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While many of you non-American countries will scoff at the idea of it being difficult to procure alcohol underage, Americans will know how difficult it is to get away with this sort of thing. Many American stores and restaurants have a “if they look under 35, card them” policy. Still others have a “always card, no matter how old they look” rule. Cigarettes are the same thing. Although I’d say it’s arguably easier to get them here in America even if you’re not 18, it’s still quite difficult in most of the country.

For both alcohol and cigarettes, Japan is quite the opposite. Let’s find out why this is and learn more about all the little kids running around drunk in the land of the rising sun.

Being Of Legal Age

coming-of-age

Photo by malfet_

Now that we’re 20 we can drink and smoke, lol!

Ironically in 1900, Japan was the very first country to create a law that banned underage smoking. It’s kind of like those “ridiculous laws” articles that you see from time to time. For example, in Louisiana “Fake” wrestling matches are prohibited. Or, how in Washington the harassing of Bigfoot, Sasquatch or other undiscovered subspecies is a felony punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. The underage drinking and smoking laws in Japan are just like that. Laws that nobody upholds, and laws that nobody cares about.

But, let’s just pretend that people care for a moment. The minimum drinking and smoking age is 20 years old, the age when people are considered to be “adults” in Japan. There are laws against consuming, selling, or giving cigarettes or alcohol to minors, but nobody listens. In 1996, the average number of cases brought to prosecutors for underage smoking, for example, was five. Of course, none of the accused were punished in any way. Underage drinking just isn’t considered a big deal, though God forbid you give someone else a ride on your bicycle (that’s a 20,000 yen fine I’ve seen given to several unfortunate people).

Drinking Underage In Japan

underage drinking japanThe kind of thing I would have liked had I been drinking in high school

The Japanese underage drinking law came into affect in 1922. It has been ignored ever since. Most nations decreased their alcohol consumption since WWII. Japan has managed to increase it. Alcohol on a whole is pretty big in Japan. With children it’s increasing as well.

Here is a summary of results on a survey translated by the authors of “Young People’s Drinking Behavior in Japan” (see sources below).

  1. Despite the law prohibiting underage drinking, around 50% of junior high school and 70% of senior high school students reported some experience with alcohol.
  2. As in other countries, instances of alcohol consumption, regular drinking, and alcohol-related problems show a constant and dramatic increase with age.
  3. Differences are not too wide for drinking patterns of boys and girls. However, boys still exhibit more drinking problems such as fighting, vomiting, hangover, and blackouts.
  4. The major source of beverage alcohol for junior and senior high school students was their own homes, followed by convenience stores. Percentage of students obtaining alcohol from vending machines decreased in both junior and senior high school students, as fewer vending machines selling alcohol became available.
  5. The choice of alcohol beverage appeared to be gender-linked. Male students preferred beer, while female respondents preferred sweet or fruit-flavored cocktails.
  6. Drinking behavior did not change dramatically between 1996 and 2000. It was noted however, that, while overall alcohol consumption appeared to decrease, drinking problems in female students increased during this period.

This wasn’t just one year of surveys, though. They ran follow-ups over the course of five years. By the fifth year, 70% of students were still filling out the survey. Here’s the summaries they came up with regarding the five-year span.

  1. Drinking behavior changes dramatically during junior and senior high school years.
  2. Over the 5-year period, the percentage of young people consuming alcohol doubled. Drinking in the family tended to be replaced by drinking with friends.
  3. The prevalence of alcohol-related problems increased sharply since students were first surveyed in 1997. For example, the percentage of problem drinkers, identified according to the Japanese version of the Quantity-Frequency Scale (Suzuki et al., 1994), increased more than 100 times over the 5-year period, as students progressed from junior to senior high school.
  4. Risk factors found to be associated with drinking problems were: earlier age of the first drink, susceptibility to peer pressure, and lack of communication with parents.

There are a few big-picture points we can glean from this. First, there are junior high school students drinking, which boggles my mind. Second, a lot of girls are drinking. Third, a lot of high school students are drinking, which is less surprising, but there’s still quite a bit of this going on.

So Why Are The Kids Drinking?

So we have to ask ourselves, why are all these underage kids drinking? I think there are several reasons, though please note that a lot of this is just my opinion and experience talking.

  1. People Will Sell You Alcohol: Shopkeepers will sell to underage kids most of the time. The closest thing to carding I’ve ever seen was a screen that shows up in convenience stores that asks “are you 20 or older?” then has a “yes” button but no “no” button.
  2. Vending Machines Vend Alcohol: Although alcohol vending machines are decreasing in numbers, there are still quite a few out there. You can easily buy alcohol from vending machines, and of course they don’t card you. If getting alcohol is this easy, then why wouldn’t kids buy from them? As one great beer mogul once said, “if you build it, they will come.”
  3. The Taste Of Japanese Alcohol: Japanese alcohol is easy to drink. Even for kids. There is chu-hai, which mostly tastes like carbonated lemon soda, and if I was a kid I would have loved it (it was developed to be more “womanly” after all). Then there’s the regular beer as well. Asahi Super Dry, Japan’s most popular beer, which is also a lot like drinking a lightly beer flavored soda. After that there’s sake, which unlike sake outside of Japan, actually tastes really good (and is super smooth). Pretty much every Japanese alcoholic beverage is really easy to drink, and this makes it easier for the kids too. I didn’t like the taste of alcohol until my early to mid twenties. If I had been given basically any Japanese alcohol, I may have had a different opinion on the matter.

I can also confirm a lot of the summaries put forth above as well. Despite going to one of the best high schools in the Nagoya area, at least one third of my friends would drink on a somewhat regular basis. I didn’t see it much (unless we were at karaoke), but they were open about their habits. I had one friend who would have a beer every night “to help him to fall asleep.” I suspect he was just getting ready for salaryman life.

