Nestled within the modish enclave of Ebisu Garden Place is a museum any beer enthusiast would wish to visit. I am no beer lover myself, but it isnʼt reason enough to keep my feet away and learn about one of the most popular beer brands in the world.
Japanʼs beer industry has a long history and has made a significant contribution to the countryʼs economy through the years. That was made possible by the peopleʼs love of the beverage, allowing businessmen to respond according to demands. Yebisu Beer in particular was born out of a vision. A group of businessmen saw the possibilities of a beer industry in Tokyo and launched the Dai Nippon Company that produced beer according to German standards. The beer was named after Shintoismʼs Yebisu deity which is believed to bring prosperity to business and success to people. Since its first outing in 1890, Yebisu Beer has been patronized by local and foreign consumers alike. Its phenomenal success affected the sales of foreign beers in the country and prompted the government to change its beer production law, significantly increasing the maximum limit for beer produced annually.
In the beginning, Yebisu Beer was extremely expensive. A bottle cost 20 sen - an amount equivalent to 10 bowls of soba! (Seriously, thatʼs like 3 days worth of meals for me!) It was a beverage savored by the rich and wealthy but only “gazed at in window shops” by the greater majority. But not for long. Soon enough, the first Yebisu Beer Hall was opened in Ginza and offered a glass of 500ml draft beer at 10 sen. Every day the hall was thronged with people and gained wide-spread popularity. A few more years later, in the advent of increased demand for shipment, a freight station was built exclusively for Yebisu Beer, aptly named Yebisu Station. So the current Ebisu Station and Ebisu-dori were named after the popular beer brand.
During the war years, Japanʼs economic priorities changed and called for all beer brands to be abolished, including Yebisu Beer. But thanks to the peopleʼs request, Yebisu Beer made a comeback in the early ʻ70s and produced an even better beer quality based on German beer purity law. It can therefore be said that Yebisu Beer is a type of German Beer.
Admission to the museum is free. The exhibit has an English translation which makes it more welcoming for foreigners. The gallery presents a brief but concise history of Yebisu Beer with original photographs, video, articles and other items. Anybody can view the exhibit and take photos. But signing up for a tour is a much better way to experience the place. The 40minute tour costs only 500 yen. It gives guests an interesting backstory of the company, production of beer, and a few tips on how to have a delicious drink.
Unfortunately for non-Japanese speaking visitors, all the tours are conducted in Japanese only. Nevertheless, itʼs a great way to mingle with locals, even if your Nihongo is limited to a few words like “Konnichiwa” and “Arigatou Gozaimasu”. At the end of the tour, you get to enjoy 2 glasses of beer at an area reserved exclusively for tour guests. The entire experience is worth more than what you actually pay for. The tour runs from opening to closing time, but slots are easily filled up on weekends. Booking ahead is always a good idea.
Anyone not interested in a glimpse of the gallery may find some of the items on display at the Museum Shop more appealing. There are collectorʼs items that are not available for purchase elsewhere. So enthusiasts will have something more to look forward to when visiting the museum.
The Tasting Salon also welcomes anyone wanting to a have a drink. Sample a variety of Yebisu Beer flavors or choose your favorite for one Yebisu coin a glass. Yes, you will have to exchange your Yen for Yebisu coins at the vending machine. Four hundred yen is equivalent to one Yebisu gold coin. Get more if you wish to have more than a glass and if you want a snack to go with it. But be careful not to over-purchase. Yebisu coins are nonrefundable (though I suppose you can keep one as a souvenir). They also have special offerings on certain occasions. In February, I had the original beer cocktail Creamy Top Stout with cranberry, cassis and coffee topped with mint and chocolate. It was sooo GOOOD! If you arenʼt a beer drinker, you might even begin to like drinking it here.
Just a little side note about beer drinking in Japan. Beer drinking has been an essential part of the Japanese culture, then and now. It brings people together at festivals, family celebrations or company parties. And for most salarymen, having a glass or two after a long dayʼs toil has somehow become a habit. No matter the context and circumstance for drinking beer, people follow an unwritten code. This does not surprise me at all knowing how Japan values discipline and order - there is an etiquette for every social activity. So if you ever plan on drinking while in Japan, remember the cardinal rules, e.i. never leave your beer unattended, donʼt mess with someone elseʼs drink, and always finish your beer.