Please drink more to help the economy do better. Yes, that is the message being pushed out by the government in Japan these days. While authorities around the world would probably be delighted if their citizens drank less alcohol, Japan is taking a completely contrarian approach and calling upon the country’s young folks to do their bit for the national economy by saying 'kampai' more often.
Yes, you heard that right. Japan is calling on the nation’s young folks to partake more of the tipple and help rev up the country’s economy. Peak consumption of liquor in Japan was almost 40 years ago. The National Tax Agency (NTA) is now running a campaign targeted at Japanese aged between 20 and 39, inviting them to propose ways in which drinking can be made more popular for that demographic. The agency has launched the 'Sake Viva!' competition for the best ideas for new products and alternative opportunities for opening a can or bottle, such as drinking at home or relaxing more when on holiday.
The plan to 'revitalise' the nation’s liquor industry, was launched earlier in July this year. The contest winners will be announced in early September. The tax agency is hoping that ideas that emerge from the booze brainstorming sessions will help increase sales to previous highs and, of course, increase the government’s tax revenues. According to the NTA, the average Japanese drank 100 litres of alcohol in 1995, but only 75 litres in 2020. That really is a precipitous fall in less than four decades.
Younger people in Japan seem to be shunning alcohol in favor of sobriety. And that is hurting the economy, and the government. An aging population, a declining birthrate, and post-pandemic lifestyle changes have all contributed to the shrinking of Japan’s domestic alcohol market — and the tax revenue it generates. Japan has a 'super aged' population, with more than one in five people living in the country over the age of 65.The country’s median age has climbed to 48.4 years, and the 'grey' is starting to slow down things in more ways than one.
The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers’ Association has this to further add, “Back then during the bubble economy, people drank sake pretty much every day, but then beer started to become really popular, then Japan went through its wine boom, then the whisky boom and now there are a lot of imported drinks available, but still there is a general fall in the amount being consumed.”
However, there is already a fierce backlash on social media, with concerned citizens criticising the taxman for dictating people’s lifestyle choices. It’s a business promotion to encourage growth and “in no way is it encouraging people to drink excessively,” the NTA has said to counter the criticism. But the alarm bells are for real.
Tax income from alcohol has continuously continued to decline, shrinking from 5% of total tax income in 1980 to just 1.7% in 2020. The government’s income through taxation on alcohol in fiscal 2020 came to Y1.1 trillion (US$8.14 billion), down by Y110 billion (US$814.21 million). Japan’s Finance Ministry, which is already wrestling with the largest national debt in the world – some 263 per cent of GDP at the end of 2021 and surpassing Y10 million (US$74,025) per capita for the first time, is obviously short on ideas.
So what really is needed? The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers’ Association is obviously hopeful that the agency’s competition will lead to an inspirational promotion campaign, on a par with the hugely successful worldwide campaign for Beaujolais Nouveau wine. Started in the 1960s, the “race” to be the first to uncork the new Beaujolais became something of a global phenomenon, despite the wine being of relatively low quality. Japan is hoping for an idea that is equally audacious, yet equally simple.
New products that reflect the changing times; sales that use virtual “AI and Metaverse” concepts; promotions that leverage products’ place of origin — those are just a few of the ideas the site already lists as ways to get Japan's young adults to embrace alcohol. Winners will have to venture far beyond.
Even amongst the native offerings, there is much to choose from in Japan. The liquor offerings range from the traditional Sake and Shōchū to Imo Shōchū, Mugi Shōchū, Chūhai, Kamikaze, Midori, Awamori, Umeshu and much more. Within Sake itself, there is much variety: Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu and Namazake are the five main kinds of sake. Beer today outsells sake in Japan today because of the incessant and persistent marketing efforts by brewers Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory, all of whom produce pale lagers. So the Japanese are really spoilt for choice.
Will Sake Viva succeed? It may or it may not. But at least Japan is bravely engaging in pro-active dialogue to lick a high-spirited issue upfront. That itself is worthy of applause.
Those from India wanting to participate: all entries are in Japanese!
Carol Goyal is executive director, Everest Advertising.