While many governments around the world would probably be delighted if their citizens drank less alcohol, Japan is taking a contrarian approach and calling on the country’s young people to do their bit for the nation and drink more.
The National Tax Agency (NTA) is running a campaign targeted at people aged between 20 and 39, inviting them to propose ways in which drinking can be made more popular for that demographic, Jiji Press reported.
The agency has launched the “Sake Viva!” competition for the best ideas for new products and alternative opportunities for opening a can or bottle, such as drinking at home.
The contest winners are due to be announced in early September, with the agency hoping the ideas that emerge from the booze brainstorming session help increase sales once more and, of course, increase the government’s tax income.
The domestic drinks industry has welcomed the campaign, pointing out that consumption of alcoholic drinks in Japan has typically gone through fads of popularity but has been in general decline for several decades.
“Peak consumption in Japan was about 40 years ago, but it has declined significantly since then,” said Hiromi Iuchi, a spokeswoman for the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers’ Association.
“Back then, people drank sake pretty much every day, but then beer started to become really popular, then Japan went through its wine boom, then the whisky boom and now there are a lot of imported drinks available, but still there is a general fall in the amount being consumed,” she said.
The reasons for the decline are numerous. Japan’s economy has been stagnant for three decades, meaning that people have less disposable income than in the boom years of the “bubble economy”.
There is also a growing understanding of the health effects linked to drinking too much, and less tolerance in the society of misbehaviour associated with drinking, as well as young people having more ways to spend their free time than they did a generation ago.
For sake and shochu, the primary cause for the drop-off is more fundamental, says Iuchi.
“Unfortunately, the image of our traditional drinks is that they are only consumed by old people,” she said. “Sake and shochu are simply not fashionable now”.
And that is why Iuchi is hopeful the campaign is a roaring success – although she insists the industry is also firmly behind the “drink responsibly” campaign.
According to the NTA, the average Japanese drank 100 litres of alcohol in 1995, but only 75 litres in 2020.
Tax income from alcohol has also declined, shrinking from 5 per cent of total tax income in 1980 to just 1.7 per cent in 2020. The government’s income through taxation on alcohol in fiscal 2020 came to Y1.1 trillion, down by Y110 billion.
That sort of single-year decline will be causing alarm bells to ring in Japan’s Finance Ministry, which is already wrestling with the largest national debt in the world – some 263 per cent of GDP at the end of 2021 and surpassing Y10 million per capita for the first time.
While consumption in bars and restaurants inevitably declined during the pandemic, with after-work drinking spots forced to close early and many people reluctant to dine out, there is also a fear that people are now no longer in the habit of going out, and have become accustomed to staying at home and drinking less.
Iuchi is hopeful that the agency’s competition will lead to an inspirational promotion campaign, on par with the hugely successful worldwide campaign for Beaujolais Nouveau wine. Started in the 1960s, the “race” to be the first to uncork the new Beaujolais became something of a phenomenon, she said, despite the wine being of relatively low quality.
“We are really hopeful that something good is going to come out of this, but it needs to be a campaign that encourages people to drink over the longer term rather than just another short-lived fad,” she said. “Japan has some great drinks and we need to communicate that to consumers.”
This article was first published in Asia One . All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.