“[Nippon Beer president] Magoshi’s marketing strategies were simple but innovative, and he took a variety of approaches to reach new beer consumers.
“First, whenever his firm delivered the first shipment of the year to any city or town, his deliverymen would ride in aboard horse-drawn wagons, sporting tradition happi coats emblazoned with the company’s logo … Significantly, he claimed that Japan’s emerging beer consumers could be divided into four key groups: geisha, actors (yakusha), scholars (gakusha), and doctors (isha).
“Magoshi believed that by earning the endorsement of geisha and actors, he could earn wider recognition through word of mouth (kuchikomi); through acceptance by scholars he could earn added prestige; and through sales to doctors he hoped to receive publicity that beer was good for health (kenko ni yoi biiru).
“… In these ways, Magoshi’s plan to give beer wider recognition among Japan’s rising professional classes carried knowledge of ‘Yebisu Beer’ home to nearly every corner of Japan, where the product was often unavailable. By capitalizing on the aspirations of rural elites, especially those who visited Tokyo, ‘Yebisu’ earned significant cache during the early twentieth century.”
– Brewed in Japan: The Evolution of the Japanese Beer Industry, by Jeffrey W. Alexander, 2013
On February 25th 1890, one of the first and most iconic of Japanese brews, Yebisu Beer, was born. Brewed by the Japan Beer Brewery Company [Nippon Biiru], predecessor to the Sapporo Brewery and produced in the midst of the rapid modernization Japan underwent after the Meiji Constitution was introduced, Yebisu was a high quality beer brewed with traditional German methods. It proved so popular that the neighborhood it was brewed in, Mita (in Meguro Ward), was renamed ‘Ebisu’ in its honor.
Competition between the Sapporo and Japan Beer companies, as well as competition with the Osaka (now Asahi) and Kirin breweries led to a 1906 merger of Sapporo, Japan, and Osaka breweries into the Dai-Nippon Beer Company, Ltd., which formed a near monopoly on the Japanese beer market until after World War II.
After 1949, Dai-Nippon was split into Nippon and Asahi breweries, with the Nippon Breweries resuming production of Sapporo beer in 1956 and renaming itself to the present name, Sapporo Breweries, in 1964.
Yebisu Beer was relaunched as a separate brand by Sapporo Breweries in 1971, marketed as a German-style barley beer.
See also: Prewar Japanese beer posters: the most beautiful ads ever made? [Boing Boing]