Can You Drink Tap Water in Japan?

by Christian Monson
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You may get to your Japanese hotel room and find several bottles of clean, delicious water waiting for you. Check the source! Chances are it’s just the local tap water.

Traveling always brings up the question of safe, drinkable tap water. You definitely don’t want to get on the plane home with an upset stomach. Well, in the case of Japan, you needn’t worry. Japan’s tap water is clean and safe, and it often tastes good too. An extensive water treatment system provides drinkable tap water for over 99% of the country.

To plan a trip with health and safety in mind, make sure all your destinations will have safe water and how to get clean bottled water if they don’t. With Japan, you have nothing to worry about, but check the other countries on your itinerary as well.

Japanese Tap Water Overview

History

Japan is an advanced industrialized country with all the knowledge, expertise and equipment to clean their water to a high standard. Japan has actually had central filtered water supplies since the 19th Century making them one of the first in the world to do so. By 1900, seven cities had a central, piped water supply, and by World War II, about a third of the population had access to such a system.

Until World War II, water treatment primarily relied on sand filtration, which did a good job but still left some water-borne pathogens. When the United States occupied the country after the war, they introduced disinfection through chlorine and other chemicals. This became mandatory in 1957, and cases of water-borne illness almost disappeared.

Since that time, Japan has expanded its water infrastructure extensively. Dams have been built to provide reliable reservoirs, and regulations have been passed to prevent the pollution of the water supply.

Today

The government closely monitors the country’s filtration and sanitation systems as well as its water supply. Japan is well-known for having one of the best pipe systems made of stainless steel that help prevent contamination and leakage.

Over three-fourths of Japan’s water uses rapid sand filtration to filter their water while about 20% have no need for filtering and rely only on disinfection. Although most systems originally used chlorine, Japan is constantly developing new, cutting-edge water treatment methods like activated carbon, ozone and air stripping.

In addition to having one of the world’s best treatment schemes, Japan also benefits from an already relatively clean and pure water supply. Of course, every city or town will get its water from a different place, and the quality will vary. However, Japan’s geology as a volcanic archipelago gives it some advantages. Namely, the porous volcanic rocks and high underground temperatures make for pure springwater.

Can you drink tap water in Tokyo?

The tap water in Tokyo is perfectly drinkable and free of pathogens. With one of the world’s most advanced treatment systems designed to treat 300,000 cubic meters a day to serve 13 million Tokyo residents, you can imagine the strict control measures and safety parameters they have in place.

Tokyo sources its water mostly from the Tonegawa, Arakawa and Tamagawa rivers. Water from the Tamagawa river specifically is already very pure and requires little treatment to become drinkable. Still, water from all three sources is sent through a rigorous treatment process.

First, the raw water goes through a sedimentation tank. Ozone treatment provides further disinfection. The water then passes through biological activated carbon treatment to make sure it’s totally pure. Then for added security, water goes through the standard rapid sand filtration before heading to the pipes.

Aside from being safe, the Tokyo waterworks aim for quality, tasty water as well. Specifically, they have their own guidelines for chlorine residue that are below the national rules. The chlorine must be below 0.4 milligrams per liter, making it virtually unnoticeable. In fact, Tokyo tap water is so good that it’s sold bottled in stores.

Can you drink tap water in Kyoto?

Kyoto is so proud of its water purification system that you can actually tour its Keage purification plant in the spring. Built-in 1912, this was the first plant in Japan to use the rapid sand filtration method, which it still employs to this day.

For the main city of Kyoto, the primary water sources of Lake Biwa and Uji River. The water from these sources goes through rigorous purification at three different plants and comes out perfectly drinkable. 

For some of the best tap water in the world, though, head out of downtown Kyoto. When you reach the Fushimi district, you will find public taps flowing with the pure water from underground springs. Because this water is so soft and pure, it’s famous for its use in sake production. You can fill up your water bottles at the tap and then step inside to try the sake it gets turned into.

Can you drink tap water in Hiroshima?

Hiroshima has an advanced and complex water treatment system that makes the tap water clean and drinkable. It goes through a number of steps to ensure maximum safety while minimally affecting the taste.

