This little taste of Oktoberfest usually runs from May to September and is one of the best ways to enjoy summer evenings like a local. Learn the history of the beer garden in Japan and tips on how to enjoy it before heading out for some cool summer fun.
BY Joan Bailey
A summer tradition on equal footing with kakigori (shaved ice), fireworks, local festivals, and yukata, the Japanese beer garden is one of the best ways to cool off and have fun. Scattered over rooftops in Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo and beyond, summer in Japan wouldn’t be the same without these outdoor venues. Cold beer, tasty food, and lots of fun under the stars are all hallmarks of this very special summer phenomenon.
The first beer garden in Japan was started by William Copeland in 1875. The American brewer opened Spring Valley Brewery in 1869 in Yamate, Yokohama, and his beer garden introduced the concept to the bustling port city. It wasn’t until 1952, though, when the Takashimaya Department Store in Nihonbashi held a beer festival in their rooftop garden that the tradition as it is known today took shape. Others soon followed in Tokyo’s Ginza, and in 1953 beer gardens began appearing in Osaka, too.
A true summer mainstay since the 1950s, beer gardens open in the evening from May until September. Set outdoors, they take full advantage of the warm summer nights in Japan and make an ideal setting for eating and drinking with friends. Japanese beer gardens can be found in parks, at hotels, restaurants, or public terraces and can range in size from relatively small to sprawling venues with hundreds of seats. Many often have themes such as Sports or Hawaii, or a specific historical atmosphere such as the Showa Era (1926-1989) where the décor and music evoke that time.
Customers will find the modern beer garden not so different from its earlier versions. Cold beer is usually the beverage of choice, although recently some emphasize cocktails instead. Food choices are often simple and meant to be enjoyed with, of course, a cold beer. They might include grilled chicken or meat on a skewer, edamame, yakisoba (fried noodles with meat, cabbage, and pickled ginger), sashimi (sushi without the rice), or various meats and vegetables you grill at your table. Depending on the venue, customers order and pay for their food and drink at a main counter and then find a table, while at others a staff person will come and take your order similar to a typical restaurant. Tables, it should be pointed out, are often shared. Patrons may also be expected to clear their own tables and take dishes to a designated spot. Like izakaya, beer gardens typically offer an all-you-can-drink or all-you-can-eat menu with a time limit usually of about two hours.
Located on the grounds of the Meiji Kinenkan (memorial hall), it is no surprise that Beer Terrace Sekirei is one of the city’s more refined beer gardens with an elegant atmosphere. Guests can lounge in Sekirei’s signature wicker chairs while taking in this secluded spot in the center of Tokyo’s bustle. Cold beer and a tasty selection of Japanese, Western, and Chinese foods all await.
Beer Terrace Sekirei
Nearest Station: Shinanomachi Station
At 488 meters, the Mount Takao Beer Mount is Tokyo’s highest elevation beer garden. Seats can be found on the Terrace, in the Garden or the Hall, and all of them offer glorious views of the surrounding area. An all-you-can-drink menu features beers, hi-balls, cocktails, wine and more while the all-you-can-eat buffet satisfies the hungriest of hikers.
Mount Takao Beer Mount
Nearest Station: Takaosan Station (The nearest train station is Takaosanguchi Station on the Keio Line. Transfer to the cable car at Kiyotaki Station, a 5-minute walk from Takaosanguchi Station, and arrive at Takaosan Station in about 6 minutes.)
Twitter (Only Japanese, but you can see a lot of the images.)
Set atop the Seibu Ikebukuro Building, the Sky Beer Terrace offers excellent rooftop views over the heart of the city. Tables circle around the Water Lily Pond, inspired by Claude Monet, and guests can watch the sun go down and the city lights come up. Set menus vary from year to year but always promise something delicious.
Sky Beer Terrace
Nearest Station: Ikebukuro
For those not able to make the summer beer garden scene, the Prince Hotel Beer Garden in Tokyo offers the Japanese beer garden experience from October to March. Offering outdoor barbecue or indoor party options, its location in the front garden of the hotel and at the foot of Tokyo Tower make it a stunning place for an evening of good food and fun.
Tokyo Prince Hotel Garden Islands Beer Restaurant
Nearest Station: Onarimon Station, Daimon Station, Hamamatsucho Station
＊Please note that there are several Prince Hotels in Tokyo.
Joan Bailey is an American writer living in Japan where her work focuses on food, farming, farmers markets, and travel. When she isn’t out exploring and eating, she can be found at home with her husband and two cats.