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Underage drinking in Japan is about to get even easier

By Casey Baseel

I’ve never been bothered by being asked for proof of age when buying beer. Maybe it’s because even when I was 16 I apparently already looked old enough that strangers in convenience store parking lots would ask me to buy a six pack for them, but I never took a clerk asking to see my ID as an insult. I simply accepted it as part of the societal dance necessary to procure my beloved barley juice.

Some drinkers in Japan, though, take offense at being asked for proof that they’re not minors. The Aeon Group, one of Japan’s largest retailers, has responded with a generous change in policy, and will no longer ask certain customers for confirmation of age, despite the fact that Japan’s underage drinking prevention is already ridiculously easy to circumvent.

In more than a decade living in Japan, I’ve seen someone get carded when trying to buy beer exactly once, when it happened to a good friend of mine who was already in his late 20s. Whereas I would have taken it as a compliment, it rattled him enough that he immediately started growing a beard, which he continued to sport for the next several months.

Similarly, some customers at Aeon supermarkets, along with the Mini Stop chain of convenience stores the company operates, take issue with being asked to confirm their age when buying alcohol or tobacco products. In Japan, both the legal drinking and smoking ages are 20.

Aeon says it has received continued complaints from middle-aged and elderly customers about the practice, which is surprising enough since one would expect them to be the most flattered for being accused of looking like a teenager. The complaint gets even stranger once you consider how quick and painless the process of proving legal adulthood currently is.

Aeon’s method is the same as most merchants in Japan. As the cashier rings up the items, if any are age-restricted, a message pops up on the touch panel monitor that faces the customer. Take a look at it and see if you can spot the potential loophole.

All you have to do to prove you’re old enough to take that whole case of Ebisu out into the parking lot and drink yourself into a stupor is tap your finger. Literally anyone tall enough to reach the screen is good to go, so unless all of the complaints Aeon has been getting are from midgets, we’re not sure exactly what all the griping is about.

Our more larcenous readers will spot another crack in the system’s defenses. While the question posed is, “Are you over 20?” the only response option is “Yes.” Even if you’re the scrupulous type who grabbed a couple of canned chu-hi shochu sours by mistake, there’s no selection that lets you back out gracefully.

This is even backed up by the cashier. When the screen comes up, you’ll never hear a clerk say, “Excuse me, are you old enough to buy this?” or “Are you a minor?” The standard line is, “Please touch the panel.”

Still, if there are two ironclad rules of Japanese society, they’re “don’t do anything that might offend others” and “don’t do anything that might stop the beer flowing.” As a result, Aeon has said that by March, it will cease uniformly asking for confirmation of age. Instead, it will be up to individual clerks to judge if the customer might be underage, in which case they’ll once again be asked to confirm with the touch panel (you know, the one that doesn’t let them say they actually are underage).

Some have voiced concern that Aeon’s laxer policy will lead to an increase in underage drinking, but we’re not sure how plausible this theory is. Japan is already home to a ready and waiting battalion of beer vending machines. Most minors don’t have a car, so there isn’t the same level of concern about drunk driving that there is in some other nations, and teen pregnancy rates remain low, so the lasting ramifications of a night of youthful inebriated passion are limited at worst.

All things taken into account, it’s unlikely that Aeon’s shift will be met with much of an uproar, particularly when it gives the middle-aged and elderly the chance to get home a second earlier, which is one less second of waiting until they can drink that beer.

Sources: Itai News, Asahi Shimbun

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Is it safe for minors to drink non-alcohol beer? We turn to Japan’s top breweries for answers -- Sixth-Grader and Friends Served Beer and Other Alcoholic Drinks at Local Pub -- Mint chocolate beer sounds great, but how does it taste? We find out

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Aeon’s method is the same as most merchants in Japan. As the cashier rings up the items, if any are age-restricted, a message pops up on the touch panel monitor

Does this guy only buy beer at convenience stores? Out of all the supermarkets I regularly go to (seiyu, yaoko, OK, ito yokado, belc, tobu store, iida, hanamasa, etc) none of them requires any action from the customer when buying alcohol.

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My neighborhood has beer, whiskey, shochu and sake vending machines. How can you police underage drinking when the companies that sell alcohol and society in general don't care?

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In Japan you have junior high students, lots of girls, and lots of high school students that drink alcohol. Therefore underage drinking is not considered such a great deal. In fact there are laws enacted against selling, consuming, and giving alcohol to minors but nobody upholds or cares about it. Yet underage drinking can be dangerous not only for the drinker but also for society, as evident by the number of alcohol-involved motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and other injuries. Unfortunately some people who begin drinking early in life do run the risk of developing serious alcohol problems before they develop. But today alcohol consumption continues to increase among young people and is considered to be pretty popular and Japan is a drinking culture. .

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Was carded in the USA at age 40. Took it as a compliment..

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That's interesting Zichi! Have not seen them here in Fukushima in probably 8 years. And yeah - makes you wonder why the authorities are tighter with regulations of cigarette machines than alcohol ones? Kids can be trusted with alcohol but not tobacco?

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Many of my college students are in the izakayas here on the weekends - funnily enough its mainly the girls - and they are mostly 18/19. This is - technically in Japan - "underage drinking". The only problem Ive really seen is the freshmen Med. Students getting smashed in Spring and swimming across the river for some type of initiation, which does scare me a bit.

As for the alcohol vending machines, they seem limited these days to hotels. Haven't seen them on the street in years.

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I hate the "card anyone who even looks at a beer even if they are over 70" approach that you sometimes get in the US.

They're just legally covering their ass. If they give alcohol to a minor without checking, and if something happens due to that, then the alcohol establishment could get sued and/or prosecuted. Instead of leaving it up to the discretion of the cashier, the business just requires the cashier to check everyone buying alcohol - simpler that way and not subjective to the eye of the beerholder.

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Agree, under age drinking is not a jproblem. Japan is a nation that has had beer vending machines for decades that anyone could use.

I hate the "card anyone who even looks at a beer even if they are over 70" approach that you sometimes get in the US.

Anyway, the legal age for drinking should never be higher than the age of suffrage. If you can be trusted to choose a prime minister or president, you should be able to choose whether you fancy a beer.

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Japan doesn't really have a problem with underage drinking anyway. You don't see groups of teenagers getting drunk on the street or in parks like you do in the UK for example, even though it's really easy to buy booze. Vending machines amazingly don't get vandalised as they probably would elsewhere either. Young people in Japan just don't seem to be as into it-maybe because they are too busy with club activities and cram school!

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I have been carded twice as well, both times at the same cigar shop in Machida, Tokyo. I went there at the same time, on the same day, two weeks in a row, and bought the same cigar... from the owner. I didn't see anyone else buy anything, so I can't comment on wether or not she carded everyone.

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Don't see a big deal about underage drinking. I did it when I was fifteen when the legal age in New York was eighteen. My friends and I drank in a park, usually after playing ball, then went home. If you aren't hurting anyone or yourself then I don't see a big problem. Best to worry more about drinking and driving, suicides and other much more pressing social issues.

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