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Have a pint (or two) while exploring the history of an iconic Tokyo brand at the Museum of Yebisu Beer

The displays at the Museum of Yebisu Beer include reproductions of early Yebisu bottles.

KAT BOUZA/STARS AND STRIPES

By KAT BOUZA | Stars and Stripes | Published: September 13, 2018

Tokyo is home to several world-class museums, displaying everything from Japanese artifacts to contemporary anime-inspired art pieces. One unique museum in the sprawling metropolis pays homage not to an artist or ancient civilization, but to a beloved companion to Japan’s rich culinary history: Beer.

Located in the Yebisu Garden Place complex — home to a wide variety of upscale shops and restaurants — the Museum of Yebisu Beer opened in 2010 to coincide with the brand’s 120th anniversary. Marketed as the premium offering of Sapporo Breweries Ltd.’s beer lineup, Yebisu is best known for its iconic gold can featuring an image of Ebisu — the smiling, jovial god of Japanese fishermen and good fortune.

The Museum of Yebisu Beer is best accessed via Ebisu Station in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward. As its name implies, Ebisu Station was named in honor of the Yebisu Beer brewery, which was located in the area until 1982.

Upon arriving at Ebisu Station, visitors are immediately immersed in the history of the location by the sounds of a jingle featured in commercials for the Yebisu brand. (The tune itself is the theme song from “The Third Man,” a 1949 British film noir starring Orson Welles.) Ebisu’s aesthetic homages to Yebisu Beer don’t just stop at the station, as the streetlights on major thoroughfares throughout the neighborhood are made to resemble tiny pints of draft beer.

Despite the company’s long and illustrious history, as well as its steady popularity among Japanese beer enthusiasts, the Museum of Yebisu Beer is quite small — comprised of two exhibit rooms, a main hall, the tasting salon and a gift shop. Still, the complex has much to offer for those interested in Tokyo’s history and the brewing process, and it’s surprisingly easy to spend several hours browsing the displays.

Although beer is not actually brewed on-site, the museum honors Ebisu’s heritage as the birthplace of the Yebisu brand by fashioning the museum’s main hall to resemble an upscale brewery. At the centerpiece of the museum is a large copper brew kettle, used by brewers during the boiling stage of the beer-making process.

Visiting the museum can be done in two ways: via a guided tour, or solo. The guided tours, which cost 500 yen for adults (about $4.50), must be booked well in advance and are conducted entirely in Japanese. In addition to the guided narration by museum staff, these paid tours include a tasting of two varieties of Yebisu Beer — but guests who visit the museum without participating in the guided tour still have the option of purchasing beer from the tasting salon for 400 yen per glass.

Non-Japanese-speaking beer enthusiasts can still enjoy the museum’s exhibits, as they feature annotations in both English and Japanese and provide a comprehensive overview of the history of Yebisu Beer. The displays include reproductions of early Yebisu bottles — as well as some original advertising displays used at the brand’s famous beer hall, a precursor to the modern izakaya, which opened in Ginza in 1899. Toward the end of the exhibit, visitors can trace the design changes of the modern Yebisu Beer cans, and even try their hand at playing the iconic Yebisu Beer jingle via a hand-cranked music box.

After spending so much time learning about Yebisu Beer, it’s only natural that museum visitors will want to sample a taste of the famous brew at the facility’s tasting salon. The salon, which provides ample seating throughout the spacious main hall area, offers up to six different types of Yebisu on tap — as well as a variety of snacks, some of which are inspired by the original offerings sold at the Yebisu Beer Hall more than a century ago.

Purchases are made by exchanging yen for Yebisu Beer tokens, which can then be used exclusively at the tasting salon. Be sure to buy only the amount of tokens you need, as refunds are not offered.

As most shops and restaurants throughout Japan sell only the classic variety of Yebisu, the diverse lineup of draft beers at the tasting salon is sure to delight any Japanese beer enthusiast. On a recent visit, the varieties on tap included Yebisu Premium Black, a schwarzbier; and Yebisu Kohaku, an amber ale. Although the pours amounted to a little less than a standard pint, the size of the glasses offers just the right amount to experience the unique flavors of each type of beer.

With its visually appealing interior and engaging exhibits, the Museum of Yebisu Beer is a worthy excursion for both beer devotees and casual beer consumers looking for an offbeat activity in the heart of Tokyo. Whether you spend a few hours exploring the complex, or just want to pop in for a quick pint, the museum offers the perfect excuse to escape the city crowds and unwind with the help of a longstanding Tokyo icon.

bouza.katrina@stripes.com

Museum of Yebisu Beer

DIRECTIONS: The Museum of Yebisu Beer is accessible via the JR Yamanote Line, the JR Saikyo Line, the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line and the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line at Ebisu Station (10-minute walk). From the station’s east exit, follow the signs for Yebisu Garden Place.

TIMES: The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with last entry at 6:30 p.m. It’s open New Year’s Day and on select holidays. If a Japanese holiday falls on a Monday, the museum is also closed Tuesday.

COSTS: Museum entry is free for those not participating in a guided tour. Guided tours, which must be reserved in advance, are 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children older than the age of 12. The guided tour includes two complimentary tastings of Yebisu Beer for adults, or two complimentary soft drinks for children or those who do not consume alcohol. Souvenirs can be purchased for an additional fee.

FOOD: Small plates and snacks and draft beers are served in the Yebisu Tasting Salon, located within the museum complex. Prices range from 400 yen for beer to 800 yen for larger seasonal dishes.

INFORMATION: www.sapporobeer.jp/brewery/english/y_museum/index.html

As most shops and restaurants throughout Japan sell only the classic variety of Yebisu, the diverse lineup of draft beers at the museum's tasting salon is sure to delight any Japanese beer enthusiast.
KAT BOUZA/STARS AND STRIPES

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