A nostalgic symbol of summer, ramune is one of the most well-known Japanese drinks out there. With its intriguing variety of flavors and unusual bottle style, ‘marble soda’ has a surprisingly interesting history and a legacy that continues to this day. Join us in an installment of Vending Ventures where we explore Japanese history and culture through popular snacks and drinks, this time with ramune! Drink up!
While the word itself is pretty clearly a Wasei-eigo derivative of the English word lemonade (and originally a lemon-lime flavor), the introduction of ramune is actually somewhat nebulous with several popular theories. Some say that it was introduced by Matthew C. Perry, the American Naval Commodore who was the driving force in opening up Japan to the West in 1854, who served lemonade to shogunate officials during their negotiations. Others point to it being invented in 1865 in Nagasaki by Hannbee Fujise, under the name remon sui (lemon water), or created in 1884 in Kobe by Scottish- born pharmacist and entrepreneur Alexander Cameron Sim who called it mabu soda (marble soda) because it was sold in the iconic marble-sealed Codd-neck bottles still associated with ramune to this day (more of that later).
From our research, it seems plausible that all of these could be true with Perry first getting the general idea of ‘wow cool lemon drink’ into the minds of people in Japan, it being first made as a commercial product in Nagasaki, and then later refined into a more unique product by an enterprising pharmacist in Kobe that became popular with the Japanese locals. Keep in mind that Nagasaki and Kobe were some of the first places in Japan that had established foreign communities and that Alexander Cameron Sim himself first lived in Nagasaki before moving to Kobe to establish his own business which suggests a possible historical lineage.
In any case, it seems that Sim’s company first introduced what we think of today as proper, carbonated ramune and that it became popular because of its uniqueness and some dubious advertisements claiming it could prevent cholera. Ahh the 1800s...
While today these types of bottles are most associated with Japanese ramune and Indian banta, Codd-neck bottles are actually an English invention created by engineer Hiram Codd in 1872 as an alternative to corks for storing beverages. They work using a pressurized system that is sealed by a marble pushed up against a rubber washer in the neck. As to why they’ve mostly fallen out of favor, it’s largely because glass bottles in general have become less popular and that the marbles inside motivated many children to smash the bottles on roads and sidewalks in order to retrieve them. They can also be a little tricky to drink out of because the marble can block the flow of liquid if the bottle tips it inwards again while drinking and are relatively hard to open (although that’s also part of the fun we’d say).
Modern Ramune & Ramune in Anime
Today, ramune remains a popular drink in Japan and is also a niche product in other countries as well. It is most popular in the summer where it is a common offering at Japan’s many lively festivals. While the original drink was a lemon-lime flavor inspired by lemonade, modern ramune is also famous for having an incredibly diverse array of flavors ranging from more conservative offerings like strawberry and grape to perplexing novelty varieties like takoyaki (octopus dumpling) and corn potage, which makes ramune as adventurous as you want to be. We recommend momiji manjyu (a type of maple leaf-shaped cookie from the Hiroshima area) ramune if you can find it!
Ramune has also shown up in countless manga and anime series, but not so much as a big focus of the story. As we mentioned before, ramune is most associated with the summer and summer festivals so it often shows up in those scenarios. One recent example of ramune getting a spotlight however was in Dagashi Kashi episode 11 where Hotaru tells an amusing version of Commodore Perry’s negotiations with ramune as his trump card that convinces the official to open the ports so that he will tell him how to open the bottle. Adult visual novel (and later anime and manga series) Lamune also somewhat involves the drink for theming, as you might have guessed by its title which is indistinguishable from ramune in Japanese. Some other examples of ramune in anime include it frequently being drunk by many characters in Kantai Collection and Megumi introducing ramune to Ayato in RahXephon.
Interestingly, there are also many types of candy that are ramune-flavored like whistle candy but that’s a bit outside the scope of this article. In any case, ramune is a lot of fun for both its unique flavors and unconventional bottling method. While a bit uncommon, it can sometimes be found in vending machines (usually in a more standard bottle or can) so still fits our Vending Ventures moniker, although it’s still probably best enjoyed at a summer festival. In closing, we’d love to hear your thoughts about ramune and any strange flavors you might have tried. Feel free to leave us a comment in the section below and be sure to stick around Honey’s for more Vending Ventures and more! See ya~!