Introduction to Drinking Japan

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Ultimate guide to drinking in Japan.
– The Japan Times

From sampling traditional awamori on Okinawa to roaming the legendary Susukino district in Sapporo, Drinking Japan is filled with a staggering amount of information … (&) incredibly complete histories.
– Metropolis

“There are many things to love about Japan, but its exceptional bars and drinking culture are among the things at the top of my list. Anyone with the same yen (heh) for Tokyo-and-beyond bars should check out “Drinking Japan: A Guide to Japan’s Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments.”
– Los Angeles Times

“It is in Bunting’s travelogue approach wherein we find Drinking Japan‘s greatest strengths. We journey with him from one bar to another, listening in on conversations with bartenders who proudly report on the provenance and aging of their prized liquors. We vicariously drink through Japan while nestled comfortably on a couch at home. Bunting does a fantastic job of putting each bar in context.”
– LA Weekly

“Drinking Japan reads like a travel book — not a touring handbook, mind you, but a travel book, replete with anecdotes and impressions, which not only gives the reader a better idea of what they might be getting into, but also allows Bunting to establish a voice. And that voice is one that will make most readers feel like having a beer, or a whisky, or a glass of wine, or shochu, or awamori, or sake, or even makkori, with the man.”
– Japan Eats

Drinking Japan should be required reading for anyone interested in looking beyond big-name brands and immersing themselves in Japan’s rich and varied Bacchanalian tradition.
– Justin McCurry, Japan correspondent for The Guardian and Observer, in Acumen magazine.

“Best book on Japanese booze I’ve ever seen, and a really great selection of bars.”

–Nick Coldicott, leading Tokyo-based drinks writer on Twitter.

Prizes

For the latest media coverage and prize news go here.

“Drinking Japan” is an award-winning guide to Japanese bars and alcoholic drinks published by Tuttle Publishing. This site has been set up to offer readers extra information and updates on the book.

My research for ”Drinking Japan” took more than a year and a half and took me all over the country. It is the first wide-ranging survey in English of the history and culture of Japanese alcohol, with detailed coverage not only of the well-known rice brew sake but of much less explored traditions like shochu, awamori, beer, wine, and Japanese whisky.

First and foremost, ”Drinking Japan” is a practical guide, offering richly illustrated reviews of my favorite 122 bars. The reviews are written with the newly arrived visitor to Japan in mind, with detailed price guides, language help, advice on food and drink choices, and maps and directions to get you to the bars. But the reviews try to go a little further than that, featuring interviews with bartenders and background information on the drinks I tried at their establishments that I hope deepens the insights offered by the detailed introductions at the start of each chapter.

There is a long chapter on the history of sake and the contemporary sake world, and the first extensive descriptions in an English-language book of Japan’s indigenous spirits, shochu and awamori. Whole chapters are devoted to Japan’s whisky, craft beer and wine industries, offering insights that have until now not been available to readers in English.

Drinkingjapan.com will offer updates on the guide, information about changes to bars (please contact me at drinkingjapan @ gmail.com if you have an update), and more detailed referencing to the sources I used in writing the guide that I hope will be of use to other researchers.

Drinkingjapan.com is a sister site to Nonjatta.com, the most comprehensive source on Japanese single-malt whisky  for English speakers.

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Whisky and travel blog reviews Drinking Japan

My habit of narcissistic self-searching turned up a gem two days ago. The alcohol and travel blog Tire-bouchon published a very positive review of the book:

… I started to leaf through Drinking Japan on a Saturday afternoon and I simply couldn’t put it down.

I have to admit that I enjoy books about whisk(e)y and spirits more than regular readers but this book seriously raises the bar very very high. It is really not fair to classify this book simply as a book about booze only. It is an amazingly well executed book about a nation’s drinking culture and the history and passion behind it which also serves a perfect traveler’s companion with tons of valuable practical information. … I was also very impressed how he managed to give so much information with all these beautiful photographs in such a compact, easy and entertaining format. I am afraid that I will be comparing any other book written about spirits with Drinking Japan from now on. It is a must read not only for spirit lovers but for everybody who is interested in Japanese culture or planning to visit Japan and is a great reference book to keep somewhere near your spirits cabinet all the time.

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Review in Japanese email newsletter

I don`t quite know why I am so over the moon about this, but I found out today that “Drinking Japan” got a really nice review in an email newsletter distributed by a firm that makes packaging for alcohol firms. I have just finished poring over the piece by Kita Sangyo Ltd.

I think what pleases me is that it is clearly from a Japanese person who knows a lot about alcohol, that it has come quite out of the blue from someone I don`t know, and that it seems quite positive. It says the book must have been written without sponsorship (regrettably, true) and so is unbiased, and that it might be educative even for a Japanese person.  It also says it is readable even when your English is not really up to scratch. Hooray! And cheers to Kita Sangyo!

Kita Sangyo, by the way, looks like an extremely interesting company. Their website links to publications about exhibitions in Korean museums about Japanese sake in that country under occupation, and this document shows sake from 10 countries outside Japan. Seems like a company with an inquiring mind.

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Alcademics review

Camper English, the San Francisco-based cocktails and spirits writer, has posted a review of “Drinking Japan” on Alcademics.com:

There is a lot of great information about the alcohol categories and how each of the types mentioned is produced. There are 16 pages of descriptions of sake’s history and production before he gets to the bars in which to drink it, for example.

