samuel Adam, Budweiser, and Guinness- if you’re willing to pay twice the value.
If you’re not, too bad. Try some Japanese beer. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20, so for most college students doing a year abroad in Japan, you are legally allowed to drink (not that that ever really stops people in the first place).
When I lived in Sapporo, I went to the Sapporo Beer factory. When I was teaching in Sanda for the summer, I went to the Kirin Beer factory. Now that I’m in Tokyo for the year, near the Ebisu station, I went to the Yebisu beer factory and garden. And let me tell you, it was a pretty good date.
First things first, you might have noticed the different spelling I used there for Ebisu (station)and Yebisu (the beer brand). They are both pronounced the same. They are both written the same (in Japanese).
The spelling of Yebisu (the beer) is left intentionally archaic – meaning that they decided to purposefully use the old-fashioned English spelling, rather than switching to the more modern (but really not that modern, it’s over 100 years old) Ebisu.
(Furthermore, now that we’re talking about it, take a look at three Yebisu beer signs throughout the years. Anyone who studies Japanese can easily note the differences in the “e” character エ. The two on the left are the old way of writing, while the one on the right is the more modern way of writing – while albeit not that modern.)
The hours for the Museum are as followed:
Hours: 11:00AM – 7:00PM (the last tour is at 5:10PM, though – so be careful)
Closed: Every Monday, National Holidays, New Year’s
Admission: Free to walk around, 500 yen (about $6) for a tour + two glasses of beer for tasting. Underage children or students can get two soft drinks instead of beer.
Contact number: 03-5423-7255
Once you get inside, you have to sign up for and pay for your tour (if you want to do one). We ended up having to wait about 45 minutes for an available tour – but there is plenty to do outside (and inside) the museum while you wait. We went to Burger King (how American) and drank their new Lemonade. Don’t judge. I haven’t had good lemonade in a loooooong time.
General History of Yebisu beer:
In 1887, a brewery was formed that specialized in German brewing methods. Three years later it was finished and renamed Yebisu; it became one of the first Japanese beers. After it became famous, the town (previous known as Mita) was actually renamed after the budding beer factory. The factory and brand were closed for a couple years during and after World War II, before the brand made a comeback. The picture above is what the first brewery looked like.
The 40-minute tour (that I highly recommend) takes you through a series of four rooms that show you pictures and tell you a little bit of history about Yebisu beer.
Our tour-guide was very new and very nervous. It was kind of adorable. I gave up trying to understand what she said and just wandered around reading the small English captions on each picture.
Thankfully when we bought our tour tickets, they gave me an English pamphlet – so I could read up on all the history. It was surprisingly interesting, but I guess you just had to be there.
I could write it all down here, but… I lost my pamphlet and you guys probably don’t care.
(But on a fun note, look! Beer used to cost as much as twenty bowls of Soba – a normal persons lunch. It was a classy beverage.)
At the end of the tour, they take you to the tasting room and let you sample two types of beer, their light beer and their dark beer. Each comes in an adorable little souvenir class (that you do not, sadly, get to keep). They also serve snacks appropriate for beer drinkers.
(The light beer)
While you are drinking, the tour competes in a large-scale rock, paper, scissors tournament (in in Japanese じゃんけん). The winner gets a goodie bag of beer, the Yebisu beer glass, and snacks, while the runner-up gets another beer.
Then they teach you how to pour a “perfect” beer, which is too much effort to explain. But I tried it out later, when we got home. It works.
(The dark beer)
After the tour, you have four options.
1. Go to the tasting room. It’s right next door. You pay for your beer (at steeply discounted prices) by a vending machine and then take the golden token to the beer counter. You get to watch them pour your beer – and the bartenders seem quite friendly.
Also, everything is bright, shiny, and clean – so unlike any bar. It’s almost surreal.
2. Go to the gift shop. They have tons of fun things there; I really wanted to buy “beer soap.” If you became highly attached to the adorable glass they served you free beer in, you can buy your own for only 1,000 yen (about $12).
(You can’t actually buy this in the gift shop, I just wanted to show off all the risque Japanese beer advertisements from post-World War II. How scandalous. Even Ryosuke was surprised at how inappropriately the women were dressed. And ten years before these advertisements, women were not even legally allowed to drink beer. Talk about sexism.)
3. Explore the museum again. It’s free. If there was something you missed the first time, you can even pop into another tour group to listen – you just won’t get to beer taste again at the end. Sorry.
4. Leave the museum and hang out in the beer garden. We would have done this, but there was a huge beer festival going on at the same time, so the nearby beer garden was packed. We ended up just eating a onigiri at a nearby convenience story rather than wait in line for an hour.
But if it’s not packed, I totally recommend the beer garden afterwards. The food looked delicious.
Final opinion: Go for it. It’s cheap, fun, and well-put together. It makes a great 1-2 hour date and is surrounded by interesting attractions.
(They even had a couple manga books on display that advertised Yebisu beer. I only recognized one of the series, though.)
Also, if I wasn’t clear how to get there, take the JR Yamanote line. It is one stop away from Shibuya (so take the Yamanote line going towards Shibuya. The Yamanote line is light green and runs in a circle around Tokyo; trains leave every five minutes or so. It can be a little confusing at first). Get off at the Ebisu station.
From the Ebisu Station, follow signs for the Ebisu Beer Garden. Or you can take the Yebisu Skywalk to the Yebisu Garden Palace. The Yebisu Garden Palace is the complex that the beer factory is inside of (in the basement) full of department shops and other entertainment. The Yebisu Skywalk is a series of horizontal escalators (like the moving floors at the airport) that dump you out right in front of the Yebisu Garden Palace. Just cross the street and you’re in.
It’s such a pretty building….
And from the map, you’re looking for section “H” – it’s in the basement. Just go the left of the pretty red building, go down the steps, and you will see the Yebisu Beer Factory.