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COM: October 2010

Suntory "Bird" Set: circa 1973-1976

This month I am featuring a set of twenty-nine cans from Japan. I don't know as much as I'd like to about it, so consider this to be, in part, a plea for more information!

Suntory was founded by 20 year old Shinjiro Torii in 1899 making a dessert wine. The business steadily expanded. In 1924 they began distilling whiskey at the Yamazaki Distillery near Kyoto (the ancient capital), the first company to make a "real" whiskey in Japan. They started making Oraga Beer in 1930. In 1963 they opened their first brewery in Musashino and began brewing and selling Suntory Beer.

1963 Suntory Ad.

In 1967 the company began making Suntory Beer Jun-nama, selling it first in bottles, adding cans in 1968. In 1969 they opened a second brewery, this one in Kyoto. In 1982 they opened their third brewery in Tonegawa. That same year they renamed Suntory Beer Jun-nama. Its new name was Nama Beer.

A few other Suntory beer-related dates.

1986: They begin selling Malt Beer and making Carlsberg Beer under license.

1989: Introduced a premium malt.

1995: Opened a brewery in Shanghai, China.

2001: Opened a second brewery in China, this one in Kunshan.

(above) 1963 Suntory beer ad.

Suntory still makes and sells their beer, as well as whiskey, wine, health drinks, sodas (including Pepsi), Hagan Daz ice cream, and so on.

I Start Collecting the "Bird" Set: 1976

This can has sentimental value. In the summer of 1976 my family took our last real family summer vacation together. I was starting my senior year of high school that autumn and my folks knew I'd be working the next summer. So, they saved for a couple years and we took a vacation to Hawaii, first to attend the 1976 Lions' Convention in Honolulu, then we went to Maui, Kauai, and Hilo. I was into beer can collecting by then, so I was grabbing new cans wherever I could. My Dad, who was never a big drinker (one beer on the weekend was about the most I ever saw him imbibe) would pick up cans for me when he could. Among them was this Suntory Bird Can. It was one of my favorite and most prized cans then, and it still is. (You can see another brand I collected on that trip, Primo Beer, my March 2004 COM) Suntory bird can.

Save the Birds Campaign

This set of cans was tied to the company's on-going conservation efforts. Both the company founder and his son, Keizo Saji, were ornithophiles (they loved birds). According to a 1974 Time Magazine story on the company, the name "Suntory" means "three birds," but a friend who is fluent in Japanese says that's not true. Whatever the meaning of "Suntory" in 1973 they began the "Save the Birds" campaign, and "flooded Japan with bird-bedecked shopping bags, posters and postcards" (Time, 9/16/74) promoting the campaign's slogan "To protect birds is to defend humanity." They established a wild bird sanctuary at their Hakushu Distillery in Yamanashi Prefecture (due west of Tokyo) only one of several such sanctuaries.

In the 1980s the brewery used the slogan "Today Birds, Tomorrow Man" (in other words, what effects birds today will effect men tomorrow). This was the theme of the Suntory exhibit at the 1985 World's Fair in Japan.

Suntory 1985 pavilion.

In 1990 the company set up the Suntory Fund for Bird Preservation. According to the company website its mission is "to encourage and support various organizations that engage in wild bird preservation activities."

As part of their environmental campaign, Suntory supports efforts to restore the population of endangered short-tailed albatrosses on islands to the south of Japan. They have raised money and provided grants to the effort which seems to be having positive results.

The bird set featured below would seem a logical way to advertise the "Save the Birds" campaign. Several of the cans have a "birds in a tree" emblem that was probably the campaign's logo.

Suntory bird camapign logo.

The text says:
Keep a sanctuary for birds in your heart.
Create a good environment where our beloved birds' spirit can grow.

Translation by Chris S. Thank you Chris!

Unless otherwise noted, I have the cans shown below. Suntory puts a design number on each can so I was able to place them in what I think is the correct chronological order. I've listed the number in the middle column. There are 24 designs, plus five variations, for a total of 29 cans.

Sean K. pointed out that the bird name was on each can in tiny type and Chris S. was kind enough to go through my Suntory cans and translate the names for me. Thank you to both Sean and Chris! The names are listed by Japanese name, Latin name, English name. (I made one correction, 4/23/14)


Some of the cans in the set have the word "Fresh" on the label, and some do not. Some come both ways. Why the difference? I was told that the ones with "Fresh" were sold only in Japan and the ones without it were exported. I haven't been able to confirm this. However, I do know that at least one of the non-Fresh labels (#574) was sold in the US because that's the one that my Dad bought in Hawaii in 1976. And the "Fresh" cans overall are more difficult to find than the non-Fresh. And in the case of the five cans which appear both with and without "Fresh" the ones with are more difficult to find.

How Many?

There are a total of 29 cans in the set including variations, i.e. cans that appear both with and without "Fresh." Here is the breakdown:

Number of Designs
Total in Set
350 ML
500 ML



NEW: It was suggested that I add a rarity value to the cans to show which are common and which are difficult to find. I've done so, using four values showing how easy or difficult it is to find the can, and an approximate value range.

