Japanese people may consume a lot of tea, but they make some really good soda, too.
If you’re thirsty for a soft drink, we can help you find the best Japanese sweetened and/ or carbonated beverages, and where to purchase some.
By the way: These are all nonalcoholic drinks. If you want alcohol, read our explanation of sake, or our Japanese beer article instead.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links to our partner ZenPlus, the ultimate place to buy from exclusive Japanese shops. We also have Amazon links below.
Japanese Soda Basics
Carbonated drinks have been around for a long, long time. British scientist Joseph Priestley generally gets the credit for inventing carbonated water in 1767. (Sparkling, bubbly mineral spring water also occurs naturally in various places around the world.)
Japan has had soft drinks since the Meiji era, when they were introduced. Some of the beverages that we will explore in this article have existed for more than 100 years. (The newest was invented in 1994.)
If you saw my Japanese beer article, you should recognize some of the same corporations in this article. Of course, Japan has also welcomed Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other foreign brands. But you shouldn’t need an online importer to buy those — unless you collect Japanese-sized Coke cans. (Japanese cans tend to be smaller than American ones.)
About This Japanese Soda List
All of the sodas on my list are from Japanese brands. As such, some of them can be hard to find outside of Japan.
Luckily, Japan Bound’s online retail partner ZenPlus has supplies of all of them, although some varieties might also be available at your local international grocery stores.
Coincidentally, none of our selections are cola-flavored, and there are no root beers. Japan does make cola — Kirin Mets, for example — and there are some craft soda companies. But Coke dominates the Japanese cola market. (And even Coca-Cola bends to Japanese taste preferences.)
None of the non-cola sodas in our list have any caffeine, either. But quite a few of them are fruit-flavored.
5 Best Japanese Soda List
- Pocari Sweat
- Mitsuya Cider
- C.C. Lemon
When people talk about Japanese soda, ramune often bubbles up to the top. With its distinctive bottle shape and unique marble stopper, it is easily recognizable. (The technical term is a Codd-neck bottle.)
Many anime fans love the stuff, as it can be found at conventions, or other anime events.
Ramune comes in a seemingly endless number of flavors, from “Blue Hawaii” to melon soda. The “original” ramune flavor is lemon-lime, because “ramune” comes from a Japanese pronunciation of “lemonade.”
Side note: “Blue Hawaii” flavor in Japan doesn’t normally refer to the tropical alcoholic cocktail, although the name was probably inspired by it. It’s been described as a (blue-colored) Hawaiian Punch-esque taste, with coconut added.
The history of ramune is a bit confusing, because some sources use “ramune” and “lemonade” interchangeably. For example, some say that U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry brought a type of carbonated lemonade with him when he “opened up” Japan in the 1850s. But he wasn’t carrying around ramune as we now know it. (The Codd-neck bottle hadn’t been invented yet.)
However, most sources say that ramune was invented by a Brit, or possibly a Scot, named Alexander Cameron Sim. Sim lived in Kobe in 1884.
Also, ramune is not actually a brand name! It’s a generic term, and more than one manufacturer makes it. Sangaria and Hata Kosen are big names in Japan; if you live in the U.S., Sangaria is the most common.
If you can’t figure out how to open a traditional ramune bottle, you can sometimes also find it in cans, or in bottles without the marble. But where’s the fun in that?
Of the drinks on my list, ramune is probably the easiest to find outside of Japan, but you may find some Japan-only varieties online.
2. Pocari Sweat
Pocari Sweat has been described as Japan’s equivalent to Gatorade. Otsuka Pharmaceutical invented Pocari Sweat in 1980. It’s non-carbonated, but sweetened with natural grapefruit flavor (and sugar).
While the “Sweat” name may sound strange to English speakers, Pocari Sweat is intended as a sports drink. And, like all sports drinks, it’s aimed at people who want to rehydrate the body and replace electrolytes and other nutrients. (After sweating a lot, get it?)
Pocari Sweat is available in cans, bottles, and in powdered form. If you want to rehydrate with less sugar, Otsuka Pharmaceutical also produces Pocari Sweat Ion Water. It still contains some sugar, but less of it.
Calpis is a milky soft drink with a yogurty flavor. The milky yogurt taste comes from the dry milk and lactic acid in the drink.
It comes in a couple of different varieties. You can buy it in concentrate, which ought to be mixed with milk or water before drinking. Calpis Water is pre-mixed. Calpis Soda is a carbonated version of the beverage. The concentrated version gives you more control over how sweet and sugary the stuff is, but the other versions are more convenient.
You can also get Calpis in various fruity flavors, such as strawberry and banana.
Calpis dates back to 1902, when Kaiun Mishima traveled to China and encountered a type of Mongolian cultured milk known as either Airag or Kumis. Mishima made several failed attempts to imitate the Mongolian drink back home in Japan, before finally inventing Calpis in 1919.
Calpis is currently owned by Asahi. In North America, distributors changed the name to “Calpico,” because they thought it would be more appealing. But it’s the same thing.
4. Mitsuya Cider
Mitsuya Cider is a carbonated soda with a lemon-lime, somewhat ginger ale-ish flavor. The name “Cider” has nothing to do with what people consider to be cider in the United States, Canada, or Europe. In most of the West, cider is made of apples, and often fermented (otherwise known as “hard cider”).
There is no alcohol in Mitsuya Cider. However, if you like your cider to taste like apples, an apple-flavored version of it does exist. Other fruity versions (grape, lemon, mikan, etc.) are also available.
Mitsuya Cider was invented in 1884, and Asahi bought the brand in 1972.
5. C.C. Lemon
C.C. Lemon is the newest soda on our list. It was created by Suntory in 1994.
As the name implies, it is indeed a tart lemon-flavored soft drink. C.C. Lemon contains actual lemon juice. It is also carbonated.
The “C.C.” part of the name doesn’t come from the Code Geass character, but from the presence of vitamin C in the drink.
If Suntory’s claims can be believed, a 350 milliliter can of C.C. Lemon contains as much vitamin C as 50 lemons. (The amount varies depending upon the size of the can or bottle.) If a regular lemon contains 30 milligrams of vitamin C, then that 350 ml can has 1500 mg of vitamin C.
Of course, you’re probably better off getting your vitamin C from eating fresh citrus fruit. But the idea of a healthier soda is certainly an interesting notion.
Of course, these are not the only Japanese sodas available. But they are uniquely Japanese soft drinks, and very representative of what you would typically find in Japan. If you think that we missed some good ones, let us know in the comments.
I hope this article helps you find some interesting Japanese beverages to drink.