Japan is a country of drinkers so before you arrive (especially if you're coming on business) make sure you have your drinking hat on as your hosts are sure to ply you with plenty of booze to seal those deals. There are a few rituals that should be considered before taking a tipple: Never pour a drink for yourself; your friend or host should do this for you and you in turn should keep your companions' glasses filled to the brim! A word you'll hear quite often is kampai - this means 'cheers' in Japanese.
Sake, or rice wine, is the national drink of Japan and the mysteries of this alcholic drink are as complex as those of its fermented grape counterpart favoured in the West. The Sake making process is long and complicated and the flavour of the finished product is dependent on how well the rice is initially prepared (by polishing and boiling) and steamed and the making of “Koji”. This is effectively a mould which is introduced to a batch of the steamed rice to release enzymes which break down starches and turn them into sugar. Quite an operation but top quality Dai-Ginjyo is delicious (and seriously intoxicating!).
Sake may be the national drink of Japan but lager-beer (pronounced bee-ru in Japanese) is the most popular. Widely available brands include Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory, and Asahi . They are all worth a taste and average about 5% abv.
Watch out for cheaper brands though - these are not actually beer at all but happoshu, a malt flavoured beverage. This looks and tastes like cheap beer but the low malt content allows the brewers to avoid beer taxes! As for the Sake, our advice is to have the cheap stuff (a little rough on the palate) hot, but drink the quality brands (strong and fresh tasting) well chilled.
In recent years a huge variety of fruit flavoured alco-pops called Chu-hai that would have have parents up in arms in the UK have become available. Get them from a Konbini (convenience store) such as Lawsons, Circle K or Family Mart, or in a restaurant or bar. Chu-hai is made from Shochu, a distilled spirit, which can be bought neat although and then diluted with fruit juice or fizzy pop. Certainly a cheap way to have a wild night on the town!
Whisky is very popular amongst Japanese men - Scotch is considered the best and is highly sort after. It is also significantly cheaper than in the UK due to the far lower taxes on spirits so we don't recommend on stocking up on duty free prior to arrival in Japan as you'll find the same thing cheaper after touching down.