Smoking Underage In Japan

smoking underage japan

Photo by Fried Dough

Unlike alcohol, I’ve seen firsthand the decrease in consumption across the board. Smoking in Japan is becoming slightly more taboo every year that goes by, and now they’re being corralled into smoking pens. Restaurants even have non-smoking sections or no-smoking rules, which feels unheard of considering how things were ten years ago.

Still, underage smoking is still prevalent, as Japan still is a very smoking culture. In 1999, 19% of 15-20 year old men and 4.3% of 15-20 year old women identified themselves as smokers. 42% of male smokers and 35% of female smokers reported going habitual before 20, the legal age limit. While a lot of time has passed between then and now, I imagine the numbers are fairly similar but slightly better (just guessing based on my own experience).

To back up these numbers, I have a similar experience (though a very small data-set) from high school times in Japan. Amongst my core group of six friends at the time, two of them smoked, though never at school. It wouldn’t be a lot (maybe one or two packs a week), but definitely enough to call them smokers. Of course, both of them are heavy smokers today, well into their twenties.

Just like alcohol, smoking is really easy in Japan. Tobacco Vending machines are much more prevalent compared to alcohol vending machines. If you don’t have a convenient vending machine, shopkeepers and convenience stores will sell pretty much anyone cigarettes. If you want them you can have them, and with the number of people who smoke still, there just isn’t that pressure not to smoke, so kids get started early.

But Is It Right?

That, I’m not so sure about. It’s easy to do in Japan, but I can’t really say what’s right or wrong (that’s up to you in the comments). Kids aren’t driving anywhere, because while it’s easy to get a beer when you’re 15 it’s impossible to get a driver’s license. So, nobody’s going to hurt anyone that way. Also, Japan is a lot safer than most places too. You can get drunk and fall asleep in front of a train station like this guy, and you don’t have to worry about your bag getting stolen.

too much alcohol japan

Then, there is the whole “getting prepared for business life thing.” While I feel like it’s a dumb excuse (those salarymen drink way too much), there is some truth in this statement. Friends would tell me this in regards to their drinking, because if you’re not prepared both mentally and physically for the brutal nomikais that await you, you’re going to have a hard time.

But drinking can also help people to relax. With the intensity that is the Japanese school system, it’s (almost) hard to blame anyone who wants a way to calm down and relax for once. Alcohol is a way that people do that, and while it’s a bad excuse, I almost want to compare teenage drinking in Japan to teenage (pot) smoking in America. Marijuana in Japan is very hard to get (and the punishment is steep). Both aren’t right, technically, though many would argue otherwise, I think. Alcohol, compared to marijuana, is very easy to get, and there’s no punishment for breaking the alcohol law, just like marijuana and kids in America. When a kids wants to let go and escape testing hell for a few hours, this is how they’re going to do it (this and karaoke).

I’m not going to come out and say what’s right and wrong, because I really don’t know, but these are my observations. While I never partook in these activities myself in Japanese high school, I had plenty of opportunities. I guess my upbringing in America taught me that drugs are bad and I should always refuse, or something like that. If I was given a 5yen coin for the number of times I was offered alcohol at home / a matsuri / a restaurant… well, I could buy a lot of beer, though not as much as I would have got if I had accepted every alcohol-related offer. It’s easy to get alcohol and cigarettes in Japan and sometimes hareder to say no. Japan is a very group oriented culture, and alcohol (more than cigarettes) is one way to become closer with said groups. Alcohol opens you up and allows you to express your feelings, something that doesn’t come up very often in Japanese society (at least when alcohol isn’t involved). With the ease of getting alcohol and tobacco in Japan, as well as the lack of harder drugs, it’s no wonder there are so many cases of underage drinking and smoking.

Now it’s your turn. Is this right? Is it wrong? Let me know what you think.

underage drinking and smoking in japan

Download a desktop-sized version of the header image!

Update: Turns out, a lot of tobacco machines require an ID to show you’re of age. Times are-a-changing it seems. That being said, buying cigarettes from a person and not a vending machine seems quite easy, much like alcohol. So, while it’s more difficult than I thought to get cigarettes when you’re below 20 years old, it’s still fairly easy to get cigarettes. Apologies for the incorrect information, though the message is still pretty much the same, I think. Also, thank you for those of you who let me know in the comments, I need to get into smoking so I know these things!

Sources

Japan: Streets Unsafe as Machines Prey on Children, by Mark A. Levin
Tobacco Control , Vol. 9, No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp. 132-133

Young People’s Drinking Behavior in Japan, by Susumu Higuchi, Kenji Suzuki, Sachio Matsushita, and Yoneatsu Osaki.

  • fab

    Italian, never had a problem with drinking “underage”.
    You are allowed to drink pretty much everywhere here. I guess it’s cultural,no one ever made a big deal out of it.
    You dont really drink to get wasted either. Japan seems me very normal on this one, aside the fact that
    it’s very easy for them to get drunk. but there’s nothing they can do about I guess.

  • MisterM2402

    You went to high school in Japan? I thought you grew up in the US :S I thought you only started learning Japanese a number of years ago, how does that work? XD

  • Ginger

    They may not be driving but young people can still get into a bike accident or get hit by a car because they are drunk. A child’s body (and let’s be real. Jr high kids are children) does not metabolize alcohol like an adult’s would. Liver disease is very serious and starting the damage at a younger age leads to a lot of problems a lot sooner.

