In a small pub in the heart of Tokyo, surrounded by the busy chatter of patrons, Ren sits with a pint of her favorite craft beer. With long black hair and a welcoming smile, her laidback charm is inviting as TripJunction sits down to join her for a chat.
“I’ve always liked to drink,” she says, “I used to be into wine, and then I got into nihon-shu, but I had a chance to take part in a craft beer festival at work once, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Ren works in the advertising industry during the day, but in her free time, she is active in the craft beer community as a certified beer sommelier, organizes craft beer meetups, and oﬀers guided English pub crawl tours for visitors to Japan, taking them to some of her favorite craft beer pubs around the city.
“I oﬀer a Japanese craft beer hashigo tour”, she explains. While the Japanese word hashigo directly translates to “ladder” in English, it is a common phrase used in Japanese to imply moving from place to place, much like a pub crawl.
“This is a good chance to try Japanese craft beer from small local breweries, using local flavors and ingredients!”
While many of Japan’s biggest beer brands—Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, have made names for themselves overseas, Ren suspects that the Japanese craft beer scene isn’t too well-known outside of Japan just yet.
“Now, lots of smaller companies are creating original flavors and blends that are more accessible to a younger crowd — light, fruity and fragrant. The craft beer scene has taken the old image that beer is for salarymen, and has turned it into something much more trendy.”
Ren came up with the idea for her guided pub crawls when some of her friends began oﬀering cooking classes and food tours to tourists. Although English wasn’t her best subject in school growing up, she always felt that she wanted to be more involved in multicultural activities, and managed to pick up English through Skype lessons online after she started working full-time.
“I knew it was something I was interested in doing, I just needed to find the courage to do it.”
She laughs, “Actually, getting started was the hardest part. I think I was more nervous before I started, than I was when I actually started hosting my tours.”
Now, Ren enjoys sharing her love of craft beer with visitors from all over the world. Her tour consists of three stops — three of her favorite craft beer pubs in Tokyo, each showcasing something a little bit diﬀerent. Over the three hour experience, Ren enjoys trading her craft beer knowledge for stories about life abroad.
With 80-90% of her participants coming from US, where craft beer culture has already been present for years, Ren says she has learned a lot about craft beer culture abroad from her guests.
“I’ve heard that depending on the state, you can’t drink alcohol freely outdoors in the US! We don’t have such restrictions in Japan, so I sincerely hope that visitors to Japan can appreciate this aspect of our culture, and enjoy a drink outdoors with the wind in their hair.”
Although craft beer culture is trending upwards throughout Japan, it is still fairly new overall, developing very slowly over the last 25 years. With the variety of beers available, and the depth of Ren’s knowledge, the pub crawl experience might sound a little intimidating for beginners, but Ren encourages curious travelers with little knowledge of craft beer to join her on one of her tours.
“My goal is to have those who have never tried Japanese craft beer before to try it and wholeheartedly enjoy the experience. I want them to try flavors that surprise them—things they’ve never tried before, so they can walk away with an unforgettable experience. There wouldn’t be much for me to teach if everyone knew everything about craft beer already!”
When asked about her goals for the future, Ren explains that beyond sharing a pint or two with travelers and talking about her love of craft beer, she would like to continuously update her tour so that it is constantly evolving with the latest news and trends.
“I definitely do not want to fall into the habit of giving the exact same tour every single time! I want the takeaway to be valuable for each participant—even if it’s their second or third time joining me on my pub crawl tour. I want to continue to introduce the interesting facets of Japanese craft beer culture, while also keeping up with the latest trends. ”
Her final message to those interested in joining her experience?
“Japan is a small island country, and there’s a lot of food and culture packed into it that you can’t experience anywhere else—beer is not an exception! To try some refreshing beer that you can’t try anywhere else, using local ingredients, please come join me on my craft beer pub crawls!”
She laughs, and takes a drink.
Ren oﬀers her craft beer pub crawl tour in the Nihon-bashi and Kanda district, in central Tokyo. This includes visits to both traditional breweries with long history, as well as up-and-coming, popular establishments with wider selections. Take a deep dive into local neighborhoods and experience Japan’s pub scene through Ren’s perspective—a great way to spend a laidback evening in Tokyo with friends.