Coffee History: Japan

It’s time for another look at coffee history, this time, in Japan! So much wonderful coffee gear comes from this island nation, so we wanted to take a look at how the drink has had an influence on the culture there! Let’s jump in.

Coffee Arrives in Japan

Like many goods, coffee first arrived in Japan in the 18th century, sometime around 1700. Our favorite bean found its way to Japan via Dutch traders, some of the first foreigners to make contact with the Japanese. For most of these early years, coffee was a luxury brewed at home by the wealthy, rather than at coffee shops like in most places. It wasn’t adopted widely in the country until the Meiji Era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912. Even during this time, its popularity was brief and limited.

In 1888 the first coffee shop opened in Japan, and it closed just a few years later. It’s hard to pinpoint why the beverage had trouble catching on. A factor that may have been related is cost and difficulty in importing beans, especially already roasted ones.

Coffee During the 20th Century

During World War II, coffee was seen as a Western influence. This was true of many Western items, and was a function of the government’s stranglehold on the populace during their Imperialistic attempts at expansion. As a result of this, coffee was banned in Japan and didn’t have much presence in the country until well after the war was finished.

Coffee began its resurgence in Japan in the 1960s, and grew immensely in popularity over the rest of the century. According to Rochelle and Viet Hong (Coffee In Japan: 100 Years of Mornings), imports grew from just 15,000 tonnes in 1960 to over 440,000 tonnes today. Part of this rise can be attributed to the ways in which Western culture became a fascination in Japan in the latter half of the 20th century. That, coupled with coffee’s marketing as an on the go beverage made it a convenient thing to enjoy on the way to work or school. This worked well in Japan’s busy, always in motion economy. 

Modern Coffee Consumption

In modern Japan, coffee occupies an interesting place in culture. It is still viewed as a Western beverage, and is treated like many elements of Western Culture. Much like American fast food and theme parks, coffee is viewed as a novelty. While still a largely on the go drink, it’s also one that’s enjoyed as a solitary one by most people. Unlike the United States, where coffee is often a social activity, this is largely reserved for tea in Japan. The exception comes from young people, who view coffee as a disruptive drink, and often enjoy it in groups as a counter-culture activity.

We couldn’t talk about modern coffee in Japan without mentioning how much Japan has influenced Western coffee culture. Manufacturers like Hario have created some of the finest equipment for pour over in the world. Coffee may come to Japan from the West, but Japan has certainly made its mark on the way the world drinks coffee too!

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