Thursday, October 10, 2013
Alcohol in Japan
There are quite a few things to be said about alcohol in Japan. First of all, it's really easy to get. While the drinking age in Japan is 20, this rule is not strictly enforced and I have never been asked for ID when purchasing. There are alcohol vending machines in many places and while some require you to scan your ID, the older machines do not. If underage people want to get alcohol they can probably do so quite easily. While parents of such kids probably aren't thrilled, the police don't hunt them down as rabidly as police in the US.
While in the US glass bottles are a must for the reputation of fine alcoholic products, in Japan this is less so. Many fine brands of sake come in paper cartons much like juice cartons in the US. It is also possible to by very large quantities of even expensive brands of spirits. Suntory whisky is a household name in Japan and has won many awards both domestic and abroad. The company puts a lot of effort into maintaining the prestige of its products and is usually depicted in trademark honeycomb glass bottles (pictured right.) Despite this, it is also possible to purchase fine Suntory whisky in giant plastic bottles (pictured center.) It seems to me that breaking out the ol' 4 liter of Suntory at a fine dinner party seems in poor taste, but it might be different here.
Finally, a bit about how alcohol is referred to in Japanese. While in the west, "sake" refers to traditional Japanese rice wine, in Japan, "sake" refers to alcohol in general. For example, you might ask someone if there's, "sake" in a beverage referring to whether or not the drink is alcoholic. The Japanese word for traditional rice wine is, "nihonshu." For this reason, asking for, "sake" at a Japanese restaurant may lead to some confusion.
It's also worth noting that while drinking in public is frowned upon in Japan, being drunk in public seems to be somewhat accepted as late at night it is extremely common to see inebriated salarymen stumbling home from the bar. Because of the well developed train systems, it is quite easy to get home without driving. This may explain the general acceptance of male public drunkenness.