1 = Easy. Generally sell for $1.00-$5.00 each.
2 = Available. Sell for about $10.00-$20.00 each
3 = Tough. Hard to find but not impossible. Prices can range from $40.00-$99.00 dollars. May cost more on eBay if there's a bidding war.
4 = RARE. Prices cover a large range between $200-$600 each.

The 350 ml cans

Design # Bird Name / Value
Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 304

(Butorides striatus)
Striated heron

(Value=3, Tough)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 314

(Anas platyrhynchos)

(Value=2, Available)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 324

(Genus/species indefinite)

(Value=3, Tough)

Suntory Bird Can. Suntory Bird Can. 354

(Pyrrhula pyrrhula) 
Eurasian Bullfinch

(Value=4, RARE)

Suntory Bird Cam.

Suntory Bird Can. 364

Ao-ashi Shigi 
(Tringa nebularia) 

(Value=4, Rare)

Suntory Bird Can. Suntory Bird Can. 374

(Amandava amandava) 
Red Avadavat

(Value=4, Rare)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 384

(Turdus naumanni)
Naumann's Thrush

(Value=2, Available)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 394

(Dendrocopos major)
Great Spotted Woodpecker

(Value=1, Easy)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 404

(Tarsiger cyanurus)
Red-flanked Bluetail

(Value=3, Tough)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can.



Aka-ashi Shigi
(Tringa totanus)
Common Redshank

(Value=2, Available)

Suntory Bird Can.




Suntory Bird Can. 474a

(Loxia curviostra)

(Value=3, Tough) (May deserve a 4=RARE) Same as the next can but
with the "Fresh" on the logo.

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 474b

(Loxia curviostra)

(Value=1, Easy)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 484

Ooseguro Kamome
(Laurus schistisagus)
Slaty-backed Gull

(Value=2, Available)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 494

Oosori Hashi Shigi
(Limosa lapponica)
Bar-tailed Godwit

(Value=3, Tough)




504a side.


Same as the next can but
with the "Fresh" on the logo.

(Aix galericulata)
Mandarin Duck

(Value=3, Tough)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 504b

(Aix galericulata)
Mandarin Duck

(Value=1, Easy)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 514a

(Ardea alba)
Great Heron.

(Value=3, Tough)

Suntory bird can.


(Ardea alba)
Great Heron

(Value=1, Easy)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 574

(Streptopelia orientalis)

(Value=1, Easy)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 604

(Anas acuta)
Pintail Duck

(Value=1, Easy)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can. 614

Washi Kamome
(Laurus glaucescens)
Glaucous-winged Gull


Ooseguro Kamome
(Laurus schistisagus)
Slaty-backed Gull

(Value=2, Available)

The 500 ml cans

Design # Bird Name

(Alcedo atthis

(Value=3, Tough)

Suntory Bird Can. 344

(Grus japonensis) 
Japanese crane
(Also called Manchurian crane or Red-crowned crane)

(Value=4, RARE)

414. 414. 414

(Egretta garzetta)
Little Egret

(Value=4, RARE)

424. 424. 424

(Saxicola torquata)
African Stonechat

(Value=4, RARE)


(Zosterops japonicus)
Japanese White-eye

(Value=3, Tough)

444b. 444b.


Same as the previous can but without the "Fresh" on the logo.

(Zosterops japonicus)
Japanese White-eye

(Value=2, Available)


Black-tailed gull.

Black-tailed gull. 454a

(Larus crassirostris)
Black-tailed Gull

(Value-3, Tough)

Suntory bird can. Suntory bird can.


Same as the previous can but
without the "Fresh" on the logo.

The color difference with 454a is because of changes in lighting when taking the photos.

(Larus crassirostris)
Black-tailed Gull

(Value=2, Available)


Want a cool go-with for your Suntory Bird cans? Try the Suntory Birdtales model tiny models sets issued between 2004-2006.


Other Japanese Breweries

Other Japanese breweries like birds too. I showed the Suntory cartoon penguin "Mike" as my March 2013 COM. But other breweries used cartoon birds as well. Here are a few...

The Orion Brewery on Okinawa has featured the local Okinawa Rail. Orion only has a tiny portion of the Japanese beer market, but has the largest share by far of the beer market on Okinawa.
Sapporo Brewery was founded in 1876 in Sapporo on Hokkaido the northern Japanese island. It might be a Blakiston's fish owl, which lives in the region. A Google search on "owl" and "Hokkaido" gets a lot of hits on tourists noting how many places with an owl theme they see there.


Official Suntory Company website

The Suntory corporation's page on birds (in Japanese)

Japan for Sustainability Newsletter (July 2009)

A Norwegian site on bird preservation. (some is in English)

"Business: The Birdman of Osaka" Time (September 16, 1974)

Thanks to Klasines Nijmeijer at BEERCANS.NL for the photos of the cans I need.

Thanks to Chris S. and Sean K. for the translations.

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