I am obsessed with bizarre vending machine drinks in Japan. I’m also a huge fan of novelty Coca-Cola and Pepsi packaging. Put those two things together, and it’s a recipe for me to do some serious “soda stalking” as we travel around Tokyo and Kyoto on a veritable tour of 7-11 and Lawson stores.
In this post, I’ll share the fruits of these adventures in Japan, which includes special packaging, Coke and Pepsi flavors unique to Japan, and more. It might sound geeky, but…eh, it is geeky. It’s also fun and the type of thing we don’t normally share in our more planning-centric content.
My obsession with bizarre vending machine drinks actually began on our first trip to Japan several years ago, from which I wrote this post about Cool Japanese Vending Machine Drinks. I followed that up with this sequel, and promised more posts to come (which I used to justify buying more vending machine drinks “for the sake of research”).
Unfortunately, as time changes, so too do tastes, and I’ve mostly moved on from vending machines to convenience stores. This is for a variety of reasons. First, because I’ve now consumed almost all of the vending machine “staples” available in Tokyo and Kyoto, so there’s little new to try with each trip.
Second, because 7-11, Lawson, and Family Mart are usually cheaper than vending machines. Same goes for grocery stores (like Fresco or Wal-Mart owned Seiyu), which are cheaper than both vending machines and convenience stores, and usually have a better selection than both.
Fear not, though. Whenever I see those glorious 100 yen vending machines, I stop dead in my tracks, and invariably purchase a mystery drink of sometimes dubious quality and ingredients. (Joking aside, these 100 yen vending machines are gems and I love several of their main drinks.)
But I digress. This is a post about Cool Coca-Cola and Peculiar Pepsi, not my thirst for hunting down other obscure drinks in Japan…
We’ll start on a high note with Sakura Pepsi, which remains my all-time favorite Coke or Pepsi in Japan. Sakura products are incredibly popular during the spring in Japan, and have flavors all over the place, ranging from ‘basically cherry’ to savory and sour.
We last saw Sakura Pepsi during cherry blossom season three years ago. It’s similar to Wild Cherry Pepsi, but with lighter, more floral sense and mildly sour notes.
Next, Coca-Cola Peach. This is one of my favorites.
Those of you in the South might be familiar with Coke’s local “Georgia Peach” flavor, and this is pretty similar to that, albeit slightly different.
Next, we have Pepsi J-Cola.
This is aimed at Japan’s heavy users of cola, and features a deeper flavor with a refreshing aftertaste. The taste difference is apparent but slight, and I’d describe it as being slightly more intense and sharper. Not as ‘mellow’ as a traditional Pepsi.
Pepsi J-Cola comes in the normal blue variety, plus Zero and Midnight flavors.
I don’t care for the Pepsi J-Cola Zero variety. It seemed like a diluted version of something that was supposed to taste more intense, which strikes me as a contradiction. Nevertheless, I liked the matsuri summer packaging pictured above.
Several different varieties of Coke are pictured here, but we’ll focus on two of them.
I love the Coca-Cola Vanilla Float. It reminds me of a vanilla from a Freestyle machine, but a bit smoother and creamier. Coca-Cola Clear Lime, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of Crystal Pepsi for some odd reason.
Speaking of citrus Pepsi flavors, here’s J-Cola Lemon.
It’s basically just normal Pepsi J-Cola, but with an even sharper, tangier flavor. I enjoyed the taste of this, but an entire big bottle was too much.
Here’s the elusive Coca-Cola Coffee Plus. If I knew I’d only ever see this stuff once, I would’ve made more of an effort at a good photo.
I loved this. I’d liken it to beer with a mild chocolate flavor in the sense that the coffee beans here don’t overpower Coke’s distinct flavor. It was really well-balanced and the flavors worked well together. Plus, it had more caffeine!
Next, my favorite: Coca-Cola Plus. This isn’t my favorite in terms of taste (far from it!), but in terms of backstory and the unintentionally hilarious ads for it at vending machines.
Coca-Cola Plus is the result of a decade of research and development, plus collaborations with health experts, which earned it the designation of “Food of Specified Health Use” (FOSHU) from the Japanese government. The reason? It contains five grams of indigestible dextrin (a source of dietary fiber), which supposedly helps suppress fat absorption and moderates the levels of triglycerides in the blood after eating.
In other words, this is Coke Plus Laxatives. (As the label warns, drinking too much can lead to “loose bowels.”)
Joking aside, there’s actually been a fair amount of controversy about the government endorsing the dubious benefits of soda as a health drink, especially as there are much healthier ways to obtain the same ‘advantages’ this offers via a balanced diet.
Next, more souvenir bottles.
These are popular throughout Japan. Kyoto alone has multiple variations of glass bottles with traditional designs, plus this metal one, which can be purchased from vending machines.
Above is one of the glass collectible Coke souvenir bottles for Kyoto. I purchased at the top of Fushimi Inari Shrine at a small shop up there.
I’ve only seen the glass ones around temple vendors–never in convenience stores or vending machines.
Along those lines, Tokyo Disney Resort typically has special Coca-Cola bottles.
The one above was available from in-park vending machines for Tokyo Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary. There was also a collector’s version of the same.
Finally, the newest flavor of Coke to launch in Japan: Coca-Cola Energy.
We were actually in Japan when this debuted over the summer, and I had high hopes given the aggressive marketing campaign. Unfortunately, Coca-Cola Energy is awful. If you did a blind taste-test and were asked whether this reminds you more of Red Bull or Coke, you’d invariably say Red Bull.
I guess Coca-Cola Energy has a mild cola note to it, but it’s primarily a mix of the fake-fruity and chemical-derived bubble gum flavors (or whatever) that typify so many energy drinks. I don’t know why this flavor profile is so popular with energy drinks, but it just gives me flashbacks to parties in college. I was really hoping this would be simply an ‘amped-up’ Coca-Cola, but that’s definitely not the case.
That wraps up our fun look at Cool Coca-Cola and Peculiar Pepsi flavors in Japan. Here’s hoping that both companies keep releasing unique and obscure beverages in Japan, so I can keep doing this important research and write a sequel to this article!
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you tried any odd Coke or Pepsi flavors in Japan? What did you think of them? Anything you’d buy again? Do you wish Pepsi or Coke would release any of these flavors in the United States? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Does visiting this spot in Kyoto interest you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!