While Japan isn’t exactly the craft beer haven that North America and Europe have become in recent years, the Japanese craft brew scene is rapidly growing. Only 20 years ago, craft beer in Japan was pretty much nonexistent, with a beer industry overpowered by big names like Asahi and Kirin.
It wasn’t until 1994 that the government lowered the annual output of beer necessary to obtain a brewing license from 2,000,000 liters to just 60,000. While hundreds of breweries opened their doors in the wake of the new law, a lack of brewer experience and a population generally unfamiliar with such variety caused many of them to close. Today, the market seems to have stabilized. According to the Japan Beer Times, there are now more than 300 craft breweries flaunting thousands of new varieties around the country.
… there are now more than 300 craft breweries flaunting thousands of new varieties around the country.
As the hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, season cascades onto Japan, so too do more spring beer festivals. A perfect excuse to travel to a new part of Japan (especially with an upcoming 10-day Golden Week), here are some craft beer events to mark on your calendar.
1. Snow Monkey Beer Live
One of Japan’s most popular craft breweries, you may have seen Shiga Kogen pale ales and IPAs in your local grocery store. The Snow Monkey Beer Live festival is held in the Shiga Highlands area of Nagano Prefecture. Essentially the Colorado of Japan, Nagano is home to skiing, the world-famous Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park (just for fun, you can check out this live cam of the monkeys!) and a variety of craft breweries. This year, the festival will feature more than 12 live music performances and beer from at least 17 breweries.
- Shiga Kogen Brewery: A hole-in-the-wall brewery with beer from all over Japan.
- Matsumoto Brewery: A small brewery that opened in 2016 and began brewing their own beer in 2018.
- Libushi: An artisan brewery in Nozawa Onsen Village which has 10 regularly changing taps and stocks guest beers on occasion.
2. Kyushu Beer Festival 2019
The Kyushu Beer Festival is the region’s largest — and you won’t want to miss this springtime event. Held in the city of Fukuoka, you can check out the last installment’s Instagram hashtag for photos of the food, entertainment and all of that glorious beer likely to be at this year’s event.
- Goodbeer Faucets Hakata: Perhaps the largest craft brewery in Fukuoka, this brewery started in Tokyo and has a few branches in the city. Fukuoka’s location boasts more than 40 craft beers and an outdoor patio.
- Brewers Beer Pub: On the outskirts of the city center, this smaller, local-style beer pub has 12 taps.
- Goodbeer Stand: At this smaller version of Goodbeer Faucets, you can enjoy 25 varieties of craft beer and food.
3. Yokohama Fruhlingsfest
With far more than just German beer, the Yokohama Fruhlingsfest (the name is German for a town’s festival to celebrate the arrival of spring) has a variety of music, outdoor theater, rides and attractions as well as plenty of German food along with a wide variety of craft beer. This event is also kid friendly, so families can get out and enjoy themselves at this historic and scenic location on the sea at Yokohama Bay.
- Bay Brewing: Only a four-minute walk from JR Kannai station, this brewery is easy to access. Its website advertises a pilsner, weiss (wheat beer), IPA and a fresh hop to satisfy many of your beer tasting needs.
- Yokohama Brewery: Also a short walking distance from JR Kannai station, this brewery uses a number of local ingredients for their many flavors of beers, including local wheat, peaches and dragon fruit for their wheat and fruit ales.
- Thrash Zone: This brew pub close to Yokohama station prides itself on extreme beer for extreme people only — and a heavy metal soundtrack! Many of their beers are at or above seven percent alcohol by volume (ABV). While there, be sure to try the Envemon, a 10 percent ABV barley wine.
- Baird’s Bashamichi Taproom: This brewery describes itself as Japan’s first American-style smokehouse barbecue and craft beer pub with a Western or Texan atmosphere.
4. Keiyaki Beer Festival
The Keiyaki Beer Festival is as pure as it gets for craft aficionados: its sole goal is to celebrate craft beer in Japan. Located near Tokyo, it’s a good excuse for those who live in the metropolis to explore it’s neighboring prefecture, Saitama. Interested? Check out a short movie with clips from last year’s festival to see if it’s an event that’s a good fit for you.
- Beer Hunting Urawa. Also check out their sister store BeerNova Urawa.
- Hikawa Brewery. Opened in 2015 as the city of Omiya’s first brew pub, this brewery has five to 10 beers on tap at a time and a variety of European fried foods.
- Craft Beer Bar Bronx. This brewery advertises 10 craft beers and a two-hour nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) deal.
5. Great Japan Beer Festival Okinawa 2019
Organized by the Japan Craft Beer Association (JCBA), the Great Japan Beer Festival is an expo of sorts and is described as being held “for all beer lovers.” Around 2,000 beer enthusiasts are expected at the Okinawa event. It also happens in Tokyo (June), Osaka (July), Nagoya (August) and Yokohama (September).
- Taste of Okinawa. This restaurant features a fridge full of craft beers from Japan and all over the world, and even holds group cooking classes.
- Okinawa Brewing Company. Located in Okinawa’s “American Village,” this brewery was founded by three American homebrewers aiming to bring American-style craft beer to the islands.
- Craft Beer House Baku. This hole-in-the-wall pub has a local style and showcases beers from all over the world.
Supporting local breweries at craft beer festivals is a win-win for both craft beer lovers and small businesses. Search the web to find more beer events around Japan, including many Oktoberfest celebrations that seem to be held in the spring here, for which the dates haven’t been released yet. Or, if you’re more of a homebody, you can look into ordering craft beers from around the world online that will ship to your home in Japan direct through specialty sites like AMMS or Antenna America.
Have you been to a beer festival in Japan? What did you like about it? What springtime beer festival do you want to go to next? Tell us in the comments!