Caffeinated Drinks You Can Only Get in Japan

Vending machine
Vending machine | © Esteban Chiner/Flickr
Lucy Dayman

Japan is a country that runs on energy drinks. A combination of hard working, hard drinking, and very little sleep means that it if IV drips filled with caffeine could come out of vending machines, the city of Tokyo would be dotted with them already. The next best thing to an immediate injection of energy is drinking it. With more canned coffee than you could ever imagine and drugstores stacked with tiny glass bottles filled with medicinal energy drinks, here’s just a selection of some of the caffeinated drinks you can only nab in Japan.

Kirin Fire Coffee

Canned coffee is ubiquitous in Japan, and one of the most common and diverse versions is Kirin’s Fire coffee line. With a super thick, criss cross-textured can and flame logo emblazoned on its side, it looks like the perfect little kick you need to properly start your day. You can find Kirin in purple, classic gold, black, and blue depending on your preference, but ultimately they’re tiny little sweet coffee shots so taste-wise the difference isn’t that huge, plus you’re drinking it for the caffeine boost anyway right? If you want to try it out, you can pick up boxes of the stuff at the Rakuten online store.

Craft Boss Coffee

One of the other major players on the canned coffee scene (and yes, there are a few) is Boss coffee. A creation of the Suntory brand, Boss has been a go-to quick coffee for Japanese commuters and sleepy salary men since its introduction in 1992. From lattes, to classic black, to names like “Boss Friendly Boss” the team at Boss coffee are not afraid to experiment and try new products. One of their better efforts of late has been their attempt at breaking into the more image-conscious youth (let’s just say hipster) market.

Titled “Craft Boss,” it’s a more carefully constructed craft-style coffee taste-wise that’s meant to be consumed slowly over a longer period of time. Really though, compared to so many other black coffees on the market, if you are worried about taste this is a go-to. Also, it’s in a 500ml bottle, so you’ll definitely get your slow release caffeine kick. You can get it internationally for US$2.99 via Napajapan.

Pepsi Refresh Shot

If, when it comes to sodas, you want more for less then this little pocket-sized Pepsi shot is the drink for you. At just 200ml, the can contains the same amount of caffeine as a normal Pepsi (about 38mg) and claims to be a little sweeter than its original counterpart. Overall, it’s probably not the most reliable go-to for a caffeine buzz, but if canned coffee isn’t your world and you want to slam down something quick, why not a Pepsi Refresh Shot? It’s most common to find these little bad boys in one of the many vending machines dotted along the roadside.

Lipovitan D

Now it’s time to look at Japan’s world of vitamin-filled “pharmaceutical”-style health and energy drinks. Like Boss coffee, Lipovitan D represents a series of energy drinks rather than just one. Because as you’ll know if you spend any time here, Japan loves variety, so having to choose between ten different versions of the same thing is not uncommon.

If it’s caffeine you’re after more than anything else, try Lipovitan D Pro. With 1000mg of taurine, and 50mg of caffeine, chances are it’ll help you get moving in the morning no problem, but probably not a much as a powerful cup of coffee. You can pick this up from many drugstores and conveniences stores through the city.

Alinamin V

Sitting in a humble 50ml bottle, Alinamin V is probably overlooked as not as powerful as its twice-the-size contemporaries, but once you look at the label ingredients you’ll find that it contains the same amount of caffeine and more vitamins than many others – it’s just super concentrated. They recommend drinking it during “physical fatigue, during or after illness, loss of appetite, nutritional disorders, exhaustion with fever, during pregnancy or lactation.” A little sweet and a little bitter, it’s probably the best for those wanting the energy kick with only half the liquid. Looking like a serious little dose of medicine, you can pick this up from most drug stores and online.

Kyokyo Daha

Kyokyo Daha comes in a little midnight black bottle, so you know it means serious business. Unlike Alinamin V or Lipovitan D, this is an energy drink built on the powers of caffeine, so extra vitamins and minerals are thrown to the curb. Instead, it packs a pretty serious 150mg of caffeine into its 50ml bottle. That’s about three proper cups of coffee. It’s rather sweet and has an almost sickly sweet coffee flavor, think tiramisu in a tiny bottle. Available at many convenience stores around the country, the fact that it’s not considered a (pharmaceutical) energy drink means anyone can buy it. Usually pharmaceutical energy drinks like Alinamin V or Lipovitan D are restricted to those over at age of 15. It’s a little trickier than most to find outside Japan, but it is possible via Rakuten.

Ukon No Chikara

This is not so much an energy drink filled with coffee or like a Red Bull, but it’s a crime to mention energy drinks and not give the legendary Ukon No Chikara a mention. If you’ve been out all night, it’s best to pick one of these up on your way home to ensure you live through to the next day. Made from turmeric, it is a type of ginger that has been proven anecdotally to prevent hangovers, which in the hard drinking, hard working world of Japan is more than necessary. Though it’s not caffeinated, it is still considered by Japanese standards to be a well-loved energy drink. With international shipping, it may be worth testing its claims for yourself next time you have a big night out.

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