I learned a ton about shochu and awamori in particular, but I picked up new information in every alcohol section.

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Positive piece by Guardian correspondent Justin McCurry

Justin McCurry, the Japan correspondent of The Guardian and The Observer, has just published an article about “Drinking Japan” in Acumen Magazine:

Painstakingly researched and solidly written by Chris Bunting, a Yorkshire-born journalist living in Tokyo, Drinking Japan doubles as a history of the country’s relationship with alcohol and a guide to some of the best places to imbibe it. … Replete with maps and easy-to- follow directions, geographically and alphabetically arranged indices of bars on the inside of the front and back covers, as well as a glossary of essential vocabulary and tips on etiquette, Drinking Japan should be required reading for anyone interested in looking beyond big-name brands and immersing themselves in Japan’s rich and varied Bacchanalian tradition.

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A very encouraging review from The Brew Site

I was particularly pleased to read The Brew Site’s positive review of “Drinking Japan” this morning, not just because it is a website I respect but also because it is a specialist website. One of the stressful things about writing a book with as broad a coverage as “Drinking Japan” is the fear that you might not be able to satisfy readers with a more specific focus.

The review is extremely encouraging:

A few months ago I received a review copy of a book that is not entirely about beer (but does include a good chapter on it)… Author Chris Bunting  has provided an incredibly comprehensive look into the drinks of Japan and where to find them … A year and a half doesn’t seem like enough time to have compiled the amount of information he presents in this book; yes there is that much information here and though the guidebook itself is only about 250 pages of content in length, it’s densely packed and covers the best of the entire country …  I can definitely recommend this book to anyone visiting (or living in) Japan as a valuable addition to your bookshelf; in fact it’s an interesting enough book to belong on your bookshelf as an overview of the drinks and drinking culture of Japan, even if you never visit. The format works well enough, in fact, that I’d like to see it similarly adopted to other regional alcohol guides.

 

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Good review in The Japan Times

The Japan Times, one of Japan’s leading English-language newspapers, carried a positive  review of the book as the lead item on page 11 of its August 7, 2011 edition, headlined “Ultimate guide to boozing in Japan.”

One of the merits of this guide is that it is thoroughly opinionated. Bunting laments, for example, the consumer habits of mainstream Japanese drinkers, who are “so used to regarding beer as a relatively tasteless and inoffensive thirst quencher that the exciting diversity of styles that is now coming out of the tiny craft beer sector” has hardly made a dent in the market, 99 percent of which is dominated by the bland, though agreeable social lubricants of the big name companies. Habushu, an expensive, much-prized spirit, supposedly enriched by the corpse of a dead pit viper, is dismissed as “moldy, foul-tasting,” a view I can corroborate, having nursed a thumping headache after a couple of glasses of the sickly snake medicine. Bunting’s work steers the reader toward altogether finer tastes.

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‘Moonshine’ author reviews Drinking Japan

Matthew Rowley, author of “Moonshine!“, has reviewed “Drinking Japan” on his blog “Rowley’s Whiskey Forge” :

“Bunting’s book is something of a revelation… [Drinking Japan] is a meaty mix of history; tips to avoid cultural misunderstandings (that extra charge on your bill isn’t sneaky thievery — it’s there on purpose and everyone at the bar but you understands this); suggestions for dealing with unfamiliar drinking environments; warnings on harsh penalties lashed out to drunk drivers (and passengers of drunk drivers); pronunciation guides; detailed guides and maps to bars, distilleries, and liquor stores; and profiles of Japan’s noteworthy alcoholists.”

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First article in French

“Drinking Japan” has just got its first mention in French! Employing my appalling schoolboy French, I think Whisky Magazine France (Page 16, Summer 2011) is very nice about the book, recommending it to readers who want to “find the roots of Japanese whisky and understand it better, while discovering the richness and culture of wine and spirits in Japan.” Then again, it might be a hatchet job.

 

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Publishers Weekly review

Publishers Weekly has just posted a positive review of “Drinking Japan.”

Toyko-based journalist Bunting talks of sake and shochu, beverages long associated with Japan. He also takes a substantial and welcomed look at the popularity of beer, whisky and wine in modern Japanese culture, providing context and suggestions on where to find the best, citing hours and atmosphere … Bunting sheds significant light on some of the smaller, more local names as opposed to the widely recognized national brands such as Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory. He gives the country’s growing craft beer industry its due, presenting insight and information a useful supplement to a variety of travelers, whatever their thirst.

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Review in LA Weekly

The LA Weekly published a review of Drinking Japan on June 8.

Tokyo’s labyrinth of city streets has always lent itself to marathon drinking sessions … Chris Bunting’s book Drinking Japan takes us along such a drinking session, one that encompassed many months and hundreds of bars throughout the country. Organizing the book by the types of alcohol served at these bars–sake, sochu, beer, whisky and so on–we learn not only the particularities of these establishments but about the process of producing, serving and drinking the thousands of bottles of alcohol waiting to be drunk in Japan. And it is in Bunting’s travelogue approach wherein we find Drinking Japan‘s greatest strengths. We journey with him from one bar to another, listening in on conversations with bartenders who proudly report on the provenance and aging of their prized liquors. We vicariously drink through Japan while nestled comfortably on a couch at home. Bunting does a fantastic job of putting each bar in context.

 

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