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Japan and coffee

How Japan became the third largest coffee importer.

Japan is probably more associated with tea drinking then coffee. With traditional chashitsu (茶室, literally “tea rooms”) a major focal point in Japanese culture. However in recent years coffee drinking has been on the rise in Japan, almost nipping at the heels of United States in total cups drunk per capita. Considering that Japan only started importing about 250,000 bags of coffee in 1961, after the post-WWII reconstruction. So to reach 452,672 metric ton in 20111 is a meteoric rise.

A traditional Chashitsu in Nara, Japan
A traditional Chashitsu in Nara, Japan

Coffee drinking in japan started by Dutch settlers in Nagasaki toward the end of the 1700s. They were, however, restricted to a tiny island called Deijima due to Japan’s self-imposed isolation (鎖国 Sakoku). During the Meiji Restoration (明治維新 Meiji Ishin) in 1877, Japan started importing coffee in bulk. The growth was still pretty slow and it hit a major bump during WWII. As mention earlier after reconstruction is when it really started booming.

Dutch Trading post in Dejimia Circa early 1800s
Dutch Trading post in Dejimia Circa early 1800s

Now, with a whole new generation of Japanese growing up with coffee the consumption is at an all-time high. Although the bulk of coffee consumption in Japan comes from canned coffee and vending machines. Like everything else, the Japanese believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well. This caused an enormous increase of specialty coffee shops in Japan. With roasters and Baristas learning and developing new approaches to getting a perfect cup of coffee. When you walk down any urban Japanese street you will find as many coffee shops as say, in the United States. Now for the kicker, according to Euromonitor International Coffee has become more popular in Japan then Tea!

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