One of the things you may notice when you come to Japan is how much drinking seems to be going on. Certain Japanese societal circles (the workplace, university clubs, etc) run more smoothly with the help of alcoholic lubrication in the form of after-hours “drinking parties” to facilitate team-building and bonding—it’s called nomication (or nominication), a portmanteau of “nomu” (to drink) and “communication”.
So we were quite surprised to discover recently that Japan’s level of alcoholic beverage consumption is actually way, way down. But why?
The new findings, dubbed the “Alcohol Report”, came to light following research conducted by the National Tax Agency in May this year. The report details the average alcohol consumption per person per year for the period 1989–2013. We’ve crunched up all the data into a handy line graph below for easy digestion.
As you can see, booze consumption has been dropping pretty steadily for the past several decades. The peak time for alcohol imbibing seems to have been the early ’90s, specifically 1992 when the average person was knocking back some 108 liters (24 gallons) of alcoholic beverages per year. In 2013, that number was down to 82.8 literes. We should also point out that, while Japan’s birth rate is dropping, the number of adults of drinking age has actually increased since 1992. It would appear, therefore, that today’s young people are increasingly abstaining from alcohol at the age when you would realistically expect them to be doing most of their chugging.
So what’s the cause of all this? Healthier living? Rising costs? Social apathy? And is there any connection between Japan’s falling birthrate and the decline in alcohol consumption?
So what’s the cause of all this? Healthier living? Rising costs? Social apathy? And is there any connection between Japan’s falling birthrate and the decline in alcohol consumption? (Maybe people would be feeling a little friskier if they were knocking back a few on the reg?)
The survey also identified Japan’s booziest prefectures (below, right).
As you can see, Japan’s capital leads the way for drunkenness, but since it’s also so densely populated, that’s not so surprising. We were always led to believe that Osakans have a fondness for the sauce, but these figures don’t really reflect that, since Kansai’s most vibrant city is limping along in 7th place.
Here’s what Japanese netizens had to say about the report:
“If you want us to drink more, then lower the tax on it. Know what I’m sayin’?” “It’s expensive ’cause of the TAX, duh.” “Isn’t it a good thing if we’re drinking less, though?” “It’s because you can’t drive at all if you drink, plus booze is expensive, plus we’re too busy these days.” “Well, we’ve been raised with the knowledge that cigarettes and alcohol aren’t good for you.” “Only scum drink; when you drink you inconvenience everyone around you.” “It’s not for health reasons, it’s because it’s too darn expensive.” “Stop blaming the cost, you can get cheap beer for less than bottled water.” “When drinking with friends, it’s good to just knock back cheap stuff when you’re drinking a lot. At home, I like to pair a delicious meal with something classier. And I also enjoy sipping on a glass of nice brandy while I read.” “It’s the economy. There’s no big mystery here.” Whatever the reason may be, we suppose this means there’s more for the rest of us. Kanpai!
Source: Nico Video News
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Frederick Stimson Harriman
Way back when, there was a lot of "going drinking" without actually drinking what was in front of you. Common practice was that you often went to a bar for its atmosphere, because you hoped to see a certain pretty lady, or simply because you had some kind of social obligation to go - either to the people you went with, or to the establishment because of some special relationship with the owner. In those days, a pretty lady would rush to fill your glass or cup, and even throw out what was left in your glass so as to make you feel special by going through the motions of making you a fresh mizu-wari. If the Boss was paying, this was often the sort of place you would end up. It was astounding to see how much liquor was either thrown out or left on the table when we struck out to another bar for a change of mood. No one did this with the booze they paid for out of their own pocket, of course. But it was the norm if someone else was paying, and that was quite often.
It stands to reason that people and organizations are more frugal with their drinking now, after having gone through economic contractions, and generation changes. Even if no one may notice a decline in socializing over drinking, I'll wager that patronage of Bars is less forgiving of the old, profligate model, and the drink itself is being optimized. I am a sort of Rip VanWinkle every time I return to Japan, because I still have the image of the Bubble Years in my mind, and sections of town that were packed with Bars are now half empty. It makes sense to me that there has been a contraction in the volume of booze sold too - but maybe the actual per capita amount consumed has not really changed very much.
This article also refers to the volume of liquid drank.
There has been fashion for shochu at the expense of beer, which may account for some of this difference.