  • http://twitter.com/beccainjapan Becca

    This article is interesting. I’d never seen any figures from studies before.
    I do have some insights into this though from teaching in Japan. I was at a junior high school for two years. I know a small fraction of my students smoked and drank either at school or nearby. And talking to one of my students, whose parents I was close friends with, around half of the students had tried smoking by the end of their third grade at junior high.
    It is a big headache for the teachers who see this as their responsibility and they used to discuss it in the staff meetings.
    A Japanese friend of mine that lived in America said that drinking and smoking aren’t too bad, at least they can’t do drugs here. And I suppose she’s right to some extent. But the kids I taught that drank and smoked didn’t end up passing their high school entrance exams and are all working part-time in a nearby factory. I’m not sure how their lives are going to turn out, and of course it isn’t a direct result of smoking or drinking, those things were just a symptom of whatever problems they had going on in their lives. But it is sad.
    Anyway, I found this article really interesting and I hope my experiences are interesting for you guys too.

  • Datte baru

    A button asking if you are 20 or older … Seems legit .

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607790802 Alex Napoli

    The button in the conbini was honestly one of my favorite things about Tokyo. Also, I found buying cigarettes much more complicated because the vending machines require those ID things. The people at the conbini, they never care.

  • http://twitter.com/Lin1876 Campbell Wallis

    I remember at the end of secondary school I was very much in the minority as a non-drinker. Some people were 18 (the legal drinking age here), but most weren’t, yet most gatherings ended in a piss-up, sometimes with devastating effects.

    The amazing thing, though, is that 18 is quite high by European standards! I remember some Dutch people almost getting a nervous tick when they couldn’t get booze at 16.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    and the only possible answer is “yes”, haha

  • Paul Henning

    - The link to the header image is broken
    – Where do I get a full-res animated GIF of the header image?

  • DAVIDPD

    If children are not out raising hell all the time, then I do not see too much of a problem with it. I would be interested to see how ethanol and nicotine use affects the cognitive abilities of a developing brain though. My guess: not well.

  • Orange_Dude

    I’m 23 and I don’t drink to this day. I don’t mind if others choose to drink alcohol, but I choose not to. With literally hundreds of other drink options available everywhere, I thought that such a choice would be simple enough, but you would be surprised how often I’m heckled for not drinking. I’m not a light-weight or a prude or anything, it’s just my choice, yet people can’t seem to wrap their heads around it…

  • Sean

    That’s a rad gif btw

  • Lizzy

    The most beer machines I’ve seen are in hotels, it seems every hotel has at least one. I’ve only seen one out on the street in tokyo. Me and my husband were shocked how easy it was to get beer from a vending machine, but yet you need an age card to get cigarettes from a vending machine.

  • Mescale

    Americans are so straight laced! I used to go out clubbing at least once a week when I was 15. I smoked as well, not seriously, but I smoked.

    I don’t think the problem is really with children drinking, its a problem with the whole of society, when everyone is drinking so much, its a symptom of a greater problem. Children are just doing what adults do.

    Don’t want children to drink? Then set an example.

    Of course if life is so incredibly awful that you need to dive into a bottle at every opportunity, maybe you need to change your life.

  • http://twitter.com/bomblol Rick Sheahan

    Pretty interesting article. I would say that overall there doesn’t seem to be THAT great of a divide between these aspects of American and Japanese culture. The 70% seniors and 50% juniors seemed about the right amount for my high school (I graduated last year), and possibly even more than that since we’re talking about any experience at all, here, rather than a regular habit of drinking. You didn’t really go into the HABITS, too much, though, and I suspect there might be some differences there… in high school, drinking was mostly done at a larger get-together/party on the weekend, and never more casually between. Anecdotally, the “boys still exhibit more drinking problems such as fighting, vomiting, hangover, and blackouts” is the exact opposite of what I’ve experienced both in college and in high school in America. Alcohol is pretty easily available, too, although it’s more “if you know which place to go to”, and not the general rule. On the other hand, my experiences may not be representative of the rest of the country because in the Midwest there isn’t a whole lot to do except drink. Cigarette use is also definitely on a downward trend among youth here, too, although I think most developed countries probably all share that statistic.

    Interestingly, when I go to my (Japanese) girlfriend’s house, I am frequently offered some alcohol ( although they’re not getting me WASTED or anything), whereas although my parents are aware of and don’t look down on the proclitivities of college students and aware that I share those habits, they would never offer my friends alcohol like that. (Although I do tend to get more than a little tipsy with my Dad and Sister on holidays.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I think there needs to be something done about it. Both of these things are dangerous to the user as well as people around them. Of course, people who are old enough, developed enough, and alone or in an accepted place of use should feel perfectly welcome to it; they’re big kids and can deal with the consequences as long as they don’t involve anyone else (which, in my opinion, is one of the rudest things you can do).

    Remember that all alcohols are poisonous, whether it be ethanol (ethyl
    alcohol, the kind you drink) or any of the others. They cause extensive
    damage to your cells, especially those involved in filtering the blood
    (kidneys and liver) as well as the brain. There is no ‘safe’ alcohol,
    just alcohol that doesn’t destroy your insides as quickly.

    Similarly, there is no safe way to consume tobacco. No matter how you use it, you ingest quite a bit of tar, greatly increase the strain on your heart, and alter your mental state. The latter two are rather self explanatory, but people don’t seem to understand just what all that tar does to your mouth, throat, stomach, and, in the case of smokers, the rest of your respiratory system. Even if you exclude the gumming up and irritation it causes in your lungs (which greatly reduces the efficiency of each breath since now your lungs are clogged, restricted, and possibly filling with fluid), it still causes cellular damage, which can lead to an increase in inflammation and ulcers. In the mouth, this means you’ll probably lose your teeth early and be at an increased risk of oral infections; similar problems will afflict your throat, but unless you have teeth there, you won’t need to worry about losing them; irritation of the stomach leads to ulcers and weak spots (which can be fatal if they cause a rupture) as well as acid reflux. Not to mention the fact that it’s poisonous.
    Obviously, you have to smoke quite a bit over a long period for these to really stand out, but they still happen to a degree whether you’re smoking a pack or two a week or the same in a day.
    Also, some of these issues become worse if you drink a lot as well.

