In the late 1990s I spent five months in Sasebo, Japan when I was forward-deployed with the U.S. Navy. I was an officer in charge of an LCAC (hovercraft) detachment, and my fellow officer in charge spent several years in Japan on a previous tour. He was a great resource for important tips about visiting Japan–like ordering beer.
Back then a basic beer typically cost around 500 yen, which also happens to be the largest denomination of Japanese coins. Hence the natural nickname for a 500 yen coin: the beer token.
When I saw a 500 yen coin again this past August I immediately blurted out, “Hey, it’s a beer token!”. Unfortunately I did this in front of the kids, and they seized on it and they kept calling the coins beer tokens for a few weeks.
Another beer related memory: the ever-present vending machines that dispensed sodas, both hot and cold cans of coffee and tea–and beer. These vending machines sat on street corners and in train stations with no restrictions on who could buy from them. At the time I could not imagine such accessibility to coin op beer in the U.S.
When we arrived in Japan in August I noticed that the vending machines of drinks were just as common as 18 years ago but without beer. Until this week, at Hotel Hakuba! And look what still costs only one beer token.