“Japan urges its young people to drink more to boost economy” BBC headline
What more reliable distraction from our woes than some titillation from Japan. Clive James may no longer be with us, and Chris Tarrant on TV much less these days, but the spirit of Japonisme, birthed when the reclusive nation was forced open by US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854, is very much alive.
So, our tax authorities in Japan, alarmed at falling revenues from a drop in alcohol sales have launched a competition to encourage more boozing.
The story’s been covered by multiple UK outlets, so I thought I’d take a deeper dive into comparative drinking culture in Japan and Ireland.
Prices: with low duties here, I can buy a perfectly palatable bottle of Spanish Tempranillo for less than £2. A litre of Black Bush costs £20, and a 330ml can of Draught Guinness is £1.62 at my local bottle shop. (xe.com rate at time of writing).
A pint of Guinness in a pub will cost between £6.15 and £7.40, and a 500ml domestic lager between £3.70 and £5.
Drinking customs: in the raucous Izakaya pubs we sit down to drink, share a selection of tapas-like dishes with our friends, shout heartily to order get more food or drink delivered to the table, and pay when we leave. The bill is divvied up to the last yen, and tips are neither expected or often accepted.
Typical izakaya visits last for two hours (you’ll often be offered a slot of this length) after which those with shorter commutes or stronger livers may go on to karaoke (again a two hour slot). The real party animals in the group can choose to drink until dawn and the first train home if they so wish.
Unlike Ireland or the UK, most drinking is done on weeknights (though the law is strict, drunk driving is less of an issue thanks to the country’s transport infrastructure), and with colleagues or clients. People talk shop and, as with alcohol present, have carte blanche to vent their spleens, something which is largely taboo in the office. ‘Las Vegas Rules’ apply, so what happens in the Izakaya, stays in the Izakaya.
With fewer and fewer working in the office these days (we’re surfing our 7th Covid wave), I suspect the biggest source of tax office woes is a drop in work-related drinking spend, which has seen many bars and restaurants go to the wall.
A competition to get young people to drink more may seem counterintuitive in health-obsessed modern Europe, but the economic importance of alcohol in a society where business relationships are valued more than transactions, can’t be underestimated.
Drinking patterns are also shifting. Whereas earlier generations wouldn’t have refused a request to go drinking with the boss, Millenials and females value their work/life balance much more, and increasingly shun such events.
Originally from the Ormeau Road in Belfast, Michael McCoy has worked with Japan for the past 30 years, and is a Tokyo-based executive coach.