    Well, there’s my rant. I don’t care what adults do to themselves in the privacy of their homes or in other appropriate places, but I do think that children should be denied alcohol and tobacco, since they are neither physically or mentally developed enough to handle the adverse effects of alcohol and tobacco (mental development is considered ‘adult’ at around twenty years of age, which is one of the reasons kids ‘become’ adults around that time. The reason children and young teens are generally more impulsive is because their brains are literally less developed than an older individual. Look it up if you want, ’cause it’s pretty dang interesting in my opinion).

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Not to mention that Japanese, in general, can’t metabolize alcohol at anywhere near the same rate as most Westerners. If you can get knocked on your butt by a couple beers (if not just one), you shouldn’t be drinking, it’s far too strenuous on your liver and kidneys.

  • S.

    In my country (Scotland) it is pretty common place too, i can’t find any stats on having tried it but roughly a third of 15 year olds drink reguarly (and in my experience) mostly on fridays with the objective of becoming “steaming”.

  • http://twitter.com/VXLbeast VXLbeast

    Good write up. That animated piece at the end is fantastic, too.

  • KoichiFanBoy

    Is it right? is it wrong? “The conflict between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind.” – Koichi (2013).

  • Zain

    seriously this is an interesting subject to discuss especially about underage people , my opinion is no for drinking / smoking the”underage ” no matter how they suffer from school or job , they can take medicines ,exercises , take vacations , play with your family or friends,etc . there must be an existed LAWS and observations on “underage” people and put sanctions like fine or jail them for drinking / smoking …

  • http://twitter.com/Kalekk1 Kalle

    When I visited Osaka, i wasn’t aware of the 20 yr age limit, and the first time i bought cigarettes the cashier just pointed at the screen with big red(?) button which had japanese which at the time i wasn’t able to read and 20 in it.
    After looking at the screen confused for maybe 5 seconds, the cashier just pressed the button herself. It did confuse me until i got back to Finland.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    They’ve started to crack down on the lax attitude of those things. They added in a “(and don’t lie!)” to the end of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1509568415 Gregory Descamps

    Yup that header image is becoming my desktop wallpaper :P

    Teen drinking and drug use is a real problem for each society, but what can you do about it?

  • besterthenyou

    Smoking needs to be illegal, in Japan, America, and elsewhere.

    As for drinking, however… some of the drinks are so good! I may be a man, but I’m a sucker for a fruity cocktail. That one you posted looks awesome. Really, it’s about getting a bit stricter with it. ID the people. For the vending machines, make them swipe a driver’s license or some legal ID. Also, teach kids about moderation from an early age, so that when they DO drink (hopefully at a legal age) they’re smart about it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    wut?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    That’s the case for some, but not all Japanese. Only about a third of East Asian people are affected by the “Asian flush reaction”

  • shiro

    Stores in Japan will sometimes card myself or my husband (we both look pretty young), but when he visited the US with me he was SHOCKED at how strict they were about seeing ID when he would order a drink. He almost let it go to his head before I assured him that they would have carded him even if he did look his age. lol

    I’m sure in the JHS it’s probably harder to get alcohol from stores and conbini. Obviously you can’t just swagger in the store in full JHS seifuku or gakuran and pick up a beer, but if you look like you might be around 20 the conbini will let you buy, and a bar will never ask. It also doesn’t surprise me that kids are getting alcohol at home from their parents; drinking is a huge part of their culture as the article states. I suspect that much like in other drinking cultures, kids who get alcohol from their parents aren’t drinking as much or as illicitly as their peers who are sneaking it from conbini and vending machines.

    I do know that when a JHS student is caught drinking or smoking it generally isn’t prosecuted because the matter goes straight to their homeroom teachers for discipline. Yeah, not their parents – their homeroom teachers. Go fig. JHS teachers actually walk around town on school breaks and “patrol” for this kind of stuff! Not that the kids listen when they do get in trouble…

    Rad header image this time, guys.

  • JapaneseObsessed

    i don’t think it’s so bad. I mean look at Japan compared to the US. In general they are healthier and live longer. Plus their school system as a whole is much better. And as Koichi said their crime rate are much lower. But with all that good does come a lot of pressure on the citizens so if thats what it takes to unwind no biggie. Even though they may get drunker faster they still probably act more responsible (to a point) than americans cause drunk or no, they are much more reserved, it’s just part of who they are so even though they may get in fights evry now and again i still believe that all the bad things that can come of drinking is still probably less there.

  • Henro 88

    I’m going to say it’s “wrong,” but not because underage drinking is itself wrong.

    Japan has a problem with unenforced laws, and a problem with enforcing the wrong laws (the bike example you gave above). Japan, I suspect, is a formal society – and I get the feeling that a lot of Japanese government officials feel that either by putting up a sign, writing a law, or changing the definition of a crime will automatically (and magically) fix it. There are tons of signs, laws and warnings, but very little enforcement. Formally, the law has changed, the problem is fixed officially – but in reality, nothing changes.

    I feel like Japan needs to decide: is underage drinking illegal or not? The button they make you push at the convenience store is an absolute fucking joke. I literally asked the clerk, “But what if I lie?” And he just stared at me, and shrugged. He obviously had no clue what would happen if a child bought beer from him and lied, pushing that button. And people seem to think that that little button fixes the problem. No, actually carding people and calling the cops is what fixes the problem.

