Japanese enjoy their tipples too

July 19, 1996

Russians dying for a drink" by Zhores Medvedev (THES, July 12) contains a number of inaccurate comparisons making reference to Japan.

Japanese living standards are not lower than those of Americans or west Europeans in significant ways except those elements of living standard that are directly tied to physical space. Per capita disposable income in Japan exceeds that in a number of European countries.

While a 5.5 day work week (not six as the author claims) was common through the early 1980s, it is no longer the norm in Japan.

The claim that "Japanese people also smoke less than Americans and drink very little alcohol" is totally spurious. Anyone who has worked in Japan will have experienced the blue haze that often characterises both corporate and public offices. Finding a smoke (or smoker) free restaurant is nearly impossible. Alcohol also plays a major role in both Western-style corporate entertaining and in Japanese-style peer bonding.

Aside from drinking as a near mandatory part of work, Japanese (primarily males) enjoy a tipple at home. For example, according to Nippon Business Facts and Figures 1994, the average Japanese household in 1993 bought 13.7 litres of sake, 55.0 litres of beer, and 1.8 litres of whisky. These figures do not include the highly popular shochu (indigenous vodka) that is now the subject of a tariff dispute between Japan and the European Union.

Vending machines that dispense beer, sake and hard liquor are nearly as ubiquitous in Japan as are machines that dispense soft drinks, and Japan has one of the highest per capita distributions of vending machines in the world. In seven years of living in Japan, I have only once been in a non-institutional restaurant that had no alcohol.

In his desire to chastise the Russians for their drinking habits, Medvedev seems to have written what he would like to believe about Japan rather than what is the case.

Earl Kinmouth Centre for Japanese Studies University of Sheffield

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