In my first year in Japan, I was flattened by one of the worst stomach bugs I had ever encountered. After receiving a quick check and medicine from the doctor at the local clinic, I was advised to rehydrate at home with POCARI SWEAT. Up until then, I had avoided even trying this easily accessible drink purely because of its name. Seriously, anything with “sweat” in the name doesn’t exactly sound appealing. However, it was the right fluid at the right time and I was quickly crediting it as the magic potion that saved my life.
Fast-forward 15 years and many empty PET bottles (polyethylene terephthalate, or better known as… “plastic bottles”) and it just so happens that a POCARI SWEAT factory is a short drive away in Takasaki, Gunma. Japan is currently going through another factory tour boom at the moment, so we investigated the possibility of taking a tour of the factory during our holidays. To our delight, and surprise, they take reservations for guided tours free of charge.
Jessica Spengler on FlickrIt turns out that POCARI SWEAT is only one of many products made by the parent company Otsuka Seiyaku, which has been in operation since 1921. The business had a humble beginning in Tokushima prefecture on the island of Shikoku as a predominantly pharmaceutical company focusing on nutrition. It has expanded immensely since and includes ion supplement drinks and soy-based snacks to name but a few. Other than the ubiquitous POCARI SWEAT, names like SOYJOY, Amino-Value, Calorie Mate, Nature Made, and the popular energy drink Oronamin C may sound familiar. However, it is still a leader in pharmaceutical products such as intravenous salines, medical foods and gels, and cosmedics (no, that is not a spelling mistake).
Wendy on FlickrFour of the seven Otsuka factories are still in Tokushima prefecture, with one also in Saga and Shizuoka prefectures, and of course the factory in Takasaki, Gunma. Tokushima is a coastal prefecture, hence the inspiration for the blue (sea) and white (waves) on the POCARI SWEAT label.
The factory tour is well organised, informative and well presented. It was a little brief and cramped but let’s not forget that it was free. After arriving and signing in, we were guided to the 6th floor theatre room for a lecture and PowerPoint presentation on the history of the company and detailed description of the operations in Takasaki. We were then led into a small POCARI SWEAT museum that reflected on the evolution of the drink and the vessel that has contained it. I have to say that the history of the container was the most interesting part of the museum. Although the aforementioned design of the label has not changed, the research and technology of the container has advanced enormously. It is often ignored and certainly under appreciated just how much thought has gone into the material, design and cost of making the container and lid. The current cylindrical shape of the 500ml plastic bottle begins as a roughly 10cm bullet-shape chunk of hard plastic, called a “preform”. With the application of heat and air inside a mould it gains its shape, which is then immediately filled with the ion supplement drink. The efficiency and strict quality control of this process has resulted in a more sterile and sanitary end product. Long term admirers of the drink, would be aware that the previous models of the drink bottle were a harder plastic and rectangular shape, which was designed to withstand hot POCARI SWEAT being filled into the bottle. The current plastic bottle is significantly thinner and lighter.
chotda on FlickrThe tour and the information boards are all in Japanese, but it is quite easy to understand most of it along the way. It is fascinating to see the different TV commercials for POCARI SWEAT over the years and the various international models and movie stars that have endorsed the product, for example Jean Reno and Cindy Crawford to name but a few.
So, why did the doctor advise me to drink this after suffering serious dehydration? Well, the electrolyte concentration in the drink is similar to that of the human body (even better than water) so it is absorbed quickly and easily for instant effect. Yes, I learned something. And that is what a factory tour is all about.
Braden Kowitz on Flickr
Andrea Chiu on FlickrEntry: free after booking through the Otsuka Seiyaku website
Otsuka Seiyaku - Takasaki Factory
351-1, Nishiyokote-machi, Takasaki-shi, Gunma 370-0021, Japan