Photo/IllutrationThe popular canned drink based on the “dashi” stock is available at a vending machine in front of the departure lounge of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. (Yuko Kawasaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The stock is rising for a canned "dashi" stock drink that is proving a big hit at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, where it sells as many as 20,000 cans a month.

Although tea or juice beverages are typically popular at Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines, Uma-dashi, the unique drink with no solid ingredients, has been providing some surprising competition after growing in popularity since its launch in 2015.

Yuki Takao, 39, from the capital’s Nerima Ward, stopped to ask “What’s this?” when hearing her elder sister had found a canned beverage named Uma-dashi in a vending machine at the airport.

Her parents also expressed interest in the product as they say they had “never seen canned dashi.”

Although Yuki remembered a miso soup can that she previously tried tasted too salty and not good, she decided to purchase two cans of Uma-dashi, each of which cost her 140 yen ($1.27).

As its flavor was “lighter than expected,” according to the family, they were delighted and quickly finished drinking it up.

Uma-dashi came to fruition after Masayoshi Iiyama, a senior official of Tokyo-based Big Wing Co., which manages automats at the airport, asked its partner food company, Yamaya Communications Inc. in Fukuoka, to make a dashi drink to rival existing beverages based on corn potage and miso soup.

Kenji Takagi, head of the firm’s new market development promotion section, took up the offer.

“It is a nice idea to promote a product unique to Japan,” said Takagi, in light of "washoku" traditional Japanese cuisine being added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in late 2013, drawing much attention.

They developed the lightly flavored Japanese soup based on six ingredients such as dried bonito and “konbu” kelp along with soy sauce and other seasonings by trial and error.

Uma-dashi’s sales were initially 10,000 cans a month, almost the same level as canned corn potage.

But after the dashi product captured attention on social networking websites, the monthly sales rose to 20,000 cans during the next winter, accounting for 10 percent of total sales. It is rare for soup drinks to sell so well.

Its success at the airport is likely because the mild salty taste helps exhausted plane passengers relax.

While some consumers drink the canned dashi with rice balls, others reheat the drink to use it to cook “ochazuke” rice meals or miso soup. Uma-dashi appeals to a wide range of consumers, with young male passengers in business suits and students during school trips also seen buying it.

Starting from 2016, the drink was also made available at Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and elsewhere only in winter.

“We will pitch it so foreign sightseers will also enjoy the drink,” said Takagi.

Nobuo Harada, a professor of the history of people’s life and culture at Kokushikan University, said Uma-dashi has proved so popular likely because it is easier to use even for young Japanese.

“Dashi is essential for washoku,” Harada said. “It has been re-evaluated as a symbol of Japanese cuisine. Canned dashi is easier to use for young people who do not cook it by themselves.”

Maki Ukai, head of the Dashi Sommelier Kyokai, a group studying the Japanese traditional stock, said she hopes “interest will also grow in pure dashi with no seasonings.”