    So, I feel like, as with a dozen other issues in Japan, that they need to make up their fucking minds. Is it illegal or not? If it’s illegal, take out that stupid fucking button in the convenience store and start carding people. If it’s illegal, take away those stupid fucking vending machines – or post a cop near them. And if it’s illegal, fucking ARREST PEOPLE.

    And if it’s not illegal…then get rid of the law. Because an unenforced law is just a chance for the police to arrest people they don’t like. Which, hey, guess what: Japanese cops – hell, cops in any country – LOVE doing that.

  • Henro 88

    That is basically a racial myth. Asians also tend to be more lactose intolerant, yet every Japanese person drinks milk at school. You have to take racial patterns with a grain of salt. Talking about race can quickly become, well, racist if you aren’t careful to define and hedge your terms.

    The Japanese are fine with alcohol. It’s not some gene problem they have – it’s the fact that they drink a fucking gallon of beer in one sitting that makes them so drunk. That is, it has less to do with their race and more to do with their drinking culture.

  • Henro 88

    They exist in large numbers the further out into the inaka you get. There were a few in the old village I worked in, and there’s one near my suburban train stop now. They’re out there, along with porn vending machines, which have their own little huts.

  • Henro 88

    “Obviously you can’t just swagger in the store in full JHS seifuku or gakuran and pick up a beer…”

    Hm…

    Seriously, though, I’ve considered sending my stepson in to buy beer to see what happens, but I don’t know how illegal that would be and whether or not the cops would arrest ME for doing it. I could get a school uniform, though…

    Oh, and, yeah, the amount of control teachers have over children’s lives here is probably a bigger problem than the underage drinking. We actually told the teachers that we DIDN’T want them to come do a home visit, and they came anyway. Jerks. “Country of manners” my ass.

  • Henro 88

    “cause drunk or no, they are much more reserved”

    Actually, being drunk has for a very long time been a regular excuse for Japanese people (and people in some other Asian countries) to misbehave without consequences. The problem is specifically that a lot of people STOP being reserved once they start drinking. A lot of horrible shit happens when people get drunk here, but no one worries about it because it’s “just drunken fun.” Except, the other problem is that they can ONLY stop being reserved once they drink.

    Japanese people absolutely do not act more responsible than Americans when drinking. They have a few more systems in place to prevent drunk driving, but I’ve never known an American to fall asleep on the stairs of a random building, or sprawl out on a sidewalk and get left by his friends. It’s easy to fall into “the grass is greener” with Japan, but it isn’t. In addition to loosening their social anxiety, drinking also helps Japanese people let go of their feeling of social obligation. They will gladly pee in the street, vomit on a shop doorstep and leave their drunken friend alone in the street without remorse.

    Hell, I had to go pick my wife up from a drinking party a few weeks ago, where her coworkers just abandoned her to the streets. She was drunker than I’d ever seen her, and crying. She had asked some cops to help her find me, and they literally told her, “we have work to do.” As if protecting a lone, drunken woman on a dark street is not their fucking job. The grass is absolutely not greener here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AveryGoodgame Nick Hattan

    I was reading too fast and thought you said bad. I then looked at the ^3 below it, and wondered what the world was.

  • Jesse Cadd

    While most sake found in the US is pretty bad, I really liked SakeOne’s lineup, especially the Diamond sake. They are in Forest Grove, just up from Portland, and they do tours! So far, I haven’t had a sake in Japan that was better than Diamond.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Hopefully she was 20 or older.

  • Darin

    I hardly drink at all and often wonder how I would do with the whole drinking-after-work culture. I hope to find job in Japan soon so I guess I’ll figure out.

  • Hollie Farnbach

    Being a mormon in Japan is going to be difficult O_O

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    There’s a lot of drinking in public. Especially in big cities and in certain districts you’ll run into a lot of drunk people. Something I don’t like, but then again it’s not different in my home country Germany.

    My personal experience in Japan is that there’s much less drinking and smoking among teenagers than in Germany.
    In Germany there are a lot of cases where children at the age of 11-13 are carried to the hospital because they drank too much alcohol. And I’ve seen a lot of elementary school kids with cigarettes in their hand. Something that makes me very angry, but it’s not a rare sight in Germany.

    In Japan I’ve never seen any kids or teenagers with cigarettes and I’ve also never seen any teenagers that were drunk.
    It really gets bad once they’re 20+. University students tend to drink a lot ….. and the interesting thing is that most Japanese can’t take much alcohol … at least compared to the “standard German person”.

    I’m not sure if it’s good to set the age for drinking to 20, but for smoking I think it’s very good!
    For alcohol it’s probably better if they learn how much they can drink and how to deal with it early on. If it’s forbidden, they want to do it in secret and that’s when it can get dangerous.
    In Germany you’re officially allowed to drink alcohol when you are 16(!!!!!) – and driving is allowed when you’re 18.
    However, only alcohol with low percentage is allowed for kids at the age of 16, e.g. beer or wine. Stronger stuff is allowed from 18+.

    I’m not sure what the legal age for smoking is, but generally nobody seems to care.

  • Jon

    Well, if you’re going to drink alcohol, at least don’t go overboard with it. My dad’s dying in the hospital from liver failure right now, and I’m assuming it’s related to all the alcohol he used to drink. He wasn’t the best dad ever, and I pretty much grew up without him, and he didn’t pay much child support, but it’s still not fun. :(

    Please don’t abuse alcohol. And if you’re dying, please don’t not tell your kids about it and then have the relatives that live near you finally tell your kids after you’re pretty much stuck in a coma and can’t have a final conversation with you.

