Another plague of Japan: litter

I wish this was a rare sight

As much as I love living in Japan, there are certain things which bug me at times- an example of this would be the cultural expectation to drink. An example of this would be the expression お神酒上がらぬ神は無い- which means even the gods drink sake (and thus you should too).

However, one of the more insidious plagues is the abundance of litter in Japan- which is a rather un-Japanese thing considering that there is a nationwide recycling and garbage disposal program.

The disposal program, looking at Iga specifically, was started in 1996 and the articles in the local paper explained how to separate garbage and what will be done with the garbage. To be put simply, in Iga, garbage is separated into burnable, non-burnable, paper and cardboard items, plastic waste, and pet-bottles and cans.

This is something even I understand. Additionally, if you refuse to take part, you may be fined- along with the shame aspect. But somehow, even with the amount of resources Japan has invested into recycling and waste management, litter is still an issue.

During my journey “the long walk”, and photographed above, litter was unfortunately a common site even in the most remote of locations. The discover of this, encouraged me to look into this further and I have since discovered that litter is not just common in remote areas but in built up cities as well.

While walking through Iga, cigarette ends are common along with plastic bottles, cans and other recyclable materials. The same can be said about Nabari, Tsu, Nagoya, Osaka etc but with one difference: high traffic areas such as tourist areas are extremely clean and without litter.

It seems as if Japan likes to give the appearance of being clean in small villages and around people’s homes, but a bit further afield, such as in the middle of the country or in non-popular areas in cities, less emphasis is given on its’ importance and thus its’ much more common to see.

Is this something you have experienced while visiting or living in Japan?

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Japan’s true plague: Alcohol

To drink or to drink, there seems to be no question

The alcohol section at a convince store

Today is the start of the consumption tax increase- which seems to have so many people worried, but I, personally, am wondering will there be an effect on Japan’s systemic drinking culture.

For those of you who were wondering, alcohol addiction is in Japanese (it has a word at least) and it’s: 飲酒癖 in-shu-heki or drink-alcohol-habbit- a 101 of word formation as it were.

The first thing to note about Japan is that it is NOT morally wrong to drink- there has never been a cultural nor religious argument against it, so it is accepted. This can be seen by the myriad of drunks getting on trains, drinking wherever they would like and the common availability of alcohol to those over 20 (we’ll ignore the alcohol vending machines where anyone can by unlike the cigarette vending machines that require a TASPO card).  

Please note, the following information has been taken from the 2016 WHO Alcohol consumption report on Japan with tourist figures removed from the final results.

In terms of pure alcohol Japan consumes the following per capita in drinkers only:

Males (15+) 19.0
Females (15+) 6.6
Both sexes (15+) 14.1

Please note that most beers in Japan are 5% per 500 ml- so each can has 25ml of pure alcohol. Therefore, if a male were to just drink beer, that equates to 760 beers annually or 63 a month or 16 a week or 2.2 a day. With beer set a about 700 JPY for a 6 pack, that is a massive 88,000 JPY a year or 815 USD.

But the WHO has an even more telling statistic: abstainers- those who have not drunk at all within a set time period. The following table shows the percentages of the entire population who did not drink in 2016:

  Males (%) Females (%) Both sexes (%)
Life Abstainers 4.3 13.7 9.1
Former drinkers* 24.4 42.6 33.8
Total 28.7 56.3 43.0

*’Former drinkers’ was defined by those who have not drunk within the last 12 months.

With a populate on 127 million in 2016, and 48.85% of that being males (world population review),

the total of males who drank alcohol in Japan (out of a male population of 62 million) was just over 44 million males, and 28 million female drinkers which is a total population of 72 million drinkers- more than the entire population of the UK in 2019.

Question 1: does Japan have a drinking problem just based on numbers?

Based on this number alone, it seems to be the case, but what about the numbers of heavy drinkers? There is one more statistic to look at and that is the prevalence of heavy drinking and I will only look at drinkers within the alcohol drinking population not the average for the population.

  Drinkers only (aged 15+) %
Males 53.0
Females 20.3
Both sexes 40.0

But what does this mean- this table looks at the percentage of the drinking population that have drunk more than 60 g of alcohol on at least one occasion in the last month. To use numbers to highlight this further:

Of the 44 million males that drink in Japan, over 23 million have drunk heavily within a month. Of females this is significantly lower at only 5.6 million heavy drinkers. This equates to 28.8 million people regularly drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

Out of the entire Japanese population, this is representative of 23% of the total population drinking excess amounts of alcohol.

What is Japan doing to compact this?

Firstly, drink manufactures like Suntory, Sapporo etc have pages on their websites dedicated to drinking smart. There are taxes on alcohols and government sponsored support available for those who seek it. However, alcohol is readily available and can be drunk wherever one pleases. There is no regal restriction on alcohol advertisement or placing and you can readily but 3 litre sake boxes at the supermarket.

It is a problem that will not disappear anytime time soon.

Thank you for reading and I hope you have a bit more knowledge on another of Japan’s plague.

Happy exploring.

One of the main sources for this article:

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