The difficulties of finding good craft beer in Japan is a topic I have often returned to on this blog. While the limits of the Japanese distribution system are a problem, there are ways to get your hands on the good stuff. It may take some extra money and a little dedication, but good craft beer is available if you know where to look.
One of the best places in the Kanto region to go shopping for beer (as well as wine and spirits) is Tanakaya, a bottle shop located near Mejiro station in Tokyo. Tanakaya has an amazing selection of both foreign and domestic craft beer. There are whole fridge shelves devoted to specific breweries, and plenty of Japanese, American, English, German and Belgian beers. For what they have, their prices are pretty reasonable too. They also stock plenty of beer related merchandise, including branded glasses and bottle openers. The really difficult thing about shopping at Tanakaya is how quickly you can spend a whole lot of money. The selection is so good that it is very easy to fill up your shopping basket with hard to find brews.
Another good option is the basement food sections of most major department stores. Japanese department stores usually have a huge basement with all sorts of prepared foods, and this is usually accompanied by a liquor department. This can be a great place to find craft beer, though the smaller the city the sparser the selection tends to be. One of the best department store liquor stores I have found is the Tokyu Department Store next to Shibuya station. Their basement liquor store stocks lots of interesting beers from famous domestic and international brewers. I have found things like Baird seasonals and special one off Stone beers here, so the shop is well worth a stop when visiting Shibuya.
When you can’t make it to a major city there is always Yamaya. I have mentioned Yamaya before, but it is one of the most reliable and widespread sources of craft beer. There are plenty of Yamaya stores even in more rural areas, so it is usually the easiest place to visit in the search for good beer. The stock can be a bit inconsistent store to store, but there will always be something worth buying. The fact that you can also buy good cheese and other import foods and liquors at reasonable prices makes knowing where the local Yamaya is essential to life in Japan.
As we live in the future, you can also order great beer online to be delivered right to your doorstep. Many breweries, like Baird and Kiuchi, will sell you their beer directly, though be warned that most of these websites require some knowledge of Japanese to navigate. You can also find beer available to order from larger resellers like Amazon and Rakuten. I have had success ordering from Ezo Beer in Hokkaido. They shipped quickly, and have a really nice selection of foreign craft beer. One of the main import distributors in Japan is Nagano Trading, and in addition to their wholesale distribution they sell retail at Antenna America their pub/ bottleshop in Yokohama. If you can’t stop in, they also do mail order. While those sites have you covered for American beer, Craftbeers.jp and Goodbeer.jp have a nice selection of Japanese beer.
While I may wish that there was a craft beer bar on every corner, there isn’t (yet). But there are lots of great ways to get great beer. Know of a good bottle shop or website I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments!