When I was a teenager in Tokyo, I used to drink coffee all the time &mdash from a can, from a vending machine, often at the train station on my way home from school. In went a 100 yen coin, and out came a piping hot 250 ml can of delicious brew, pre-mixed with cream and sugar. Coffee in a can is everywhere in Japan, and when I moved to the US, I wondered why it's not as prevalent here. Why? It's so much more convenient and cheaper than searching for a Starbucks.
The Japanese like to compartmentalize everything--recent years have spawned everything from instant noodles to beef and potatoes served in cans out of vending machines. Canned coffee is said to have originated in Japan in the late 1950s, but it really took off around 1973, when beverage company Pocca invented the Hot/Cold vending machine. After that, everyone from Coca Cola to beer manufacturers like Asahi and Suntory came out with their own versions of coffee in a can. The UCC version, pictured here, has been around since last sixties, and you can still find it in vending machines. Amazing, right? Today, you can get almost any variation of coffee in a can in Japan &mdash just like how you can go crazy on options at Starbucks.
Interestingly enough, canned coffee is marketed in Japan as a very cool, manly, American thing. Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Arnold Schwarzenneger have all appeared in Japanese canned coffee ads over the years. Here's the Governator for Go West Coffee, circa 1987:
and Brad Pitt for Roots:
In all my years in the US, I have yet to see a manly man drinking coffee from a can in America. I see tons of salarymen downing this shit in Tokyo when I go back home, but no, not here. At best, a latte in a paper cup. I guess it's another one of those Japanese things disguised as an American thing.
About Lisa Katayama
I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.