In recent years the Japanese people have displayed a radical and unique sense of style and an amazing ability to innovate and create in fields as diverse as clothing, video games, game shows, and urination technology, among others. It should come as no surprise, then, that they also have a diverse and interesting soft drink culture. On a recent visit to the excellent Japanese grocery store Mitsuwa, we picked out a number of these soft drinks to sample in an effort to discover the finest in imported Japanese sugar water. After a long and arduous study, we can reveal to you with confidence our favorite 5 Awesomely Weird Japanese Soft Drinks.
5. Ramune: Pokemon Edition: In small print between the bar code and the japanese nutrition facts it says, in English, “Drink for Entertainment.” The bottle certainly makes that easy, with six pocket monsters (including the immortal Pikachu) dancing on a garish multicolored background. Ramune's distinctive bottle design only adds to the fun. The bottle comes sealed with a marble, so to open the soda you use an included plastic device to pop the marble down into the first chamber of the bottle. As you drink your soda the marble rattles and clinks, a constant source of excitement. It's unexpected, then, that the soda itself is a little boring. It's extremely sweet with a tiny citric bite, but other than that it has very little flavor. Not a bad option, but the taste doesn't quite live up to the fun and whimsy of the bottle.
4. UCC Melon Creamy Soda: The pale melon green of the bottle is emblazoned with a bright pink oval, which bears the word “Tasty” in all caps, a good sign. The soda is definitely tasty, though it is perhaps a bit over-sweet and starts with a strange bubble gum-like flavor. The creaminess is very interesting, and probably comes from the evaporated skimmed milk that follows right behind high fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list. If you're looking for sweet refreshment with an interesting flavor profile and unique creaminess, this is a good bet.
3. Purun Purun Qoo Muscat: Adding skimmed milk is not the only non-traditional soft drink technique to be found in the aisles of Mitsuwa. One of the most interesting alternate forms of soft drink is the gel-pouch soda, and Purun Purun Qoo is a great example of the type. It comes in a squeezable green pouch with a plastic nozzle, and a logo featuring a round-faced, one-eared animal (a cat, perhaps) drinking a green pouch bearing a logo of a strange animal drinking a green pouch. Trippy. The taste is, unsurprisingly, quite sweet but clearly muscat flavor, and the chunky jelly texture is fun and interesting.
2. Suntory Bikkle: The weirdest drink of the bunch also turned out to be one of the most delicious. Bikkle is a creamy off-white liquid in a short glass bottle, and its smell most closely resembles cake batter or buttermilk. After reading the English sticker on the label, this makes a lot of sense – sweeteners and milk powder are the first three ingredients (though we assume the lack of water on the list was just a clerical error). The taste is somehow even stranger than the smell. It starts sweet but finishes with an unexpected yogurt tang, which is actually a pleasant surprise. The first couple sips caught us off guard, but once we were prepared we very much enjoyed the Bikkle experience.
1. Skal Premium Mango: Mango may be a comparatively uncommon soda flavor, but for candy it's fairly normal. Skal Premium Mango soda clearly takes its inspiration from gummy mango sweets, and we got a taste notably similar to the wonderful Mango Hi-Chew. The creamy texture and intense but not quite deadly sweetness combine to make this our favorite of the many soft drinks we tried. It's still probably not something we'd drink every day, but neither is Pepsi. For a soda change up, though, and a nice complement to some spicy miso ramen, for our money Skal Premium Mango can't be beat.