The art of the cocktail is indisputably non-Japanese. The word itself is old American slang for a pick-me-up, referring in modern parlance to any mixed drink containing liquor and at least one other ingredient. Even if you aren't a drinker, chances are you can name quite a few: the martini, the Manhattan, the gin and tonic. They're more than just libations, they're part of the Western vocabulary for relaxation.

Yet over the past two decades, bartenders from Japan have emerged as unlikely sages and superstars of the international cocktail scene. Things really started to heat up around 2008, when Bon Appetit magazine declared Tokyo the "cocktail capital of the world." Two years later, 120 New Yorkers paid $675 each for the privilege of watching Tokyo barman Kazuo Uyeda demonstrate his "hard shake" mixing style on a rare visit to the city.

A row of spirits sits on the bar at Bar Trench in Tokyo
A row of spirits sits on the bar at Bar Trench in Tokyo's Ebisu district. | DAN SZPARA