Translated by Hilary Keyes
Japanese Encyclopedia: Beer Garden
Beer gardens are summer events held on rooftops where you can enjoy various kinds of beer alongside light meals. Here we introduce how their system works and how to get the most out of a visit.
Written by ニコ
Beer gardens are located on the rooftops or terraces of department stores, hotels and other buildings. They are places where you can sit at tables and enjoy various kinds of beer and other drinks alongside seasonal light meals.
These summer limited events are an annual tradition in Japan. So synonymous with summer are they that as soon as the season draws near, you will start to see posters advertising various different beer gardens cropping up around town, in stations and even on trains.
The Beer Garden System
The systems used at beer gardens vary by shop. The most popular system has a fixed charge with a set time limit, where within the time limit you can drink as much as you like. Some beer gardens have both all-you-can-eat and drink service, others are pay per dish places and still others have all-you-can-drink service but you can bring your own food to enjoy.
The menus available at beer gardens also differ by shop, but in general they strongly feature foods that are easy to eat such as wieners, French fries, yakitori (grilled chicken) and so on, while all-you-can-eat shops and set course restaurants have menus offering Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes. In recent years there are even beer gardens that have dessert courses, with all-you-can-eat sweets along with their many varieties of beer.
As the competition regarding the uniqueness of service between beer gardens is fierce, choosing the best one to visit is part of the fun of these summer specials.
What Kinds of Beer Garden are there?
Beer gardens can be found in cities all across Japan. In large cities where tourism is thriving, a lot of effort has been put into making beer gardens that truly stand out against the rest. Let's take a look at some of them.
The largest beer garden in Japan is Hokkaido's Ōdōri Kōen. Large scale preparations are needed for this beer garden as it has 13,000 seats available in total plus plenty of standing room too. Rather than being held on one business alone, this beer garden runs the length of an entire street and has booths manned by different breweries, each offering their own particular drinks and foods. There are shops selling both domestic and international brands here.
You can make seat reservations here, or there is standing space in front of each booth, making it possible for you to do a beer-crawl down the street instead. There are live music performances to dance to, costume contests and even comedians onstage, making this an event to enjoy more than just the beer at.
Tokyo's Mt. Takao Beer Mount is a mountain top beer garden at a 500 meter elevation from which you have an incredible view of the city below. 3 Michelin Star possessing Mt. Takao offers impeccable views and an all-you-can-eat buffet with Japanese, Chinese and Western foods to choose from (a 2 hour time limit). And not only beer, but wine, cocktails, shōchū, highballs, and soft drinks are available here, making it a safe place to bring the whole family. There are also staff on hand who speak English and Chinese, making it possible for non-Japanese speakers to fully enjoy themselves too.
The Tokyo Bay Booze Cruise is a cruise tour (2600 yen) on a 5000 ton giant ship. The Booze Cruise is all-you-can-drink as soon as the ship embarks on its route. There is a restaurant to eat in, courses to reserve, and other special services that can be purchased in advance - all of which make this an incredible trip to take around the bay. Whether on deck or within the ship, there are event stages, relaxation spaces, restaurants, private rooms and decks with beautiful night views all available to cruise participants.
Within Osaka's Rinku Gate Tower building is the Beer Garden Patio 28, which is the highest beer garden in Japan, standing at 138 meters from the ground. Taking place on the 28th floor, from this beer garden you can enjoy drinking as you watch planes take off from the Kansai International Airport. Only four groups are permitted on the patio at any given time, and groups are replaced as others leave; each group has an all-you-can-eat and drink time limit of 110 minutes. Their most popular dish is the grilled steak which is prepared right before your eyes by a chef from a famous hotel. And for a limited time, high-quality dishes such as foie gras and crab can be added to the menu as well.
As beer gardens everywhere are exceptionally popular, for those that attract a particularly large crowd, making reservations in advance is advisable if not mandatory.