Media Mix, July 15, 2012

All together now

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about drinking after work. Coincidentally, in the same edition of the Japan Times there is an editorial about the decline in drinking among workers, with the focus mainly on its effect on household spending and the economy in general. It’s difficult to tell from the tone of the editorial if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I guess, economically speaking, it is a bad thing, since it points to greater consumer belt-tightening and thus less spending; but this rationale assumes that the salarymen who are cutting back on booze don’t want to cut back on booze. My suggestion is maybe they don’t really want to drink that much, or, at least, not with their colleagues. The implication of “alcohol harrassment” is that people are being compelled to drink by their colleagues and superiors, and that, left to their own devices, workers wouldn’t drink as much.

And there is an economic cognate to this idea: the popularity of non-alcoholic “beer.” Though people who profess to liking beer speak derogatively of zero-alcohol brews, it’s important to understand why they are selling so well. The usual reasons given are practical: that they offer a “break” from daily drinking by dedicated beer lovers (difficult to believe since really dedicated beer lovers would probably rather drink anything but “fake beer”), or that they can be enjoyed by people who have to drive or otherwise can’t take a chance of acquiring a beer buzz. I don’t really buy these arguments, but it wasn’t until Suntory recently opened its so-called non-beer beer garden on the grounds of Tokyo Midtown that a more logical explanation presented itself. Beer has become the de facto beverage of conviviality. In social gatherings it’s the drink that brings everyone together, but if you can’t drink alcohol or just don’t like to get drunk, you could feel left out, even if no one minds that you’d prefer an oolong tea or a glass of Bireley’s. My first reaction when I heard of the Suntory non-beer garden was: Why even call it a beer garden if it doesn’t serve real beer? Is it simply a marketing tool to sell non-alcoholic beer? Well, of course it is, but it likely wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t already a demonstratively receptive demographic–especially in such a high-rent location as Tokyo Midtown. Maybe people who drink non-alcoholic beer in social situations instead of ooling tea or Bireley’s are just deluding themselves, or maybe they value the social situation over the drinking. Or maybe they really do hate the buzz but like the taste. To dedicated beer drinkers, that’s simply an unfathomable paradox.

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