Japan is a booze lover’s paradise. For centuries alcohol has mixed into the local culture, creating friendships and sealing business deals on a daily basis.
A peek into the nation’s history reveals alcohol has always been a way of life—ancient Buddhist temples acted as the primary sake breweries for centuries and Chinese envoys in the third century wrote of the Japanese: “They are much given to strong drink.”
Yet, there are underlying issues mixed in with liquor’s storied legacy. Company employees often feel pressured to drink excessively with their superiors or else miss out on promotions. Walking through any metropolis at night without tripping over a passed out drunk is almost impossible. And alcohol isn’t regarded as a drug, nor alcoholism considered a problem by most of society—leading it to be abused by many.
t’s worth pointing out that Japan’s reputation as a place with a booze problem tends to be sensationalized. In 2014, an advertisement featuring passed out drunks in Tokyo went viral. Western media jumped the resulting hashtag #nomisugi (meaning “drank too much”) even though the video never gained traction in Japan and was likely staged.
When the 2018 World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Global status report on alcohol and health” ranked nations worldwide on alcohol consumption per capita per year, Japan didn’t even come close to first place, ranking at 119 out of 189. However, WHO guidelines typically quantify one unit of alcohol as equal to 10 grams of pure alcohol; in Japan, a typical measurement is twice that at 20 grams per unit.
So, what’s the deal? Do Japanese people drink too much or not?
The truth is, the drinking culture in Japan is complex—a cocktail of excitement, anxiety, and harassment that can be hard to understand even with experience. For some, drinking is simply a fun and stress-free way to unwind and connect with peers; for others, it’s a crippling addiction.
I lived in Japan for six years and spent most of that time drinking. Many of my best memories (when I can recall them!) involve booze.
So do some of my worst.
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