First, water moves from an intake station to a chemical feeding facility where it’s mixed with disinfectants. It then goes through a mixing basin and flocculator before arriving at the sedimentation basin where large impurities settle to the bottom and leave the water. Then, depending on the water’s source, it passes through either a rapid or slow sand filter. Lastly, a disinfection facility ensures the water is safe before sending it on to service reservoirs. 

In total, Hiroshima has four water treatment facilities that serve the city. Its water treatment history dates all the way back to 1898 when the government began treatment due to the city’s strategic military position. Since then, it’s been one of the country’s most reliable systems, even continuing to provide water after suffering the atomic bomb strike in 1945.

Can you drink tap water in Osaka?

Osaka was the first public water system in the world to receive an ISO 22000 ranking, an international standard for food safety management. You can rest assured the tap water in Osaka is as clean and safe as any you will find in the world.

Osaka operates six different treatment plants monitored from an advanced control room in the Kunijima purification plant. These plants use sedimentation basins, rapid sand filters as well as chlorine for disinfection. Ozone and activated carbon filters remove bad odors and tastes.

Can you drink tap water in Sapporo?

Sapporo, which is located on Japan’s northernmost major island of Hokkaido, is known for its beer breweries. This industry caught hold on the island partly because of the water sources there, often renewed by melting snow, are especially pure. Plus, in the modern age, the industry makes sure that the tap water in their area remains of the highest quality possible.

Sapporo tap water is clean and very safe to drink. Citizens regularly rate their water pollution as very low and their drinking water quality and accessibility as very high. The water treatment system there is so good that they regularly give seminars in developing countries to help them advance their water treatment techniques.

Can you drink tap water in Okinawa?

Okinawa has a much more complicated drinking water situation than the rest of Japan. Being a small, narrow island, sources are limited, and its unique location in the tropical zone to make dangerous pathogens and parasites more prevalent. Originally, the collection of rainwater, especially during the typhoon season was essential to providing the population with enough water. Now that the population has grown and technology advanced, the island has turned to desalinating seawater.

You can be sure the tap water in Okinawa is safe because the same process that removes salt from the seawater also removes any impurifications and other hard chemicals. Often, desalinated seawater has a bad taste and a hardness so low it can be corrosive to pipes. In Okinawa’s case, however, the cleaned seawater is mixed with treated fresh water to balance taste and hardness.

Bottled Water in Japan

Historically, bottled water took a long time to catch on in Japan and was at first seen as a luxury for the rich and elite. While it’s seen a lot of growth in recent decades, consumption is still nowhere near the levels of the West. In 2010, about 20 liters of bottled water were consumed per person in Japan, versus more than 100 liters in countries like the US, Germany, and France.

Nevertheless, there’s certainly plenty of bottled water to be found in Japan if you’re so inclined. The primary domestic producers are Suntory and Kirin, and they account for the vast majority of sales. Japan also imports a small amount of bottled water from companies like Evian and Crystal Geyser.

Many city governments promote the municipal water supply and even sell tap water in bottles. This added competition, as well as the lower demand, keeps prices low. You can usually get a bottle of water for around ¥100, close to $1 depending on exchange rates. These are readily available in convenience stores or the vending machines common throughout the country.

What other countries have safe tap water?

If your trip or relocation is going to take you to more countries than just Japan, it’s good to know what countries have safe tap water. This is especially true for Japan because its neighbors often don’t have the same high water purification standards and quality that they do.

In fact, South Korea and Singapore are the only other East Asian countries generally considered to have safe drinking water. Here is a list of countries with safe tap water that can serve as a general guideline: 

North America

  • Canada
  • Greenland
  • United States

South America

  • Chile

Europe

  • Andorra
  • Austria 
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Lichtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Vatican City

Asia

  • Hong Kong
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea

Oceania

  • Australia
  • New Zealand 

Keep in mind that this list leans to the conservative side, and many countries, especially in eastern Europe may not be listed even though their water is actually quite safe. However, when it comes to tap water, it’s always better safe than sorry. Even excluding pathogens and contaminants, your digestive system might just have trouble handling the water from the new place. If you’re concerned, stick to bottled water.

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