  • David Sharp

    Yeah, an informative and well researched article, but the authors could really do with widening the scope of their comparison – why not explain Japanese culture and norms with reference to a variety of other countries and cultures? Tofugu normally does well compared to other commentators when it comes to avoiding cliches, but only comparing Japan to the USA smacks of laziness. The internet is a big place – broaden your appeal!

    Drinking at 13 is fairly common in the UK, and by 15 it is positively normally. What about France and other countries with extremely low legal drinking ages? What about other East Asian countires? Well researched on the Japan side, but poor show otherwise.

  • Tony

    I don’t think it’s as difficult as the author says for underage Americans to get alcohol and cigarettes at all. The high school and college “house party” is a staple of the adolescent and young adult American experience. There’s always going to be the older brother, the guy from work, whoever, who will hook you up with booze. And many smaller liquor stores won’t take one look at a card. I disagree with Koichi also that it’s easier to get cigarettes than alcohol as an underage person. Alcohol doesn’t have the same stigma that cigarettes do. Especially after all the anti-tobacco litigation in the 90’s. There’s less of a chance someone is going to be comfortable hooking someone up with cigarettes, especially considering that too be underage for cigs, you have to be REALLY young, because the legal age is 18. I look at the 70% statistic and I think, there’s no way the numbers aren’t comparable for American kids. Of course, the US is very big and the states all have their own nuanced laws and culture, so maybe Koichi’s experience is different, but I’m just speaking from mine.

  • Raleford

    A difference though, and one I think he was intending to point out, is that there’s very little chance (virtually none) that someone underage could actually go and buy their own alcohol or cigarettes in the US, and if they were allowed, the cashier or store would likely be in incredible amounts of litigation if it were discovered. So it’s more difficult in that way, also, there’s an emphasis on saying “no” when offered that is taught commonly in schools, which it seems is not to be the case in Japan based on the article. So maybe it’s partially that it’s easier to get alcohol in Japan, and partially that it’s easier to not drink in the US. But as you stated, it’s a big country and we have different perspectives and experiences.

  • Raleford

    I had a teenager stunned because she was so surprised that I don’t drink, haha. She didn’t know there were people in our age bracket (I’m 24) that don’t drink, I guess.

  • rw

    I guess you haven’t been to Japan for a very long time? Vending machines for cigs in Tokyo require a TASPO card which verifies age. This has been for the last 5 years at least. The America centric self-righteousness about “is it right?” is ridiculous. Over protective babying from any possible harm in the universe will only cause more damage when reality strikes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.morris.186 Steven Morris

    Please note:

    1. Junior high school in Japan equates to 7th-9th grade in America. So it does not quite coincide with middle school in America.

    2. TASPO has quelled a lot of the underage smoking in Japan, as far as I can tell. TASPO requires a special card to be used in order to purchase cigarettes from a vending machine.

    In my opinion, not enforcing laws regarding underage drinking and smoking is wrong. I think that’s how a lot of people get addicted to anything (whether it’s TV, using computers too much, smoking, etc.)- they get started before they have the capacity to understand the long term problems it will cause them.

    I also think it’s mighty suspicious how cigarettes are displayed in convenience stores. I really wish Japan would do something to prevent this. Convenience stores are prime advertising grounds for tobacco companies– and convenience stores are everywhere… especially near schools.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Actually, a lot of successful foreign actors and personalities in Japan have been Mormon missionaries. Go figure!

  • moose

    A few might develop bad habits, but Japanese manners are good and as the article said you’re less likely to end up in trouble or losing something than somewhere else. Alcohol really isn’t as bad as all that as long as you know where your limit is, which you’ll learn after one or two not so successful nights. I’d be interested in that sweetish beer.

  • GeeRahts

    I’m 19 and came to Japan a month ago – buying a phone was a hundred times harder than buying booze. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to buy/drink alcohol but no one ever asked me for any ID.

    I was still surprised that so many high school students in Japan drink… I mean my country is still worse in that regard, but it’s eastern europe, so it’s to be expected… :)

  • walker

    +1 to those who mentioned the TASPO card (no points for research there. but how about correcting the article for us pedants? please). i was a bit stymied by the first machine i tried, until a nice passer-by informed me of the card’s use. the only non-carded sake/smoke machines i saw were inside ho(s)tels, and then mostly just for beer. i never once had to press any red button for smokes in a kombini, but i guess that just means i look my age, and the shop attendants weren’t idiots.

    i’d suggest that smoking is becoming less respectable, at least in the bigger cities. the acreage of non-smoking public areas is increasing all the time (well, between my two visits in the last few years, anyway). the vending machines, as mentioned, are restricted. more restaurants are going smoke-free. the glamourous habit will soon lose it’s shine for the younglings, i suspect.

    i’d also suggest that drinking in japan, while perhaps problematic, is far more civilised than in, for example, australia. i never felt threatened in the slightest by drinkers in kabukicho, roppongi or dotonbori, and they all pretty much equate to sydney’s king’s cross district, notorious for random drunken killings and sundry violence, where i haven’t felt at ease in twenty years – aussie drunks can get mean, quickly. japanese drunks were the jolliest i’d ever seen, by comparison. the only fight i saw involved one old guy hitting the other guy with his lunchbox, then forgetting the fight to gather up his spilt food. i’d much rather drink with that crowd, whatever age they’re at.

  • walker

    forgot to add, for clarity: while the age for drinking and smoking in australia is 18, it’s strongly enforced at points-of-sale, with huge fines for offenders. but that doesn’t stop young teenagers from smoking and/or getting shitfaced, either, and not just at school parties. maybe they’re just escaping from their mean drunk parents …

  • Zaywex

    There definitely is punishment for kids who use marijuana in the US, but it’s very racialized which may be why you haven’t heard about it.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Upon reviewing my comment, it does appear to be over generalized. I didn’t intend it that way, but that’s how it looks.

