When your Japanese friends offer to take you to a Coke factory, you don’t say no. Last week, my culture club – a group of American and Japanese women – travelled together to the Tama Plant of Coca-Cola East Japan for a factory tour. We reached the plant, located in Higashikuru, in a little over an hour via two trains and a bus.
I don’t really drink much pop these days, but on occasion, I still crave the sweet taste of a Coke. One of the pleasures of living in Japan is getting to try different soft drinks than the ones I grew up drinking. Although Coke itself is a familiar brand, they produce a lot of beverages I would never find on the shelf back in Cleveland. More on that in a minute, though.
Here’s the view as we walked toward the street the factory is on:
When we saw the signage, we started getting excited. It’s a fairly large complex, but after walking along its edge for a few minutes, we were able to enter past the guard. I liked the signage in the parking lot as we walked toward the factory entrance.
More branding awaited us at the door. There was no question what product the factory produces.
Coke, Coke Zero and Fanta are probably all familiar to my American readers, but what about Georgia? Or I Lohas? Georgia is a brand of coffee that is everywhere in Japan, especially in the vending machines. You can get a nice warm can of it for around a buck. (I love it in the winter.) I Lohas is bottled water with a subtle flavor added like aloe or mandarin orange. (I love it in the summer.) Aquarius is a sport drink, also commonly found in vending machines. (My first taste of it was rather confused because I thought it was going to be plain water.) Sokenbicha,a blended tea, is the green label written in Kanji near bottom right. The other Kanji-labelled drink is Ayataka green tea.
Let’s take a closer look at all those delicious drinks:
Before our official tour, we watched a video about the factory and the process it follows to make Coke and other products. It was entertaining but entirely in Japanese so I’m a little limited on how much info I can impart here. They did, however, give us a 40-page booklet in English filled with fun facts and color-coded maps of how tea progresses from water treatment on through to filling the bottles to boxing them into cases for PET bottle drinks and how Coca-Cola progresses from water treatment and a syrup mixing tank on through to the circular can filler to weight check to loading for canned beverages.
I learned from their website that Coca-Cola East Japan covers the Tokyo metropolitan area, 15 prefectures and roughly 66 million people and sells approximately 50 of the most popular beverage brands in Japan, backed up by over half a million vending machines, cold drink equipment and dispensers. It is Japan’s largest Coca-Cola bottler. That’s a lot of Coke!
After the video, we were handed glass bottles of Coke to enjoy and had a little free time to take pictures in the room, which was heavily branded with Pepsi signage. Just kidding.
Who wouldn’t want to see what they look like immersed in Coke?
Or, what it looks like to stand next to a giant bottle of Coke?
The tour itself was relatively brief and simple. We walked down a long hallway lined by giant windows overlooking the factory floor. Our Japanese guide bravely read to us from her English script — her hands were shaking — as we progressed down the red-carpeted hall, taking breaks to peek down at the machinery. We saw very few workers and those we did spot were focused. (No one waved at us like the Meiji chocolate factory workers did last January.) The factory was making Chinese tea that day. I found myself impressed thinking of the engineers who figured out how to get all that machinery working like clockwork.
At the end of the tour, we met back up with our Japanese counterparts, who had taken a separate tour, and took a group photo. Of course, on our way out, we passed a vending machine. I say “Of course” because in Japan, you pass a vending machine about every 50 feet, no matter where you are. I’m only very slightly exaggerating. Comfortingly, my handy brochure shared that many newer machines are programmed to dispense beverages for free if there is a major earthquake or disaster. They can even display news alerts on an information bar.
We ended our visit by eating lunch at a nearby Japanese restaurant. (I’m becoming very fond of donburi, a bowl of rice with seafood on top.) And in case you’re wondering, nope, we didn’t drink any more Coke. We washed our meal down with tiny cups of hot tea.
Interested in taking a tour yourself? I tracked down the information page, but be warned, it is in Japanese. Like me, you may need a friend to help with booking it: https://www.ccej.co.jp/campaign/. This post is also now available as an iPhone app on GPSMyCity with a GPS-enabled, interactive map. You can try it here at Open Happiness: A Visit to Japan’s East Coca-cola Factory.