Once upon a time there lived a woman on a farm in Niigata. Her grandson – too young to be in school yet – sometimes visited her. When he did, she went to the cool storeroom where they kept food and got him a bottle of Mitsuya Cider. She was old, and had a habit of stopping at the door to the storeroom, perhaps to catch her breath, perhaps to soothe an aching back as she leaned against a pillar in front of the storeroom.
The little boy watched her from the shadows. He didn't understand that she was tired and that her back was sore from planting rice. He thought she touched the pillar to open the door.
So he surreptitiously tried it himself. He rubbed the pillar, but there was no genie that opened the door for him. He decided, disappointed, that his grandmother also whispered a magic spell that she hadn't shared with him, and that's why he couldn't open the door.
Whenever I drink Mitsuya Cider, which is often, I remember this story and picture a mop-headed boy with muddy knees and mischievous eyes, trying to get a bottle of the fizzy drink by rubbing an old wooden pillar in an old wooden house in Japan's snow country.
|Mitsuya Cider (left) and Mitsuya Cider Cream|
Japan has a bewildering variety of continuously revolving soft drinks. Every week there's a new flavour, ranging from refreshing to bizarre, and every konbini seems to stock its own random selection. You don't necessarily get Coke everywhere, but there's always green tea and teeth-enamel-stripping canned coffee. Throughout these winds of change my heart remains steadfast: Mitsuya Cider is my favourite.
The brand was created in 1884 and is now produced by Asahi Soft Drinks. Although it's sold as "cider", East-Asian cider and Western cider are completely different. Asian cider isn't made of apple juice, but consists of carbonated water, glucose, sugar, citric acid and an unspecified artificial flavour.
The standard version reminds me of Sprite – though it's less sweet (I think) and perhaps more heavily carbonated (I think) – but it's not remotely as interesting as the special seasonal flavours: grape, apple, orange, lemon, lemon/yuzu, cream. I wouldn't be able to choose between the apple and the lemon/yuzu if you held a gun to my head.
|Left is standard Mitsuya Cider, right is Mitsuya Cider Cream.|
Yes, I drink it from a champagne glass. Why not?
|Above, two different apple flavours. Below, (purple) grape, (pink) peach, |
(yellow) lemon/yuzu and finally a "limited reissue" (限定復刻) of the original version.
While I'm talking about soft drinks, here’s another interesting one: Kirin Mets Cola. It's been around for a while, but I only tried it recently after my students recommended it. The drink is advertised for its ability to absorb fat, so what, exactly, were my students trying to tell me?!
It was created by the famous Kirin beer company, and it contains an indigestible form of dextrin that restricts the body's ability to absorb fat when eating. The drink has received the highly coveted FOSHU (Food for Specified Health Uses) approval from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, which makes me think there has to be some truth to this claim.
The Asahi Shimbun says, "Kirin has repeatedly revised its sales target upward and exceeded 100 million total items shipped by late September. It is popular with the ranks of 40-something men who feel uncertain about their youthfulness and want to invest in their health." Read more here.
Finally, a special winter edition of Pepsi White with a mikan flavour. I don't like its taste – it's very chemical – but I think it's a cute design. Oy. This is Japan. Cute rules!
Have you tried any of these? What's your favourite soft drink? Foreign (i.e. non-Japanese) submissions welcome!
PS: No, Dru and and Japan Australia, neither beer nor sake is a soft drink. No, Cecilia and Sarah, umeshu just tastes like a soft drink.