Japan wants young people to drink more alcohol

The Japanese government has been saddled with an unusual problem – its young people are not drinking enough.

Since the pandemic began, bars and other venues selling alcohol have been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions, causing sales – and tax revenues on spirits – to plummet in the world’s third-largest economy.

The government’s solution? Launch a competition to find new ways to encourage young people to drink more.

The “Sake Viva!” The campaign, overseen by the National Tax Agency, invites participants to submit ideas on how to stimulate “demand among young people” for alcohol through new services, advertising methods, products, designs and even sales techniques using artificial intelligence or the metaverse the official website of the competition.

“The domestic alcoholic beverages market is shrinking due to demographic changes such as declining birth rate and aging population, as well as lifestyle changes due to the impact of COVID-19,” the website said, adding that the competition aimed “to appeal to the younger generation … and revive the industry.”

The competition includes advertising ideas for all types of Japanese alcohol. Applications can be submitted until September 9th. The finalists will be invited to an expert consultation in October before a finals tournament in Tokyo in November. According to the tax office, the winner will receive support in marketing their project.

But not everyone is on board, and competition and tax authorities are receiving criticism online.

“Are you kidding me?” wrote one Twitter user. “Keeping alcohol away is a good thing!”

Others pointed out that it seemed inappropriate for a government agency to encourage young people to drink alcohol and it appeared that the campaign failed to take into account health risks or sensitivity towards people dealing with alcoholism.

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The Japanese Ministry of Health has warned of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption in the past. In a post on its website last year, it called excessive drinking a “major social problem” that persists despite a recent slowdown in consumption. And it urged people with unhealthy drinking habits to “reconsider” their relationship with alcohol.

A ministry spokesman declined to comment on the tax agency’s competition when contacted by CNN.

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Declining sales

Japan and several other countries in Asia maintained strict restrictions throughout much of the pandemic, closing public spaces and reducing restaurant hours.

Izakayas – Japan’s version of a pub or tavern – have been particularly hard hit, with the latest available figures showing sales halving from 2019 to 2020, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

With fewer opportunities to drink in public, the rate of “household consumption” — drinking at home — “has increased significantly,” the ministry said.

But young adults have proven to be the exception. About 30% of people between 40 and 60 drink regularly, that is, three days or more per week, according to the ministry – compared to just 7.8% of people in their 20s.

“In this way, the decline in drinking habits from year to year is believed to have an impact on the shrinking of the domestic market,” the ministry said.

In a 2021 report, the tax agency said taxes on liquor had been a major source of government revenue for centuries but had declined in recent decades. Japan received 1.1 trillion yen ($8.1 billion) in alcohol taxes in 2021 — 1.7% of total tax revenue, compared to 3% in 2011 and 5% in 1980.

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Japan lifted its state of emergency in October 2021, allowing restaurants to resume selling alcohol and stay open later – but restrictions in some parts of the country remained in place until March this year.

The country’s recovery has since been slower than expected, hampered by rising inflation, the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine and the recent surge in Covid cases, which have led to ongoing restrictions.

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