    What I mean is, people who can’t tolerate something aren’t doing their body and health any favors by ingesting it. It’s the same for lactose intolerant individuals. If your body can’t process something, it can cause some nasty problems. This is especially true in the case of alcohol, due to it being a poisonous substance.

    Once again, I apologize for the misunderstanding.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    True, it’s much more likely for a black person or Latino to be arrested for the use of marijuana, despite the fact that the majority of users are white (based off of a study I read a couple years ago anyway).

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I was under the assumption that it was a larger percentage… Thanks for clearing that up.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I hate the modern pill popping culture. How is using a mind altering substance in pill form different than using a mind altering substance in drink form? From my personal experience (having been prescribed many such pills when I was younger), there’s absolutely no difference. The only difference for me is that I have a high alcohol tolerance and have never drank to the point where I didn’t give a damn about anything that happened in the world as long as I could make everything in my day happen on time to the second (this actually happened to me with one of my meds… For over a year).

    I do agree that exercising is a great way to make you feel better though. There’s nothing better than a nice jog when your mental stamina is depleted.
    ‘Getting away’ is also good, so long as you don’t do it to the point that you neglect your obligations.

  • Juliet

    There are some people who become a bit defensive, or unconsciously react to try to steer others into a perceived norm. I’m 27 and have never imbibed alcohol, smoked, or used drugs for recreation – for a couple reasons, but mostly because it just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve found most people I come into contact with tend not to care either way. However, when I was 13 I thought by college I’d be shunned! Silly child, lol. There are plenty of “normal” adults who don’t use that stuff. It’s just not advertised, especially among young people.

  • Choco

    It takes a lot of time just to pull up the research for Japan, never mind trying to research several other countries. Besides which, if you know how Japan is and you know how America is (from what the article tells you), then you should be able to tell how it compares to your home country if it isn’t America (or you could research the other countries you’re interested in comparing it to on your own).

    With Tofugu, Textfugu, Wanikani, Youtube, and the new codename: Kuma….putting out an article regularly on here is likely a lot of work for the Tofugu team! I don’t think it’s lazy of them to only compare it to what they know. Otherwise it’d be a lot more research. And you know, someone could tell me just how things are in Japan and I can determine on my own how it relates to my own country, I don’t need them to compare it directly to my country. I can make that connection on my own.

    This is a Japanese blog. If you want to know about other countries, you should look for blogs about those. They don’t really have to reference America at all to make this blog good, but it gives a bit of a comparison and it’s easy to do, since they’re American.

    Not meaning to attack you or anything. But I just don’t think it’s fair to criticize on the lack of other cultural comparison when it’s a Japanese blog, that updates regularly with well researched information, and done by a team with a lot on their plates already. Especially when comparing Japanese culture to tons of other cultures isn’t the point of the blog; just to inform you about Japanese culture on it’s own, really.

    Anyway, hope you understand my angle here. It would be nice to have other comparisons, sure. But I don’t think it’s reasonable when they update so regularly and everything else I mentioned.

  • Choco

    Apparently it’s illegal to ride a bicycle under the influence though, according to the bicycle post. xD

  • Henro 88

    You know, I don’t really have any idea how relevant the “Asian flush” is to anything. I just wanted to point out that, in Japan, it is absolutely a cultural problem and not genetic. The genetics probably don’t help, but you’re right: if people are careful about what they put in their bodies, genetics shouldn’t matter.

  • http://twitter.com/allyanncah Alana Lynch

    It is actually backed up by genetics to a degree, though an often exaggerated one – alcohol flush is defined by a genotype at a particular site regarding whether there is an ability to encode a protein called aldehyde dehydrogenase, which enables the body to convert the acetaldehyde (which is converted from ethanol), which is highly toxic, to acetic acid (vinegar), which is harmless. A GG genotype produces no alcohol flush, an AG type a mild flush, and AA extreme flushing. This is actually used to treat alcoholism in some cases – the drug they’re given inhibits aldehyde dehydrogenase and makes drinking an extraordinarily unpleasant experience. The AG or AA genotype is most commonly found in people of Asian descent.

    That said, not all Asians have that particular genotype, and some non-Asians either inherit it or have a mutated copy of the gene. Some people might use it to be racist jerkwads, but it is backed up by science to a point.

  • DAVIDPD

    Moderation is a thing.

  • DAVIDPD

    I am sadly affected by this. Such a tell.

  • DAVIDPD

    lol.

  • DAVIDPD

    They probably feel guilty deep down about it. Their behavior is them trying to bring you down.

  • DAVIDPD

    I have never down any illegal or inappropriate drugs. My choice. No one elses. Sometimes I have to bring myself back down to keep from feeling all “high and mighty”. You know?

  • Henro 88

    Oh, I know. It’s certainly science. A lot of things people say about race is based on science, and it’s just something people need to be careful with.

    In the case of Japan, culture absolutely plays a much larger role than genetics in terms of why they get so drunk.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelvyftw Kelvy Watermelondreo Mansfield

    Too down, LOL.

  • Henro 88

    …in fact, I thought about this the other day, and I realized: Japanese drinking laws and things like daiko service encourage binge drinking.

    In Japan, daiko is a service where someone will drive your car home for you, and you just ride along with him.

