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Drink up, Japan tells young people. I’ll pass, many reply.

TOKYO — Among the casualties of the pandemic is one that many young people in Japan say they do not miss: the drinking culture.

Closed restaurants and bars during the first wave of the coronavirus in Osaka, Japan on Feb 20, 2020. The country’s tax agency, hoping to reverse the alcohol industry’s pandemic doldrums, is holding a contest to encourage more drinking among the young.

Closed restaurants and bars during the first wave of the coronavirus in Osaka, Japan on Feb 20, 2020. The country’s tax agency, hoping to reverse the alcohol industry’s pandemic doldrums, is holding a contest to encourage more drinking among the young.

TOKYO — Among the casualties of the pandemic is one that many young people in Japan say they do not miss: the drinking culture.

Sobriety, they have decided, has its advantages. And that’s why a new message from the Japanese government — drink up! — seems to be putting few in the spirit.

To bolster its ailing alcohol industry, Japan’s National Tax Agency has kicked off a contest inviting those ages 20 to 39 to submit ideas for encouraging people to consume more alcohol.

The agency says it hopes to “revitalise the industry” with the contest, whose winner is to be selected in a tournament later this year. But its entreaty is clashing with more than two years of actions by the government, which discouraged alcohol sales at restaurants and bars and put up signs forbidding drinking in parks and in the streets.

With Japan reaching new highs in coronavirus infections, including more than 255,000 new cases Thursday, many young people are wondering why the government is now saying it’s OK to go out and drink.

“The media is announcing record Covid cases, while restaurants are like, don’t talk while eating, wear a mask,” said Ms Chika Kato, a 27-year-old consultant in Tokyo. “But the government is at the same time asking us to go all out and drink.

“It’s an awkward situation,” she added. “Who do I listen to?”

On average, people in Japan drank about 20 gallons of alcohol in 2020, down from 26 gallons in 1995, according to government data. The decline has hurt lucrative tax revenues: Levies on alcohol accounted for 1.7 per cent of Japan’s tax revenue — about US$8 billion (S$11 billion) — in 2020, down from 3 per cent in 2011 and 5 per cent in 1980.

The contest’s organizers said that overindulgence was not the goal, adding that people should drink only “the appropriate amount” and take “common sense” measures against contracting the virus.

But critics worried about unintended consequences. Mr Hidetomi Tanaka, an economist, called the effort an “irresponsible and unorthodox drinking campaign.” About 1 million Japanese suffer from alcoholism, while about 9.8 million others are potentially addicted, according to research by the Japanese Health Ministry.

 

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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alcohol Covid-19 Japan

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