How do you say “Oktoberfest” in Japanese?

If you’ve ever craved a German beer in Japan, you’re not alone. Thousands of others do, too, as I discovered on a recent trip to the island.

As our cruise ship approached Yokohama, I noticed a couple of buildings that are typical in many of the Japanese ports: red brick warehouses that appeared to be about a 10-minute walk away.

These warehouses used to hold the fish that the boats would bring in from their daily fishing trips as well as from the ones that stayed out to sea for weeks. Most of those buildings have been repurposed into shops, restaurants, and venues for local events.

On the ship’s first stop there, the warehouses stood like solitary soldiers with an empty field of concrete surrounding them. But it all changed on our second stop, 12 days later. It was the end of September, and what goes on then is Oktoberfest.

Wait a minute – if it’s called Oktoberfest, why is it held in September and not in October?

Here’s the short answer: The festival began in October in the early 1800s, but it was soon realized that the September evenings in Germany were much nicer than in October, so the event was moved up several weeks for nicer weather and it could still end in October. There it is, a short answer in one sentence. And there’s a lot more you can learn about the history of Oktoberfest.

Okay, why is it being held in Japan if it involves German beer?

Here’s another short answer — Beer!

So off the ship I went and headed over to the Yokohama Oktoberfest. I saw many people from the ship, both guests and crew, at the festival, and we were fortunate that the weather was quite decent. It was sprinkling on our first visit to Yokohama, so the sunshine this time definitely compensated for the cool temperatures and slight breeze. Admission was 300 yen (a little under $3), and it was well worth it even if you just wanted to walk around and see what was being offered.

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The authorized beer and food vendors were not shy about “hawking their wares,” and most of the beer prices began at 1,200 yen for a half-liter glass. That translates to around $12 for a pint of beer, definitely a spendy price; but then again it’s German beer, and you’re in Japan.

My estimate is that there were over 4,000 people in attendance while I was there that afternoon. There were tables in the open (where I sat with friends from the ship), and there was also a large tent (in the Munich beer hall tradition) that looked quite full with about 2,000 people enjoying their food and drink while listening to music.

It was an enjoyable afternoon and probably the only Oktoberfest I’ll ever attend. I’ve had a beer in the famous Hofbräuhaus in Munich, but I’ve not been there for the event.

Happening upon this great festival in Yokohama was fun, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wipe away the image of Japanese couples trying to dance to the German music that was being played by their countrymen.

Stuart Gustafson

Stuart Gustafson is a writer, world traveler and professional speaker. He's channeled his love of travel into writing travel-based mystery novels.

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