So You Want a Brewing License?

by Suzuki Shinya

Launching a small brewery in Japan is not, at present, that easy to do, in large part because you have to obtain a brewers license from the tax department. This is a painfully intricate process. It starts with submitting the necessary forms to the tax department. These include a license application, a business plan, a resume, certification of brewing skills, a lease for your brewery location, one’s certification of residency. However, even if you’ve prepared all of these there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive a license. Read the fine print at the end of the application: “other forms for our consideration.” You’re going to need these as well. The vague wording owes to that fact that what additional forms are required depends on who is applying. Their request may span a range of material, but ultimately they’ll look most closely at whether you have enough financing to actually open a brewery and run it. For that, you need to provide a copy of your bank book indicating the amount of money you have, or forms certifying how much funding you’ve received from a financial institute or public loan fund. In other words, if you were planning on getting funding later, they probably won’t give you the time of day.

Let me spin this a different way. If you can clear the following five hurdles, you can very likely shorten the amount of time the whole process takes: 1. You have already signed the lease for the brewery location. 2. You can very easily demonstrate that you have plenty enough money to open and operate the brewery. 3. You have a very solid business plan. 4. You have written certification of your brewer skills. 5. You can accommodate whatever demands the tax office makes with a big smile. While I may seem to be joking, I’m not; it’s probably the most important step. You better accept now that you are going to have to go back to the office again and again, ad nauseam.

Anyone who does manage to receive a license without requisite knowledge of the industry and brewing techniques has quite a rough road ahead. Nevertheless, there are growing numbers of people who want to open a small brewery. I’ve been jumping through the hoops almost every day recently in my own quest to open one. An acquaintance, Nomura of Koenji Brewery, is a few steps ahead of me. He gave up the corporate life and dived into the industry without any experience. I was really worried about him in the beginning, but about four months or so after submitting his materials he got his license. A four-month waiting period from the time of submission is a fairly reasonable target, but if you can’t sufficiently submit whatever documents the tax department asks of you during that time, it can be stretched out forever. Given the challenges, his applying for a license was pretty bold. I think, however, that this bodes good things for the craft beer world. I simply can’t wait to get my license and start making some great beer (ok, so it’s going to be classified as happoshu).

As the number of people looking to open their own breweries increases, I sincerely hope that Japan ups its game and becomes a country known for its brewing excellence.

Happoshu, often translated as “low-malt beer,” actually refers to any ‘beer’ with additives like herbs or spices. Belgian beers may use 100% malt but are still happoshu because of ingredients like coriander.




前・横浜ビール醸造長。現在、横浜市中区に醸造所開業(BAY BREWING YOKOHAMA)を目指し、免許申請中。

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