    The reason is that the Japanese legal drinking/driving limit is 0% BCA. One sip of beer and you are legally too drunk to drive. A good policy, but it creates a system wherein there is no incentive to STOP drinking. Once you have a single beer, you are all in. No reason to stop there! On top of that, no matter how drunk you get, you can still get your car driven home without any problems. On top of that, a single beer will cost a LOT of taxi/daiko/train fees, so there’s actually an incentive to KEEP drinking. I mean, hell, you’ve had a single beer – that’s fifteen dollars in daiko fees right there. May as well have a few more and get your money’s worth!

    The “Asian flush” doesn’t even factor into that, you know? There’s just SO MUCH MORE to it than one, single gene.

  • David Sharp

    Nah. It is a Japan blog – it should be about Japan – not about the difference between Japan and America.

    So, I would suggest that the point of comparison in every article shouldn’t just be the USA.

    I would rather see fewer well researched posts, than frequent less well researched ones.

    I am a huge fan of tofugu and I hope my criticisms are taken as they are intended – a friendly pointing out of the one weakness this otherwise fantastic blog.

  • jesse

    haha, i’ve fallen asleep far too many times on a sidewalk … honestly, they need to make trains run to at least 2-3am.. shutting the trains and subways off at midnight is just asking people to pass out in strange places. But at least its safe enough to not have to worry.

  • tonton101

    I believe the debauchery associated with drinking is similar for both countries, but the US does have one major difference: drunk driving.

  • tonton101

    I thoroughly enjoy the lax drinking culture in Japan, but such a culture would obviously never work here in the US. Underage driving is far too prevalent for wanton drinking to be commonplace. I do wish that US culture would lose this prudish stance on underage drinking. I mean I’ve heard stories of parents being labeled negligent and unfit for allowing their children the occasional sip of wine or having a looser stance on drinking.

  • Dotto

    It appears they are trying to crack down on underage drinking in Japan….sort of. I’ve seen many advertisements at train stations trying to prevent it…not sure how effective they are. I’ve never been asked for ID, and never seen a friend asked for ID. When I first came to Japan about 3-4 years ago, I would often to go bars with people who were 19 with no problem.

    In Australia, underage drinking is dealt with strictly, every place checks for ID. You can’t buy liquor in a supermarket or convenience store anyway (the big chain supermarkets usually have a annex for the sale of alcohol). Of course, the legal age is 18 so they don’t have to wait as long. And try as the authorities may, kids still find ways to do it.

  • David Andrade

    You make a valid point… is what I would say if the whole article was an entire comparison, instead you’re focusing on a small part of the entire article and creating your own illusion of how it’s used. Maybe people learn better with comparisons? Just like metaphors or examples, he only uses the comparison to help people get a better scope of the topic. It’s nothing more than a tool used to help people “see” the way people are in Japan.

    You totally ignored the point of the other person who commented previously. “THEY’RE AMERICAN”. So yes, they have all the right to compare to American society every single time.That said, you’re still wrong if you just go back a few articles to the bull fighting. They compared it to Spanish and European bull fighting in general. Still the point of the articles is not to compare anything, so that’s not even the focus of the article, thus really shouldn’t be the focus of nonconstructive criticism.

    Lastly, possibly your only valid opinion is “I would rather see fewer well researched posts, than frequent less well researched one.” Unfortunately this is nothing more than an opinion of taste, and really can only be replied with the fact that this is a site for short, interesting but lighthearted articles. It’s not a sociology site where scholars write deep, well thought, philosophical journals, so you can’t really expect to see that, and I’m not sure they’re planning on changing that anytime soon, sorry.

  • Jusilla

    I just tried to buy ciggies from a vending machine in Asakusa a couple of weeks ago, but needed one of those cards to prove I’m of age. :/ Unfortunate for visitors!

  • jgh

    The legal *drinking* age in the UK is 5. Yes, FIVE. The legal *purchasing* age is 18 for both alcohol and tobacco. Interestingly, I don’t know if there is a legal age limit for *consuming* tobacco as opposed to buying it.

  • jgh

    With may people lactose tolerance continues if you continue to consume milk. Most lactose intolerance is due to ceasing to consume milk, so you “forget” how to digest it.

  • Wendy

    In my year out here, I’ve seen 3 alcohol vending machines, but they were right beside each other in a very dark spot underneath a train station. The smoking section “separation” is lame at best. The barrier is… no barrier actually. The smoke will waft over to you easily. I live in a “party” area 5 mins from Yokohama station. I also get to work early with the 1st-3rd trains, so I have to deal with the drunken annoyances with the all-nighters every day of the week. The stench is strong and unpleasant. There’s nothing like starting your morning jumping over patches of vomit on the sidewalk and the train.

  • Wrathful

    Both alcohol and Tobacco are cheap in Japan while as Australia charges for ridiculous prices but it’s ironic Aussies still probably drink and smoke more than Japanese.

  • Mononoke

    I’ve lived in Japan from 11 to 14 and I’ve noticed how easy it is to get alcohol for teenagers. Maybe even easier for foreigners, like me. First time I bought alcohol, I was twelve ! and they didn’t ask anything. I don’t think it’s right, but then I think there are less drinking problems amongst people my age in Japan than in Europe or in the States.
    The feeling I got when I lived there was that there wasn’t much underage drinking going on in Japan. So this post kind of surprises me !

  • fuckthefitnessfeelthefatness

    “Are you 20 or older” >:DDD

    …but seriously though. I think media (I don’t mean anime or manga) has a lot to do with what kids think is ok and what isn’t. Nowadays kids don’t smoke or drink because it’s cool. I think they either do it because they’re bored or they feel left out. If magazines would stop fat/skinny-shaming and start smoker- and alcohol-shaming instead, maybe things will change?

  • fuckthefitnessfeelthefatness

    *and kids don’t have anything to do (even if they wanted) they will most likely go drinking or start smoking. At least in the city where I live.