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Japan launches contest to encourage young people to drink more alcohol

After a sharp fall in sales. Japan has asked the public to come up with ideas to make drinking alcohol more popular.
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People dine outside an izakaya bar at night in Tokyo in July 2021.Soichiro Koriyama / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Japan's government wants young people to drink more alcohol in an effort to reverse declining sales, which it has blamed on demographic changes in the far-Eastern nation.

The "Saka Viva!" campaign, launched by Japan's National Tax Agency, wants young people between ages 20 and 39 to come up with new ideas to help revitalize the industry.

The agency says sales of alcoholic drinks are down due to declining birthrates, an aging population and the coronavirus pandemic. It hopes the project will encourage young people to come up with "business plans" that would help promote alcoholic beverages "among the younger generation."

The tax agency also suggests creative ways people can help promote the consumption of alcohol, such as using artificial intelligence and the metaverse.

But the response from the Japanese public has been less than enthusiastic, particularly since the trope of "drunk salary man" was far too common on social media just prior to the pandemic.

Some Twitter users have criticized the Japanese government for encouraging alcohol consumption — typically a social activity — when Japan's infection rates jumped this summer from 16,544 new Covid cases in mid-June to 231,361 cases on Aug. 16.

Others have criticized the campaign for promoting an unhealthy habit, as well as asking why they are learning about the competition from foreign newspapers, instead of domestic ones.

Contestants have until the end of September to put forward their ideas. The successful plans will then be developed with help from experts before the final proposals are presented in November.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on tax sales of alcoholic drinks in Japan. In 2020, revenues fell by ¥110 billion ($800 million) from the previous year to ¥1.13 trillion.

It was the largest fall in alcohol tax revenues since 1989, The Japan Times reported.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental organization with 38 member countries and five partner countries that focuses on world trade, alcohol is a leading cause of ill health and premature mortality.

It accounts for 1 in 17 deaths and is a factor in a significant proportion of disabilities, especially in men.

Latest data from an OECD study on alcohol consumption found that Japan ranked 38th out of 49 countries surveyed, consuming just 6.7 liters (1.8 gallons) per capita of alcohol in 2020.

In comparison, Latvia ranks No. 1 on the list with 12.6 liters per capita. The U.S. comes in at No. 22 with 9.3 liters per capita.

In Japan, the minimum age for selling alcohol is 20, one of the highest across all OECD countries and partner nations.