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In recent years, Japan’s gotten pretty into craft brewing. A few of the more prominent brands can be tracked down at specialty liquor stores in major cities like Tokyo, but many smaller outfits don’t have anything close to a national distribution network. For example, if you’re in the mood for a nice Doppo or Miyajima Beer, you’re looking at a trip out to Okayama or Hiroshima, respectively.

Still, most Japanese microbrews aren’t too hard to get your hands on, as long as you’re in the city, or at least the prefecture, where they’re made. Recently, though, we tried what might be the most exclusive beer in Japan, which is served in one place only, inside the U.S. naval base in the city of Yokosuka.

Located about an hour south of Tokyo, or 45 minutes from Yokohama, the port city of Yokosuka was previously the site of a Japanese Imperial Navy installation. Today, it’s home to a major Japan Maritime Self Defense Force facility, and adjacent to that, the U.S. base, the official name for which is the somewhat confusing United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka.

▼ Yokosuka Chuo Station, the closest stop to the base

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Ordinarily, access to the base is limited to military personnel, dependents, and others on official business. A few times a year, though, a portion of the base is opened up to the public as part of Friendship Days to encourage deeper understanding and stronger bonds between the Japanese and American residents of Yokosuka. One of these is held in the spring, when visitors come to see the base’s beautiful cherry trees, and the other is in the summer, coinciding with the day of the Yokosuka fireworks festival.

After hopping off the train, it’s about a 20 minute walk to the base gate. Our stroll took us through Nagisa Park, where tours were being offered of a dry-docked ship called the Mikasa.

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▼ There’s also a fountain that plays music every couple of hours, but since the sun was beating down on us, we decided not to wait for the next show.

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At the far end of the park, a number of tents had been set up for security checks. After a quick look into our bags (partially to make sure we weren’t bringing in any outside alcohol, which isn’t allowed on Friendship Day), the courteous men on duty waved us inside the facility.

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As you’d expect from a naval base, Fleet Activities Yokosuka is built right on the waterfront, and as we made our way farther inside, we passed groups already staking out spots along the harbor where the fireworks were going to be shot off.

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We still had a couple of hours until the fireworks started, though, so we decided to take a look around first. If you’ve never been to an overseas military base before, you might imagine it to be nonstop parade maneuvers and live-fire combat drills inside, but that’s not the case at all. A large number of those stationed in Yokosuka are accompanied by their spouse and children, and a lot of the base doesn’t look anything like an armed forces institution. As a matter of fact, a lot of it looks like a normal American suburb, albeit one with an almost entire lack of litter and meticulously trimmed lawns.

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▼ The kids’ area had bouncy castles for little tykes…

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▼ …and a rock-climbing wall for adventurous ones.

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Really, the base is almost like a small city, with its own movie theater, gym, department store, and even bowling alley, the last of which was open to Friendship Day visitors.

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All of those are pretty standard for an overseas base, though. Yokosuka does have something unique, though: its own brewery, where they make Sharky’s Beer.

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Sharky’s is only available on-base, and since it was going to be several months until our next chance to sample the special suds, we headed right over to the concession stand to get a pour from the tap.

▼ 350 yen (US $3.45) is a great price for draft beer in Japan.

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We were a little puzzled since the menu board showed two differently colored glasses, but when we got to the front of the line and asked for a Sharky’s, the Japanese clerk didn’t ask us which kind we wanted. Maybe there’s really only one type, and they just used a stock photo?

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Our cup of Sharky’s was a bold, golden hue, with only a modest amount of head that made it reminiscent of a military regulation high and tight haircut.

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It’s a well-known scientific fact that beer tastes better if it’s drunk during the summer, outdoors, or while wearing a yukata. Even allowing for this triple-dose of parameter boosters, Sharky’s is a tasty brew with mild citrus notes. It avoids the extreme hoppiness that many microbrews opt for, instead aiming for extreme happiness by being a refreshing beer that’s an excellent choice on a hot afternoon.

There were also stands selling food, and now that our thirst was quenched and our willpower dampened by alcohol, we went to check out what was on offer. For most expats, the longer you spend in Japan, the more you adapt to local habits of eating meat in limited quantities, so we don’t know if it was because of all the America in the air, but at that moment, a gigantic turkey leg sounded pretty darned appealing.

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But what was even more enticing was the chili cheeseburger.

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Since we were good kids and cleaned our plate, we figured we’d earned a little dessert, in the form of a cookie. What’s that? They only come in a three-pack of chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter?


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What was a problem, though, was our dwindling supply of Sharky’s.

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Just as we were about to head back to the same stand for a refill, a Japanese couple sat down next to us at the table, and in the woman’s hand was a dark beer. We asked her what brand it was, and she told us, “Sharky’s.”

Ah ha! So there is more than one kind! Our cup now completely dry, we made our way to a different stand, the Sharkey’s Beer Tent, where we discovered there are actually four different types of the Yokosuka base beer.

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What we’d had first was the Homeport Pilsner Ale. Unfortunately by the time we learned the full extent of the Sharky’s family tree, they’d already sold out of the American Amber Ale and Biere De Garde. Thankfully, there was still a keg of Tokyo Night Ale, and we were only too happy to expand our taste test.

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As you could guess from the name, the Tokyo Night Ale is a stout, although it’s not nearly as heavy as many other beers with that distinction. With a caramelly finish, it’s smooth and satisfying, and won’t leave you feeling particularly bloated or weighed down.

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We were a little disappointed we wouldn’t be able to sample the complete Yokosuka microbrew lineup, but while the lack of spirits temporarily dampened ours, we felt better as soon as the fireworks started.

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After all, we’ll get a chance to try the rest at the next Friendship Day.

▼ How could we not come back again to say hi to our new pal, Sharky?

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Photos: RocketNews24