@skinnee. People over 35 are old? How dare you. Disgusting isn't it? How some people are unable to cope without alcohol. Let's install an Islamic State of Japan. No alcohol on pain of death. There. Problem solved. Sarcasm intended. As far as I can tell, it seems that younger people in Japan are simply drinking at home, hence the apparent decline in alcohol consumption figures. And let's not forget any margin of error. Japanese can hardly be considered drinking heavyweights when compared to their western counterparts.
@Hampton.... spot on... all the above. In the 80's even Ridley Scott thought Japan was taking over the world but in reality it was just a blip. They ran out of gas.
I have recently been to izakaya with free tables all night on a Friday and Saturday. Ten years ago you would never have got in without waiting 30 minutes or more. Two izakaya near my place have closed in the last 12 months and have not been replaced, and this is Tokyo suburbs. I go out a lot less because I don't like being smoked all over and most places still have no proper no-smoking section. Plus it's getting pricey and the tax is seldom included in the price lists they hand you, which always bugs the crap out of me. Main reasons are the decline in population, the decline in smoking population, the dearth of no-smoking areas, the decline in company entertainment budgets and the rising prices. 4 bottles of crappy Japanese beer (with no brand choice) and a few bits of bad food runs to around 3500 yen. It's too pricey for younger people.
College freshman seem to do just fine. Any decline can be chalked up to a lack of effort. Come on Japan, where is that old 'ganbaru' spirit?
That's pretty funny. If you're looking for an economic scapegoat, then go with private corporate behavior. Japanese corporations are funneling more of their revenue toward shareholder returns and plain old savings...money that generally no longer filters down to the consumers .
Abenomics does help support this system, but it also provides an antidote: the govt spending and loose money polices that are aimed at distributing money to make up for the growing money piles the corporates are now hoarding for themselves.
imo, the top 3 (kirin, asahi & sapporo) are way overpriced at over ¥1000 for a 6-pack. Going out to TGI Fridays or an izakaya once or twice per mo. adds up too.
Along with what Yubaru points out, I can see this happening.
I don't drink much - maybe 2-3 times a year. I can take alcohol or leave it. But the idea of banning it altogether is offensive to me. If people want to drink, let them.
The financial cost, the health implications, the sloppiness, the inability to drive safely, the fatness, the violence, the hangover pain, the vomiting, the dehydration, the lost productivity, the blackouts, the mysterious injuries and not to mention the karaoke.
Some people handle it better than others whatever. Whenever I see "old" people (over 35) getting bling drunk in public, it makes me sick and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
I love alcohol. It's a great slave but a terrible master. It's given me great joy over the years. Nothing like catching up with some mates and getting on it for a few hours. The nanny statists that don't like alcohol really get on my nerves.
I hardly see any information about alcoholism, which I suspect afflicts many around me. Some people I know are always drunk when I see them. I always wonder if there is AA here. As for the article: What aren't Japanese people doing less of than in 1992? Money was falling from the sky back then! Everything is relative.
There will never be a day when alcohol is gone for good. It is too good, too delicious. A cold beer on a hot japanese summer's day is among the most wonderful things ever.
I cannot understand why people do not drink, apart from religious types and borderline orthorexics. The former have it thrust upon then by birth, and the latter are so tedious that I welcome venues where I do not come across them.
And let's not forget Japan's strange obsession with subsidising the farmers in Beaujolais so that they continue producing the world's worst wine. I wonder how much beaujolais nouveau adds to the total? At least a litre or two?
Why don't you look at the stats before speaking? There was a steep drop beginning around 2000, but in the last 4 years, the rate has stabilized and actually increased slightly last year. If what you are saying was true, then the rate would continue to decline. But since it isn't then your theory is completely wrong.
This is good news. Chugging your money away isn't a plan. Have a nice beer in the summer on a patio with friend is great but you don't have to over do it. Socially the only downside is there's less manner to blow off steam or tell the truth to bosses and colleagues.
