There are many types of mixers and alcohol in Japan, and Japanese convenience stores—called ‘konbini’ in Japan—sell pretty much all of them, at really affordable prices. They are a great alternative to bars that may overprice alcohol in Japan.
In fact, ‘konbini soto (コンビニ外, outside konbini)’, which refers to standing around and drinking outside Japanese convenience stores instead of in bars, is a growing trend in Japan. Let’s go through this list of Japanese alcohol that you can find in Japanese convenience stores, to help you figure out what to buy in convenience stores so you can ‘konbini soto’ like a pro when you’re in Japan!
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You can’t talk about Japanese alcohol without talking about Japanese sake. The Japanese rice wine known as ‘sake’ overseas is actually the Japanese alcohol ‘nihonshu’; the word ‘sake’ just refers to alcohol in general in Japanese. You can get large bottles of nihonshu in Japanese convenience stores’ alcohol section, but we recommend getting the mini bottles of nihonshu!
Some have adorable or unique designs on them and you can keep the bottles as souvenirs! Japanese convenience stores also sell boxed nihonshu (some come with a straw), so give that a go too!
This drink is sometimes referred to as the “Japanese champagne”. With an ABV of just 5%, the sparkling nihonshu is sweeter and easier to drink than the regular nihonshu which some find a tad too strong or intense. They’re often sold in Japanese convenience stores in pretty, mid-sized bottles.
Shōchū is another traditional Japanese alcohol you can get in Japan, sometimes called the “Japanese vodka”. It’s not to be mixed up with the Korean soju! Shōchū can be made from rice, sweet potato, barley or buckwheat. They’re sold in large plastic bottles (pictured above) and cartons in Japanese convenience stores.
The word ‘chūhai’ is an abbreviation of “shōchū highballs”—a mixer with a shōchū base. The most common chūhai is Lemon Hai, also known as Lemon Sours, which is made by mixing shōchū, soda, and a little bit of lemon juice or a lemon slice. Japanese convenience stores sell Lemon Sours, and other flavours of chūhais, in cans. They’re usually in bright and colourful cans so you can’t miss them!
The notorious strong zero, Japan’s blackout drink, is any chūhai with a high ABV—usually 7-9%—and zero sugar content. It doesn’t taste strong but it’s actually equivalent to two beers, and it’s the fastest way to get to a nice buzz.
We have a list of strong zero brands sold in Japanese convenience stores, most of them costing less than or around 200 yen (USD$1.9). The most famous strong zero is Suntory’s -196°C Strong Zero (pictured above), so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of available brands in Japanese convenience stores, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Get your own Strong Zero now! This tasting set includes all of the most popular flavours for you to start drinking right away!
As we covered in our blog article about classic (and craft!) Japanese beers, there are four main beer brands in Japan: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Yebisu. You might even have them in your home country too! Japanese convenience stores sell a ton of variations of the four main brands, and other brands, that aren’t widely available in most bars and restaurants in Japan.
As beer-drinkers, my partner and I have made it our goal to try as many types of Japanese beer as we can in Japan, and we have a constantly growing beer can collection at home (pictured above), all from Japanese convenience stores. If you have space in your luggage or if you live in Japan, I encourage you to do the same!
Japanese whiskey has gained a lot of recognition, after Suntory’s Hibiki 17 was featured in the Hollywood film, Lost in Translation (2003) and after Suntory’s Hakushu 25 was declared the best single malt in the world in 2015. While you’re unlikely to find these blends in convenience stores (consider yourself extremely lucky if you do!), you can always find the good ol’ classic Suntory Whiskey, known as ‘kakubin (角瓶, square bottle) for its angular bottle shape. If you don’t like whiskey on the rocks, you can always get Suntory Whiskey Highballs, which are also sold in Japanese convenience stores in cans!
It’s commonly known as a “Japanese plum wine”, but umeshu is actually a sour plum liqueur. It’s on the sweeter side and doesn’t taste like alcohol, but it actually has an ABV of 10-15%. Be careful and take it easy! Japanese convenience stores sell them in bottles and cartons, both large and small.
As you can see, you don’t have to go to bars or restaurants to try Japanese alcohol and Japanese drinks in Japan. If you want to spend more time visiting museums and shrines and don’t have much time to go to bars or restaurants, then stop by a Japanese convenience store and bring some Japanese alcohol back to your hotel room or Airbnb for a chill night in!
Or, if you do want to experience Japanese nightlife but want to save some money, then do the ‘konbini soto’ and just hang out and drink outside of Japanese convenience stores with friends! You may even make new friends who are doing the same!