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COM: July 2013

Japanese Pulltab Instructions: Circa 1970

Kirin. Kirin. Kirin.
Sapporo. Sapporo. Sapporo.

I just discovered these cans a couple weeks ago. I thought they were just run-of-the-mill Japanese pulltabs until I saw the bottom of them. Opening Instructions! I've talked about different types of cans with directions on how to open them before---early flat tops, early pull tabs, and a Coke can with one of the first StaTabs. Here is a nice example of how another country did it. A big thank you once again to Chris S. for his translation services.

And yes, the Sapporo can is designed with the labels facing that way. One side is always "upside down."

The Cans



Kirin.The Kirin Brewery dates to 1885, founded as the Japan Brewing Company. They hired German brewers to help them get started, one of many example of how Japan in the Meiji Period used European (and American) expertise to modernize and westernize. In 1888 they produced their first beer, a lager. They became the Kirin Brewing Company in 1907.

The brewery name comes from the "Kirin", a mythical animal. The description from the brewery's modern US website states...

Kirin refers to a mythic beast from ancient Chinese mythology: one-half dragon, the other deer. According to legend, this amazing animal refuses to step on living plants and will not eat living things. Considered a harbinger of auspicious events, a Kirin is said to have appeared at the bedside of the mother of Confucius as she was about to give birth to her son. As a symbol of well-being and good fortune, the Kirin was an ideal choice for the label of Kirin Beer. 

Kirin came out with a flat top can in the 1950s. I do not know when they switched to pull tabs, but the opening on this can looks like those used in the US in the late 1960s-early 1970s, so an estimated date for this can of 1970 is probably pretty close.

Kirin Bottom. Kirin.

The opening instructions printed on the bottom of the can read...

Lift ring, then pull open tab.
Tab is made of aluminum so please avoid contact with salt-water.
Please don't throw empty cans out the windows of your car.


Sapporo.Sapporo Brewing Company was founded in 1876 by Seibei Nakagawa, who had been trained in Germany. The brewery name comes from the city where the brewery was founded, Sapporo. They had at least a couple of different flat top cans. One was green/white, the other the familiar blue/white.

Like the other big Japanese brewers the company now makes a lot of different products, and owns breweries outside of Japan. Today you see their large silver cans a lot in the US.

Sapporo bottom. Sapporo can.

The opening instructions printed on the bottom of this can read...

The beer-can that can be opened by hand.
Sapporo <<Pull-top>>
Lift ring on opposite end,
Insert finger and pull off tab.

Please don't throw empty cans out the windows of your car.

Some Observations on the Instructions

There are a few (generally unserious) things I noticed about the instructions.

1. I am somewhat amused by the common "Please don't throw the can out of your car window" line. Japan's anti-litter campaign seems to coincide with a similar effort in the US. Both cans have the same wording, so maybe it was a standard phrase.

2. They seem to be more disturbed by you littering from your car than the fact that you're drinking beer while driving.

3. The "Lift ring on opposite end" on the Sapporo can also amused me, even though as a professor I am used to sometimes having to spell out details that I think would seem obvious.

4. Why was Kirin so concerned about the pulltab coming in contact with salt water? Was this a common problem?

5. The instructions on American cans appeared on the tops of the early pull tabs next to the tab or ring. I guess American brewers were worried that if the drinker had to read the instructions, then turn the can over, the drinker might forget what to do. Japanese drinkers must have had fewer short-term memory problems.

6. I like that the Kirin instructions show a can with "Kirin" on it. A few US OIs also featured a can with the brand name on it.

7. Likewise the Kirin instructions actually show a hand holding the can and another pulling the pulltab off. The Sapporo instructions just show the can and the half-off tab.

8. The person opening the Kirin can is holding the pulltab the opposite way I saw most cans opened in the US. The Japanese drinker has put his finger in the ring with the bottom of the finger facing up. In the US I generally saw people put their finger around the ring with the top of the finger facing up and the finger curled around the edge of the ring. But in the US, there were tab tops before ring pulls, and you can't open a tab top holding it the way it's illustrated on the Japanese can. You had to slip your finger over and under the tab, then pull it. Statabs work the same way.

Did Japanese cans go straight from flat tops to ring pulls? If so then they never had the experience of pulling open a can with a tab instead of a ring. In that case there's no one obvious way to open the can. At any rate, it may be an interesting small national difference. Or maybe the artist who designed the instructions just decided it looked better drawn that way.


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