Here’s How This Famous Japanese Asahi Drink Came About

It's celebrating its 100th anniversary this year!

is a drink that has been in Japan for a very long time. Last July 7, 2019 marked their 100th anniversary. You might be wondering how this beverage, which the Japanese grew to love so much, came about.  

From their original tagline—“full of nutrition”—to the current one—“the taste of first love”—what hasn’t changed after all these 100 years was the brand’s mindset of “making something for someone.”

The person currently in charge of Calpis shares with us his sentiments on the drink’s 100-year history and the role it played as a beverage of the Asahi brand

Q: We were actually surprised to find out that the history of this drink goes all the way back! Can you tell us how Calpis was born?

Kaiun Mishima, the father of Calpis, had a mysterious encounter when he went to Inner Mongolia as a general merchant. Since Kaiun was not used to the foreign environment, he became sick. The locals who helped him made him drink a so-called “sour milk,” which is fermented milk with lactic acid bacteria.

The father of Calpis, Kaiun Mishima.

This drink not only made him feel better but tasted good as well. He then went back to his country (Japan was not rich and still a developing country at this time). After a series of trial and error, based on his desire to make everyone in Japan get a taste of the healthy and delicious drink, he finally developed Calpis. 

The packaging design of the drink was changed over time in 100 years.

At the time of its release to the market, the design of the packaging was of Venus de Milo and bore the phrases, “Delicious and Good For Your Gut” and “Strong Refreshing Beverage.” After that, it was changed in 1922 to the polka dot design it’s been famous for until today. The polka dot design was inspired by the Milky Way, as it was released last July 7 (the
Tanabata holiday in Japan).

Q: We didn’t know that the packaging had a connection to the Tanabata holiday. What was the turning point that lead to Calpis being known as the national beverage in Japan?

Two events lead to this. The first had been after we used the tagline “the taste of first love” in 1922. Using the word “first love” and implicating the sweet taste of Calpis as that of “first love” was a daring move during the time. Since the catchphrase was used for a long time, probably many people still remember the drink’s tagline. 


The other event happened in 1923 when the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred. On the next day of the earthquake, Kaiun distributed Calpis from the company warehouse. The newspapers caught on to that. Of course, there was no intent for publicity on Kaiun’s side, but only the intention of trying to help and reach out to those suffering from malnutrition after being victims of the earthquake. 

Q: From the earthquake, and even before and after the war, you mentioned that Japan experienced a drastic change over the last 100 years—particularly in the lifestyle and nutrition of the Japanese people. What role did Calpis play during these 100 years?

As you said, Japan has indeed changed greatly in the past 100 years. But I think that the role that Calpis played, that is, its intrinsic value, has not changed at all. Its intrinsic value meaning, it remains to be a “delicious and healthy” beverage that “brings important people closer in time and place.”

For the “delicious and healthy” aspect, the recipe was inspired by Kaiun’s experience in Inner Mongolia, ferment locally sourced raw milk with Calpis bacteria derived from lactic acid bacteria and yeast twice. This formula has been passed down from generation to generation.

As “a beverage that brings important people closer in time and place,” it means that—for example, when a mother thinks of her child when making Calpis, or when sharing Calpis Water with your friends during your youth—this drink has been with you for all your memories with the people who are close to you.

At the end of the day, we continue to keep Kaiun’s dream alive of “bringing joy to the Japanese people through a delicious and healthy beverage” in the following years to come. 

Q: For your 100th anniversary, you also released an animated music video called Tanabata Note.

Calpis’s first animation, Tanabata Note

As I mentioned earlier, Calpis really values the Tanabata holiday and Milky Way.

Tanabata Note
is a story of four young girls who try to recreate the Milky Way with their classmates. The theme songs of each episode is played by  “Shiritsu Ebichu,” “Maruri and Ryuuga,” “Oisicle Melonpan,” “Kobasolo & Harutya,” and “Toy Cleanse.” In the final episode, the music is performed by a high school band selected from votes. Character design by Mai Yoneyama, as well as works of manga artists each episode by TNSK, nagian (凪庵), name (aka 文尾文), ms, and hami will also be featured. This project is a new type of animation, made like a playlist.


To bring 2 main characters of Tanabata story, Orihime and Hikoboshi together, Nanase, Riko, Mio, and Airi start a reckless attempt of "making the Milky Way."

Since this is our first animation attempt, it was sort of a challenge for us. Yes, we’ve done various television commercials before. But this particular project made us consider our target market, which are teens who are more familiar with other channels like Twitter and YouTube. We will push through with all five episodes and would like to invite everyone’s support in creating the Milky Way. 

Q: Is there anything you would like to say to fans of Calpis?

100 years. We reached the 100th anniversary this year, thanks to the people who supported this Japanese drink. Thank you very much.  

While protecting the intrinsic value of Calpis for the past 100 years, I think our customers have also admired the fact that we were adaptive to the times and their needs.

We will continue to be a brand that supports more and more people in the future while remaining true to our vision. Please continue to support us! 

Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker ™ (7 July 2019)

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