Dydo — "American Coffee"

by Marxy

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I hear stories from Costa Rica that the coffee bean farmers divide up their crop by quality and send the highest grade beans off to their most demanding international market — Japan. Whether in petite cans or freshly procured from an espresso machine, Japanese coffee is first-class, and most everyone on this island nation is well aware of that fact.

So what kind of poor soul steps up to the neighborhood vending machine and intentionally buys a can of Dydo's "American Coffee"?

You first have to understand the size of the beast. An ordinary Boss product could easily fit inside this monstrous can of coffee, leading me to believe that the word "American" does not describe the preparation style of the beverage, but provides a measurement for the gross quantity of liquid inside. I secretly suspect that this product is a way for Dydo to sell off surplus of their other drinks at a discounted price.

Regardless, the branding behind "American Coffee" is pure genius: a beverage that tastes just like bad Japanese coffee before the mass sophistication of the '80s and '90s. This canned coffee symbolizes the America that the industrious Japanese masses formerly strived to imitate, before waking up one morning in the Bubble Economy and realizing that they had far surpassed their mentors. Even the can design is working a retro angle — vaguely psychedelic letters swirl upward as the Stars and Stripes boldly emerge from a giant 1950s gas-guzzling car with an extremely busty blond woman in a loose dress sitting on the hood. I imagine it now: the year is 1969 and the new recruits at Tokyo Gas are taking a break from their paper-pushing to share a giant can of American Coffee and reflect on their dream of one day owning two color televisions.

Flash forward twenty years, and their kids are carrying miniature cans of UCC Black to go with this season's Issey Miyake ensemble. Who would be caught dead with this ugly tan vat of "American" "Coffee"?


But the heyday for all that fashionable snobbery is long since past, and Japanese tastes have returned to a simpler appreciation of low cost and raw heft. In 2006, American Coffee has a new legion of imbibers. The thirsty, tired masses looking for an immediate influx of caffeine. The broke freeter hoping to procure two portions from one purchase. The nostalgic salaryman thinking back on a simpler era when the recipe for a perfect life consisted of little more than successfully evading questions at the job interview about previous Leftist student group activity and finding a vacant danchi close to the office for the wife and kids.

I very much doubt that I will pick up another can of American Coffee in the near future. I'm not sure the Easy Rider design motif really fits with my self-image, and this makes me wonder: is "America" stuck forever being the spiritual home to the cowboys, burly guys with awful tattoos, football jocks and fighter pilots that would gladly drink this giant can of coffee? Aren't eccentrics Marshall McLuhan, Doug Henning and Alan Thicke just as American? I envy the national image of Japan: samurai and good taste in coffee will surely never go out of style. The fact that Dydo brands their cheap coffee as "American" should be an obvious sign that we need to re-brand America — out of that 1950s cheap, mass-market image into something sexier and sleeker. I hope the hot rod and Betsy Ross version of the United States isn't a permanent part of our world — just as I hope I'll someday comedown from the unbearable caffeine buzz of this wicked surplus brew.

Marxy (W. David Marx) is a Tokyo-based writer and musician. His debut album Kyoshu Nostalgia was released last January on New York City's Beekeeper Records. Marxy's articles about Japanese pop culture can be found in various publications, including GQ, Harper's Magazine, the Japan Times, The Fader, Nylon for Guys, Tokion, and OK Fred, and also his blog, Neomarxisme. Marxy is highly sensitive to caffeine.

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