The secret is long since out: Japan's craft beer scene is a vibrant place, filled with innovative brewers creating new and interesting beers alongside masterful examples of traditional styles. In nearly every decent-sized city, it's possible to find at least one bar specializing in craft beer.
Nearly every weekend this summer, it seemed there was at least one, if not several, festivals devoted to craft beer — including the Saitama-based Keyaki Beer Festival, the Tokyo-based Oedo Beer Festival and the Osaka-based Craft Beer Picnic — with fans traveling from around the country to sample beers and meet brewers. The strength of the craft beer scene is truly remarkable when you stop and realize that the Japanese craft beer industry didn't exist 25 years ago.
It was only in 1994 that the Japanese government softened the strict laws that governed the granting of brewing licenses. Up until then, to become licensed, a brewery needed to be able to produce 2 million liters of beer each year, a feat impossible without an industrial-sized brewery. With the change in regulations, breweries needed only to demonstrate a capacity of 60,000 liters, allowing new, smaller breweries to enter the market. For drinkers tired of the same mass-produced lagers and pilsners on every shelf, and in every bar, the styles produced by these smaller breweries — IPAs, ales and stouts among others — were a welcome relief.