We have lived in Suginami-ku for almost exactly six months now, but I just found out the best beer store in Japan is a 15 minute walk from our house about six weeks ago. There is this little shopping arcade connecting the nearby Tokyo Metro station and the JR station, and it has the usual assortment of liquor stores, among the cafes, massage parlours, drug stores, &c. I had noticed a time or two that one particular liquor store had a few import beers on display outside, among them Sam Adams, one of my personal favourites. But never did I venture into said store, for reasons unknown to me.
So one day, I come home from work to find Lyani grinning like the Cheshire Cat. She said she had a surprise for me, and that I should open the refrigerator post haste. I did so, and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a bottle of Sam Adams, the perfect beer. Lyani said that she had visited the aforementioned liquor store and got me a Sammy, which to my great surprise was only 300 yen or so. I had seen Sam Adams elsewhere in Japan, but for double that price. She also told me that it was hard to find it inside, because they had so much beer. I assumed that she meant so much Japanese beer (for the big Japanese breweries--Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo--each produce a stunning assortment of varieties, all tasting more or less alike), but she told me of beers with Cyrillic labels, Chinese labels, Spanish labels, etc.
Needless to say (so why am I saying it?) I had to see this marvel for myself. So I made for the liquor store of legend the next time I needed beer (no, not five minutes after I finished the Sam Adams, but that is a reasonable guess, for those of you who know me). And Lyani was not mistaken. This little store had given over the entire back wall to beer coolers--four in all--offering at least 100 varieties of import beers and Japanese microbrews (of which there are sadly few).
But wait; it gets better!
One day, Lyani and I were returning along this shopping arcade from the grocery store, and we stopped in the Beer Store, as I had started calling it, for to pick up something interesting. I bought two bottles, and the cashier rang them up: 641 yen. I was paying attention to the register, so I did not notice that he had said "roppyaku yon jyuu en" (640 yen) whilst I fished in my pocket for change. I dropped 641 on the counter, at which point Lyani, who had been listening instead of looking, told me, "without the one". I picked up the one yen coin, and the bag, then turned to Lyani and said, "Oh, I thought it was 641." To which the cashier said, "It was. I took one off." In American-accented English!
Those of you who do not live in Japan may not appreciate how shocked I was. You have probably heard that all Japanese people study English for ten years in school, and you may be under the illusion that this means they can speak it. You would be quite surprised, then, to hear that even in Tokyo, the vast majority of Japanese people cannot understand English unless it is spoken to them directly, slowly, simply, and accompanied by generous hand gestures. So to have a Japanese guy understand what I had said to Lyani out of the side of my mouth was impressive enough. So have said dude reply not "itto wazzu, ai tsukku wan", but in American English blew my mind, man.
Anyway, I was too flustered by this development to say anything beyond, "thanks", but the next time I went to the Beer Store, I made a point to ask this guy what his story, and the story of the Beer Store itself, was. It turned out that he had lived in America for some time, and he just really liked beer. I complimented him profusely on his selection, telling him that it rivalled all but the very best American beer specialty stores, and it was surely the best beer selection I had ever encountered in Japan. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Japan, and when I told him I was working for Amazon, he replied, "Oh, so you know Jimmy, then?" Jimmy being a software engineer who sits right next to me at work!
So I have been taking advantage of this excellent selection of beers for about six weeks now. Today, I picked up a bottle of Cave Creek Chili Beer (the link is to a Flash site, but it might be worth clicking on it to see a anthromorphic chili pepper kick the shite out of a lime)--a lager spiced up by the addition of a whole chili pepper!--and one of Taybeh Golden beer, which is brewed in the West Bank, Palestine. I have not drunk either of these yet, but here are a few varieties that I have enjoyed over the past few weeks:
- Singha (Thailand): a really crappy Southeast Asian lager. Not much in the way of flavour, but I am sure that is OK on a blazing hot day in Bangkok. I'll have to ask my sister Bethany if she's ever had it in its native environment.
- Tiger Beer (Singapore): a crappy Asian lager, but not as bad as Singha, no matter what ratebeer.com says.
- An Indonesian one that I cannot remember the name of, but it was the best non-Japanese Asian lager by far.
- A Brazilian Pilsner that was really excellent.
I'll be sure to let you know how the Chili Beer turns out.