With its bluntly straightforward wasei-eigo name, you might be surprised to learn that canned coffee is actually a Japanese invention and one of the most popular types of drinks available across the country. Seemingly endless varieties exist and, true to the ‘Vending Ventures’ name of this article series, they are extremely common items to find in Japan’s many vending machines, as well as convenience stores. In this edition of Vending Ventures, we follow the development of canned coffee and its appearances in Japanese pop culture, including anime. Drink up, let’s go!
A Brief History of Coffee in Japan
Without going into too much detail, Japan actually has quite a well-developed coffee culture unique to the country, arguably comparable to its famous tea ceremonies but much more modern. Coffee is believed to be first introduced to Japan by European merchants living on Dejima near Nagasaki in the 18th century, but was still largely unknown until the Meiji Restoration. Tokyo’s first coffee shop opened in 1888 but coffee drinking did not really catch on until the late 1960s where it grew along with the postwar economy. Japan today is one of the world’s biggest importers of coffee and has its own particular styles and trends, one of which is canned coffee.
Coffee? Yes It Can!
Canned coffee was invented right at the cusp of Japan’s coffee boom in 1965 by Miura Yoshitake, a coffee shop owner in Hamada, Shimane who got the idea from the many cannery companies in the city. While Yoshitake’s ‘Mira Coffee’ was not initially successful, the first company to mass produce canned coffee, UCC (Ueshima Coffee Co.) in Kobe, truly started the spread of its popularly with "UCC Coffee with Milk" which it introduced just four years later in 1969.
The next major innovation in canned coffee came from Pokka Coffee in 1973 when they introduced vending machines that could dispense both hot and cold coffee, a major hurdle that was solved thanks to some clever engineering. Nowadays, canned coffee is everywhere in Japan with a robust and competitive market. Some popular brands include Boss Coffee, Fire, Dydo, Georgia, Nescafe, Roots, and Wonda, along with the previously-mentioned UCC and Pokka.
Canned Coffee In Japanese Pop Culture
Many casual observers of Japan might immediately think of Boss Coffee thanks to its long running series of TV commercials featuring American actor and filmmaker Tommy Lee Jones. For the otaku crowd, canned coffee pioneers UCC will forever be associated with the Evangelion series because of its inclusion in beloved film The End of Evangelion, along with the subsequent Evangelion movies 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, and 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo. Special cans of UCC coffee featuring Evangelion designs were also released with these films which have since become popular collector’s items.
Canned coffee has appeared in many other anime and manga where characters can often be found drinking it, although it’s not normally the focus given that it’s, well, canned coffee. One example of this is in Rewrite, based on the Key-developed visual novel of the same name, where Kagari “Key” and others can humorously be seen drinking Key-branded canned coffee. Another can be found in Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU) aka OreGairu where protagonist Hachiman Hikigaya has an obsession with the real-world MAX Coffee.
Other anime and manga tie-ins are also common in Japan such as Georgia Coffee releasing a large set of cans featuring famous Weekly Shonen Jump panels last year.
One final note we’ll mention in closing is that you may be surprised by how substantial the cans used in canned coffee are compared to the aluminum pop cans you might be familiar with in your country. This is because, in Japan, most cans are made of steel and have a taller, narrow profile likely to work better with vending machines and their heating mechanisms. In any case, we hope you enjoyed our foray into this bit of everyday Japanese culture.
Do you like canned coffee? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below! For more “one-coin treasures”, bee sure to stick around Honey’s Anime! Until next time, we’ll close with “Life is too bitter, so coffee, at least, should be sweet!” Bye~!