Japan has a love affair with alcohol. Starting with their national liquor, sake, Japan has continued to expand its presence in the liquor market since, well, the advent of the liquor market. Scholars have found references to sake as far back as the Kojiki, Japan’s first written record. Since then, they’ve expanded their repertoire of alcohol manufacturing to include some of the world’s finest beers, whiskeys, and libations. So, with all of these wonderful alcohols just sitting around, waiting to be consumed, who do you think does the consuming? The answer, as it turns out, is everybody. Seriously. Everybody. There’s even “Kid’s Beer.”
This is the second in a series of posts concerning alcohol in various aspects of Japan’s culture. In this one, we’re covering alcohol and young adults.
Japan’s businessmen may have a high-stress, tightly wound world, but what about Japanese college students? These young adults not only have all of the rules and responsibilities inherent in Japanese culture in general, but have the extra stress of dealing with constant exams, loads of homework, and one of the most competitive academic environments in the world. So how do they deal with it? How do they relax during all of their rigorous testing?
They drink! And they drink a lot, it turns out. I’m sure you think that in Western countries like the United States and the UK we tend to take the cake on the drinking scene, but it’s not so. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the National Hospital Organization in Japan, the amount of alcohol-dependent, college-aged people has doubled since 1984, with many of those affected drinking underage, before they even entered High School. It’s not a secret that one can walk down the street in Japan and find vending machines which will sell beer, and I, personally, have often wondered how these machines are monitored in terms of selling only to people who are of legal age. The answer seems to be, in spite of Japan’s clear laws regarding the legal drinking age, that these machines are indeed unmonitored, allowing underage people to obtain alcohol with ease. This ease of obtaining alcohol, coupled with a prevalent drinking culture among the adults of Japan, encourages young adults to begin drinking at an early age.
Not only do the young people of Japan begin drinking earlier, it seems that women tend to drink more than men. It makes sense, since the pressures on women in Western society are well-documented, from misogynistic tendencies in the workplace to constant bombardment by photoshopped images of perfect bodies. These same pressures exist in Japan, only an order of magnitude greater. Japan has a long, well-documented history of male chauvinism. Though it isn’t covered in the results of the survey I read, I would imagine that there are sharply higher number of young alcoholic women than young alcoholic men would have to do with the young women being faced with different, extensive pressures which the college-aged male simply doesn’t have to face. At least, not in the same way women have to. Gender also has an effect on what alcohol is preferred. As is the case here in America, among men, the leading choice of alcohol is beer, whereas among women, the drinks of choice are often sweet or fruity cocktails.
The thing gender doesn’t seem to have an effect on is preference of western liquors of traditionally Japanese ones. Sake and others are being pushed aside for beer, vodka, and cocktails at an increasing pace in Japan, as the culture starts to migrate away from its original roots and toward a more modern drink scene. The number one choice in Japan is still beer, holding strong over every other type of alcohol available. Of course, beer is pretty much the most popular alcoholic drink in the world, so it’s not exactly surprising.
Regardless, of drink of choice, however, it seems that younger drinking is on the rise in Japan, with over 70% of students having had experience with alcohol by the time they reached high school. Compared with the American statistic of about 33% of students responding as having had experience with alcohol by the time they were 16, the Japanese students are blowing us out of the water. Easy access, an intensely alcohol-focused adult culture, and a lack of supervision have contributed to a sharp rise in underage drinking in Japan, and leads to more and more problems later in life. At least the Japanese still check your ID if you’re purchasing alcohol in a bar or grocery store environment, but as long as access is as easy as finding the nearest beer vending machine, I can only imagine that the problem will get worse. Japan may have laws against underage drinking on the books, but it doesn’t have the police to enforce such laws. Here in America however, and particularly in Salt Lake City, the laws are very strict regarding alcohol. Though, as evidenced by the numbers, it isn’t a perfect system.
Good thing we’re (most of us, in this class) already over the legal age.
Keep eating/drinking the good stuff!