With the rainy season over and done, we’ve been seeing day after day of scorching sunshine here in the Tokyo area. If you’re spending much time outdoors, whether sightseeing or just commuting to and from work or school, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, since it’s the best way to ward off dehydration.
Thankfully, Japan is covered in vending machines, so you’re never too far away from a cold, refreshing beverage. Of course, you can only knock back so many bottles of Coca-Cola before getting bored with the flavor, so we’ve scoured the streets of Tokyo and came back with no fewer than 10 vending machine drinks that fly under the radar in Japan.
The going rate for a canned or bottled soft drink in a Japanese convenience store or vending machine is about 150 yen (US $1.49). By shunning major brands like Pocari Sweat, Calpis Water, and the less comical-sounding C.C. Lemon and Aquarius, the most we spent for any of our liquid refreshments was 100 yen, and a few real bargains were priced at just 80 yen.
Still, some would argue that even where soft drinks are concerned, you get what you pay for. Would our selection join the esteemed ranks of satisfying drinkable oddities that alcoholic tomato juice recently ascended to, or would they be relegated to the depths occupied by mint chocolate beer?
1. Cola Shock (JT)
First up was a can of Cola Shock, produced by JT, also known as Japan Tobacco, which actually sells a pretty wide assortment of beverages. Not to fear, Cola Shock isn’t a nicotine-laced concoction. As a matter of fact, there’s nothing particularly shocking about it, as it’s just an ordinary carbonated drink with a caramel aftertaste, making it an economic alternative to Coke or Pepsi. We were a little disappointed that it’s not a zero-calorie drink, though, since we, like a lot of people in Japan, have become big fans of calorie-free colas.
2. Skal (South Japan Dairy Cooperative, Inc.)
If you’re not a long-time soft drink connoisseur, you might not be familiar with the slightly fizzy, yogurty Skal. It’s been around since 1972, though, and apparently tastes much the same now as it did then, if the can’s proclamation that this is “The Original Mix” is anything to go by. Consider this a budget version Calpis Soda, with enough flavor that it makes for a little treat in and of itself.
3. Blizzard (Yamazaki)
Also known as Blizzard L, this vitamin-infused carbonated beverage bills itself as “A storm of C!” It also has vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12. The sour notes are pretty strong here, and there’s a slightly spicy aftertaste, and overall it tastes pretty good, plus far better than the medicine-like flavor we’d incorrectly expected.
4. Super High Octane MAX Charge (JT)
You know an energy drink is serious when it’s not max charge, but MAX charge! Extremely fizzy and with a chemically aftertaste, this isn’t designed for sipping during a moment of quiet contemplation, but it might be just the thing if you’re looking for a drink with a kick.
5. Postonic Water (Sangaria)
We’ve got no clue what the name is supposed to mean. Maybe this is a follow-up to some earlier Sangaria product we don’t know about called Preonic Water? In any case, this is a sports drink, and conforms to Japan’s standards for such by having a mild grapefruit-like flavor that’s somewhere between Pocari Sweat and the milder Aquarius in intensity. In keeping with its target market of active and fit individuals, a 500-mililiter (16.0-ounce) bottle has just 60 calories.
6. Strawberry Latte (Pokka Sapporo)
This is almost identical to the paper cartons of strawberry milk that’re a mainstay of Japanese convenience store shelves. Sweet but not as milky as the name implies, it sadly doesn’t quite deliver on the can’s promise of having a “delicate scent,” as we didn’t notice much of any aroma when we cracked ours open. Still, this makes a good choice for kids or people in the mood for something sweet.
7. Zeitaku Melon Milk (DyDo)
On the other hand, Zeitaku Melon Milk is 50 percent milk. Instead of the sugary sweetness of melon soda, the flavor is more in line with Japanese melons, making this one of our test group’s more sophisticated members.
8. Kajitsu Jikkan Mizore Nashi (JT)
Although it’s only one percent actual fruit juice, this beverage also contains tiny little pieces of nashi, or Asian pear. We’re not sure we really needed all that pulp, but this was fruity and pleasant all the same.
9. Hiyashi Ame (Sangaria)
We’d never tried Hiyashi Ame before, but we hear it’s actually a pretty common drink in Japan’s central Kansai region. Similar in taste to ameyu, a sweet and malty traditional beverage, Hiyashi Ame is flavored with cinnamon and ginger, giving it an old school flavor that makes this just a little like a Japanese version of sarsaparilla.
10. Nata de Coco Pineapple (Malaysia….?)
The most mysterious of our group came in this plastic bottle. Try as we might, we couldn’t find the name of the manufacturer written anywhere, and the best we could do was identify the country of production as Malaysia. This veil of secrecy didn’t hurt the flavor any, though, which was refreshing and sweet, with a generous amount of coconut water jelly floating about.
Honestly, despite their lack of cachet or star power, nothing in our group tasted bad, and we could honestly see some people becoming big fans and regular drinkers of some of them. So if you’re looking to keep yourself hydrated and refreshed, and do it all while spending about 30 percent less than usual, we highly recommend stepping off the beaten beverage path.