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The History of Kirin Pre-Kirin Brewery Years: Japan Brewery Company, Limited(1885-1900)

Japan Brewery Co., Ltd., the forerunner of Kirin Brewery, was established with 50,000 Hong Kong dollars in capital on the site of the former Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama in July 1885. The company was founded by W. H. Talbot, E. Abbott, and a few other foreigners residing in Yokoyama, all of whom held a conviction that beer would become popular with Japanese people. On the advice of Thomas Blake Glover, who was a Scottish merchant and who would later join the board of Japan Brewery, Yanosuke Iwasaki—president of Mitsubishi—and eight other Japanese bought interests in the company.

Japan Brewery began producing German-style lager beer on February 23, 1888, using then state-of-the-art brewing machines and steam engines, and assisted by a skilled German brewer. A Japanese law required that foreign-owned entities, such as Japan Brewery, sell their products in Japan through Japanese distributors. The company chose as its sole agent for the distribution of its beer Hakaru Isono, who founded Meidiya—a Yokohama-based firm that sold imported food and alcohol beverages. The beer that Japan Brewery brought out in May 1888 had on its label a depiction of a kirin, a legendary creature believed to be a harbinger of good luck, and was named Kirin Beer; the idea of featuring a kirin image on the beer labels had been suggested by Heigoro Shoda, a Mitsubishi executive. In June 1889, the original Kirin Beer label design received a facelift on the recommendation of T. B. Glover, and the revised design motif remains to this day.

In addition to micro and mini breweries mushrooming around the country, large beer companies became operational in the late 1880s, including Sapporo Beer (formerly Kaitakushi Brewery), Marusan Brewery, Japan Beer Brewery, and Osaka Beer Brewing. When Japanese consumers' demand for beer rose in the midst of booming economy after the war with China (1894-95), all these large beer companies increased their production and stepped up their marketing efforts. Meidiya, then the sole distributor for Japan Brewery in Japan, innovated the way Kirin Beer was advertised and boosted its sales.

Japan Brewery Yokohama Yamate Plant around 1885
Kirin Beer label from 1888
Kirin Beer label from 1889


© 2007 Kirin Holdings Company, Limited.

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