The upside is that maybe Japanese will start playing more sports? It might be why there are many more hikers now it seems, albeit that may be a mistaken correlation
I was surprised that from year 2010 roughly, my uni students were getting increasinly into drinking at 'home' parties. The reason is going out is too expensive and half of them are under 20. Then the 'home' being one students' 1 DK and the liquid being a dozen of shochu bottles (the cheapest, the biggest amount they can find). And they really binge more than predecessors did in nomihodai izakayas. They binge like eikaiwa teachers. More cases of ethylic comas, badly sick the next days, etc. That said, I think that during the 2 or 4 yrs of studies, they either become heavy alcoholics (for a few) or deterred from alcohol (for most). Young adults are no longer into nomikai, they are more for having one glass or beer/wine with a meal occasionnally.
Maybe in certain countries (the US ?), but not in Japan nor in Europe. Grandpas drink more often, more of it, stronger stuff, and grandmas that were reasonable workers and mothers become party animals.... Well, I'd say from 60 to 80 (or 90 ?), they drink, then at some point, they can only stop as the nursing home staff put them on a decaf and sweetened water diet.
In 1990 it was calculated that 12% of Japan's population was 65 or older. That figure is now at 26% with an increasing number of them being women. Demographically it would be absurd to think that Japan would have seen anything other than a decrease in volume of alcohol consumed. This article should be about the changing tastes in Japan... not a decrease in consumption.
This is great news. As another person pointed out, the idea of the alcohol guzzling, cigarette smoking person is one of the past.
I look forward to the day when alcohol and cigarettes are gone for good. They serve no purpose, other than to make money for the drug dealers selling them.
I sense that consumption is on the decline the world over. The internet has provided a social and knowledge resource and shows people that easily accessible alternative non-alcohol soaked lifestyles are out there for everyone, and anyone can jump into a new way of living and be put in contact with new friends at the click of a button.
Instagram, Facebook, etc., have changed everything.
Most cross-sectional population surveys indicate that alcohol consumption decreases with age. But whether this decreased consumption is actually due to aging, rather than shared characteristics among people born around the same time or period effects is unknown. Some population surveys will indicate that abstinence rates increases with age and mean alcohol consumption decreases with age. In other words within each age group, consumption generally increases across time which suggest a possible period effect and a cohort effect in women. Also in heavy drinking rates can decrease with age but generally it increases within each age group.
I find it hard to keep track of my bottle keep with all the bottles marked (スミス) & (ジョーンズ) with the odd one marked (オールドブラウン牛)
I work (for 3+ years now) at the university level. I know some of my students drink from time to time, but from what I have observed from the universities I have worked at, people drink WAY WAY WAY WAY more at Uni in the USA.
No, consumption per individual. If you can read Japanese, a quick google search will reveal this.
Again, no. A recent survey revealed that only 73% of young men (under 25) drink in Japan. That's significantly lower than average and over a 15% drop compared with just 10 years ago.
I see boozing peaked the year after I arrived..........coincidence...............
And now as I get older yeah I drink less, but better beer/booze. I cant stomach the happoshu garbage that stuff is likely toxic!
It seems this entire trend may all be because of me, oh what a cross to bear!
Seems to me that spirits are extremely cheap in Japan. You can buy gin at a regular shop cheaper than duty free in Australia and some rum is only around 800 yen a bottle. And most spirits are imported. I am actually surprised there is not more drinking going on.
I would say that what is keeping izakayas in business is not the company-paid sessions, as companies can ill afford to pay for entertainment today the way they did in the past, but the all you can eat & drink places that offer 2 to 3 hours of both for between 2,500 and 3,000.
Also many employees pay a certain amount of money, per month, from their pay that actually pays for the drinking parties too. The managers and above throw in a little more as well.
If no one has any money then these izakayas and other drinking places would be shut, they are not, many are flourishing with cheaper menus and drinking plans.
No one has any money. Times are tough, especially since the tax increase as other commenters have pointed out. I'd also add that the only thing keeping most izakayas in business is the company-paid drinking sessions.
If the actual number of drinking parties and/or drinkers has gone down as they say than it must have been a downright horror show back then, and I came around that time, because it's an asbolute disaster right now and THAT hasn't changed one bit since I arrived. The only difference I've seen when it comes to drinking is the number of people that have switched to cheap Happoshu instead of the premium beers because of price. This country is still a nation that promotes, even URGES, alcoholism. The number of friends I have in their 30s and 40s who are on liver function meds, or have liver related illnesses, is astounding. But on top the of the pressure to drink at the many, many, MANY drinking parties they have at work, at home, with friends, with clubs, etc., there is the stigma attached with people who develop alcohol dependency -- and basically if you reach the point where a doctor has to stop you it's probably too late and some damage has been done.
