Hit Drink Calpis Celebrates its Birthday on Tanabata

Hit Drink Calpis Celebrates its Birthday on Tanabata

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Picture: Yutoka / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
July 7th isn't just tanabata in Japan - it's also Calpis Day. Learn why this vaguely yogurt-flavored drink has become so popular.

It’s a cruel summer and romance is not in the air. It’ll be in the sky.

July 7th was Tanabata (七夕) in Japan. The legend of Tanabata takes place in the Milky Way where star-crossed lovers reunite once a year on this summer night.

The story goes that Orihime (織姫) or The Weaving Princess, and cattle herder Hikoboshi (彦星) or Star Prince fall in love and get married.

But just like 99% of love stories pan out, theirs ends in tragedy.

The newlyweds were so in love, entrapped in a lavender haze, that they stopped working. Orihime forgot her weaving and Hikoboshi abandoned his herd.

Angered by their irresponsibility, the Solar God slashed the two lovers apart with the Milky Way. In Gen Z lingo, Orihime and Hikoboshi began their involuntary long-distance relationship. But, seeing that their love was bigger than the whole sky, the Solar God granted them passage over the Milky Way once a year on July 7th.

In celebration of Tanabata, people hold festivals like the Shōnan Hiratsuka Festival and write wishes on tanzaku (短冊) that they hang from bamboo trees.


But tanabata also shares the day with a drink whose appearance takes inspiration from Orihime and Hikoboshi’s tragic legend.

…Also a day for lactic acid drinks?

Calpis, a popular Japanese soft drink made with cultured milk processed with lactobacilli, yeast, and fermentation, also celebrates Tanabata. The product, which Asahi first sold on July 7th, 1919, is packaged in a blue and white polka-dot bottle inspired by the Milky Way.

The earlier designs used a blue background with white dots. The colors have been reversed since 1949.

The main event today is Tanabata, which is why July 7th is also known (to a much lesser extent) as Calpis Day.

The Japan Anniversary Association registers today as Calpis Day, this year being its 104th.

Asahi, the company that owns the Calpis product line, holds annual nationwide sampling events ahead of Calpis Day.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the events took a three-year hiatus. This year, Asahi returns to 500 nationwide storefronts for promoting Calpis products.

In tandem with Tanabata themes, Asahi is bringing back its Calpis campaign with the slogan: hoshi wo mitsukete negaigoto (星を見つけて願いごと), or “Find a star and make a wish.”

Although a glass of champagne would be more fitting for a romantic night, it would be funny if Orihime and Hikoboshi toasted their reunion with bottles of Calpis.

Loco or local?

Starbucks 47 Jimoto Frappuccino campaign
Starbuck’s Jimoto Frappuccino campaign, celebrating each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. (Picture: Starbucks Asia Web site)

Remember the summer 2021 Starbucks campaign 47 JIMOTO Frappuccino? 47 flavors, each sold exclusively in every one of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The idea was to partner with local businesses to appreciate the culinary diversity of Japan.

Some flavors were wild. Hokkaido prefecture’s Tokibi corn Frappuccino. Miyagi prefecture’s zunda (sweetened mashed edamame) and matcha Frappuccino.  

Well, Asahi is doing the same with Calpis this summer in a project they call Calpis 47 JIMOTO.  

The aim is to get every prefecture to combine local specialties with the Calpis drink. On Asahi’s official website, there’s a list of prefectures along with ingredients from each that will be paired with Calpis.

Asahi wants to pair zunda with Calpis in Miyagi prefecture, as Starbucks did with their Frappuccino.

In Akita prefecture, the seaweed-based jelly kanten (寒天), or agar, will be mixed with Calpis.

But the majority of food pairs are not as daring. Many prefectures are choosing local fruits like blueberries and tangerines for their Calpis combos.

Asahi has made similar attempts to localize Calpis products before. In February, it released a blend of Calpis and Aichi Prefecture’s kawachi bankan (河内晩柑), a rare citrus fruit that makes up less than 1% of all citrus produce in Japan.

The Calpis 47 JIMOTO project is just one of many trends in Japan that are looking to domestic tourism. Since COVID hit, decreased opportunity for international travel has resulted in a bigger market for domestic tourism.

What the health, Calpis?

July 7th isn't just tanabata in Japan - it's also Calpis Day. Learn why this vaguely yogurt-flavored drink has become so popular.

Another trend that Calpis is riding is the boom in healthy foods. Japan’s market for healthy foods expanded in 2020 as more people became increasingly conscious of their well-being.

Oatmeal is one product that’s taken off and continues to grow in sales. Data tracking sales from approximately 6000 stores across Japan shows that oatmeal store sales grew 854% between 2019 and 2021.

The oatmeal trend continued into 2022. Store sales between January and August of 2022 were 1319% higher than the same period of 2019.

Asahi wanted to be part of this health movement. They partnered with NISSIN to make Calpis-flavored oatmeal this April. To add a little color, NISSIN and Asahi threw some dried strawberries into their mix. In ad campaigns, Asahi recommends making overnight oats with their Calpis-flavored oatmeal using either yogurt or Calpis drinks.

Will Calpis oatmeal help you reach your health and fitness goals? Well…look at the sugar content and decide for yourself.

If it’s Japanese, there’s a museum for it

Calpis Museum of the Future
No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the Calpis Museum of the Future…or so Asahi tells us. (Picture: Asahi Web site)

The Cup Ramen Museum. The Kewpie Mayonnaise Museum. The Takoyaki Museum.

You get the point. If it’s Japanese, there’s a museum for it.

Calpis is no exception. To learn more about the history of Calpis, but in a more interactive way than just reading Asahi’s official website, visit the Calpis “Mirai” Museum in Gunma Prefecture.

There, you can literally walk through the fermentation process of Calpis. Visitors walk into a room built to resemble a processing tank like those in which the soft drink is made. Circular screens show videos of the first and second stages of fermentation.

During the display of the second stage, the room is permeated with the aroma of Calpis. Using machines from the Tokyo-based company PROMOTOOL which specializes in scent technology, Asahi installs an aromatic diffuser for visitors to get a 4D learning experience.

Now, most people’s Japan vacations don’t usually include a stop in Gunma. But if you’re in the area (e.g., you’re a rabid Madoka Magika fan paying a visit to Maebashi), consider stopping by. If nothing else, it’ll give you an interesting talking point once you return home.

And, hey – there’s bound to be plenty of Calpis.

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[1] カルピスの日(7月7日 記念日). 雑学ネタ帳

[2] CALPIS. Asahi

[3] 7月7日は「カルピスの日」社員1000人が全国のスーパーでサンプリング活動 飲食活動4年ぶり開催 アサヒ飲料. Yahoo! News Japan

[4] 『愛媛県産河内晩(かわちばんかん)&カルピス』2月21日発売. PRTIMES

[5] プロモツール、「カルピス」みらいのミュージアムへ香りの演出、博物館向け需要増加を受け、エンターテインメント専門チームを設立. BIGLOBEニュース

[6] カルピスの爽やかで甘ずっぱいあの味を、オートミールで楽しめる!「おいしいオートミール×カルピス」を2023年4月3日(月)に新発売. PRTIMES

[7]地域共創施策『カルピス47JIMOTO』7月3日から順次開始『カルピス』と47都道府県ごとの食文化や地元食材を組み合わせたメニューを提案. Asahi

[8] オートミールがコメ好きの日本で認められた訳. 東洋経済オンライン

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