For years, Dr Pepper was never popular in Japan. If Japanese people wanted to drink cola, they'd have a Coke or maybe even a Pepsi. The Texas-born soft drink never caught on. But decades after going on sale in Japan, that's starting to change.
Dr Pepper is quickly becoming the fizzy drink for otaku, thanks to Steins; Gate. It shouldn't be surprising that it's a visual novel born on the Xbox 360 that is making the beverage popular in Japan. Steins; Gate, a sci-fi visual novel with a psychological spin, debuted on the Xbox 360 back in 2009. It's since been ported to Windows and the PSP, and an anime version debuted this spring.
Some fans are praising the anime version, saying that it's a smart and interesting take on time travel (others are finding it confusing). The show features a microwave that is able to send text messages to the past. There's a mad scientist named Rintaro Okabe, some brainy otaku girls, cosplayers, an overweight super hacker, slimy green bananas and Dr Pepper, which is referred to as an "intellectual drink". Out of all the things on the show, it's the Dr Pepper that seems somewhat out of place.
Dr Pepper was introduced in Japan in 1973, making it just in time for the country's fastfood boom, but late to the soft drink party. Japan had already produced its own carbonated soft drinks for nearly a hundred years. Coca-cola got its start in Japan in the Post World War II era, after being a mainstay on American military bases.
During the 1960s, Coke started being advertised on Japanese television, and the sugary brown fizz found its niche in Japan. Coca-Cola was aggressive in Japan, not only protecting its own soda foothold, but later expanding to bottling Japanese teas and other juices.
Dr Pepper, with its blend of 23 flavors, is an odd tasting drink. As someone who grew up in Texas and who treasured getting the drink with real imperial sugar as a kid, instead of fructose corn syrup, there is a nostalgic factor for me. Whenever I want to remember what it's like to sit under the hot Texas summer sun watching baseball, I'll buy a Dr Pepper. Thing is, in some parts of Japan, the drink isn't readily available like its rivals. Thus, heading to places like Costco can end up being Dr Pepper runs more than anything.
The vast majority of people in Japan do not grow up with Dr Pepper. The most common complaint is that it tastes like medicine, which makes sense because, like many sodas, it started in a pharmacy. But unlike other soft drinks, it has a taste all its own.
That isn't to say Dr Pepper hasn't been tried in Japan before. Colorful cans from graphic artist Rockin' Jelly Bean were a good effort back in 2006.
But thanks to Steins; Gate, the beleaguered beverage is finding its long overdue welcome in Japan. On the show, the drink is "Dk Pepper" instead of "Dr Pepper" for copyright issues. Forrest Gump style Pepper placement, this ain't.
This is the best publicity it's probably ever had in Japan, especially in geek mecca Akihabara, where Steins;Gate is set. For example, Akiba Blog reports that the vending machine in front of retailer Sangatsu Usagi is now completely filled with Dr Pepper. Inside one of the Sangatsu Usagi shops, there are even various types of Dr Pepper, such as Dr Pepper bottled in Japan to American Dr Pepper. Little placards point out that this is the drink from Steins;Gate, meaning this could all be part of some very clever promotion.
Whatever it is, it seems to be working with Sangatsu Usagi reporting Dr Pepper sell outs in its vending machine out front. Fans of the anime are even trying the drink, pointing out that its pretty good once you get used to the flavor. I'm a Pepper fan, but is Japan? Not quite, but this latest push is resulting in a handful of otaku cola converts.