Money is a factor, but not with all the aforementioned cheap choices of happoshu. At the 7-11 near my apartment, for example (and I'm assuming it's chain-wide), they have something called "7-11 The Brew", which is about 177 yen vs. regular, premium beer at 202 or more. At discount liquor shops a case of beer similar to this (if you can call it beer) is DIRT cheap -- nearly the same as orange juice or tea. What bugs me most is that the alternatives for people who are alcohol dependent, or trying to wean themselves off it but still 'need a fix', such as the popular alcohol free series by each major company are MORE expensive than the happoshuu or sometimes even the premium beers. You would think a contrary that has such a serious alcohol problem would want to give a bit more incentive for people to drink less or stop drinking by offering a cheaper, but similar, alternative. A friend of mine quit drinking (his Gamba GP level, or whatever it's called, was 650 when it should be about 20!) for a while and switched to All Free for a couple of weeks but the poor guy basically just replaced happoshu for that and went through his 'allowance' in no time flat. Eventually he went back to drinking alcohol because it was cheaper. I tried to point out the fact that he could just drink coffee or something else instead, but he just can't do it. I have another friend who drinks the Asahi brand of non-alcohol beer because she was an alcoholic, and even though she is trying to quit drinking that as well (she jokes she is a 'non-alcoholic') because it's still dependency she told me last month she spent nearly 70,000 yen on that alone. Don't ask me how, but there you go.
Anyway, the number of people going out drinking may be down, but the level of alcoholism doesn't seem to be at all. It's just cheaper to pick it up at the combini and drink yourself into a stupor at home.
as a non drinker or smoker I have more money to spend on my other more healthy hobbies
I wonder how much Starbucks and similar cafes have influenced drinking habits. Japanese are primarily social drinkers. The smoke-free cafe is a cheaper and healthier place to socialize. My favorite Starbucks is always packed.
The Japanese "nombel" of other times, the jolly guy with a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, is a passing phenomena. Recalling hangovers of years past, that is not a bad thing.
Of course consumption of beer by uni-kids is going down, there are less of them than ever before. Plus with the rise in people drinking other alcoholic beverages beer consumption will go down. It aint plummeting either.
More people are refusing to drink after work with their coworkers, but that doesnt mean they are not drinking, like roger jolly commented, the izakaya and bars are LOADED with younger drinkers nightly, they drink with their friends and not coworkers.
Yes in Japan, younger people drink more than elderly, it's a fact. Physically tolerance levels change as one gets older, that's a fact too.
Sobering news indeed...
Where I live the pervasive and invasive creep of the nanny state has started to target alcohol consumption in a big way.
Japan's decline probably demographic related. My father in law rips into his sake every night but his generation is starting to die out.
That may be true in general, but not in Japan. It is a fact that younger coworkers are refusing invitations to go drinking from their superiors and consumption of beer by university students is plummeting.
Yabaru makes a good point. Besides demographics and declining incomes, two other contributing factors are possibly the increase in people spending time with their computer or phone rather than each other and companies cutting down or eliminating their entertainment budgets, thus shifting the burden on to workers or decreasing the after-work drinking ritual.
Really? I agree with Yubaru: I do not see any change. Izakayas are full and my colleagues and students, even women drink a lot. At supermarket, in the evening, every night, companies workers at the casher have always one or two 6 beer package in their basket...
There are plenty of things that are going to be coming out in studies put out by so-called professionals, like this.
This is a no brainer, as the population ages, people drink less. Older folks typically dont drink as much as younger one's hence statistics will show that the population in general is drinking less.
This survey, to be anywhere close to being considered "accurate" has to show the demographics of the people being interviewed. Otherwise it's just propaganda.
Be prepared for all sorts of "studies" like this in the upcoming future; "Japan is (fill in the blank) less!"
I stopped drinking and smoking because of the tax increase. We purchase very little now because of Abenomics. Although we hate Abenomics it has definitely made us more efficient. We don't want to spend not even 100 yen if it's not necessary. Decisions are more critical than ever before.
Would love to have a drink more often but as long as Abe's regime is in place we will not consume. Sorta like those hunger strike guys.
It's hard to go out drinking when you're jobless, broke and depressed.