There are many Japanese beer brands, Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin are perhaps the most well known. I’ve already posted about my favourite Japanese beer, Yebisu Premium, and this article will explain the difference between the two most popular types of beer in Japan.

At first glance when browsing for beer in a convenience store or supermarket in Japan, you will notice that there is a large price different, about 100 yen per can. For example, You can buy Asahi Super Dry 350ml can for about 205 Yen, and Asahi Clear for about 125 Yen.

Why is Japanese beer so cheap? You need a guide to Japanese beer buying!

The difference is, one is beer and one is not beer…

The good Japanese beer

The first type of beer, the good beer, the real beer is known as “Nama Biiru” which can be translated into either raw/fresh beer or draught beer.

Japanese NAMA BIRU (draught beer) - Sapporo, Yebisu and Kirin
Some of the most well know nama beers are shown here, perhaps the most well know ASAHI SUPER DRY (silver can) is not pictured.

This is real beer, containing all the traditional ingredients and is much more natural, and hence likely better for you (that the other type discussed later in this article). For tax purposes, it is classified as beer if it has over 67% malt content.

Nama beer usually sells for at least 200 Yen for a 350ml can, 270 Yen or more for a 500ml can. A good staple is Asahi Super Dry, very well known and it comes in a silver can. My favourite, and not too much more experience is Yebisu Premium, in the gold can.

The Japanese non-beer

The next type of “beer” is known in Japanese as happōshu. I put “beer” in quotes because it really isn’t beer. Instead, it is a low-malt beer-like drink, that while tasting like beer (just a lot worse), contains only 25% malt or less. The beer companies do this to make the drink cheaper as it takes less of a tax hit.

Japanese happoshu beers - Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin
The Japanese beer-like alcoholic drink.

Companies try to position the beer as having less carbs, etc. But don’t be fooled, this is cheap imitation beer!

How do you tell the difference?

Unless you can read Japanese, there are a few ways to tell the difference. In a supermarket, usually there is a sign that reads ビール (biiru in Japanese) to indicate where the real beer starts. But the easiest guide is the amount you pay, usually real draught beer is 200 yen for a 350ml can or more.

Failing that, just buy either Yebisu Premium in the gold can or Asahi Super Dry in the silver can.