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Drinking Culture in Japan

Part 1: Drinking Culture in Japan

Introduction (Peter Johns)

An interviewee in this paper is a 33-year-old man, who is ex-military member. Since his early twenties, Peter has been serving in the army. Thus, he spent most of his life, being involved in different types of war. The man being interviewed is of a Japanese nationality.

Cultural Rules and Practices: Japan

Unlike in most countries, drinking culture plays an important part in Japan. According to Japanese traditions, one should not start drinking until everyone else sitting at the table has held their glasses and raised them for drinking salutes that are known as “Kampai”. For people who abstain from alcohol, it is considered polite to speak out to others and make a request for non-alcoholic beverages, such as alcohol-free beer and carbonated drinks. In the case where a boss offers to buy his employees a drink, a refusal may cost one his or her job as it is considered an insult to the boss and the company itself.

Japanese culture requires consumers of alcoholic beverages to serve each other and not to settle for pouring one’s drink. Within the same context, one is expected to check the glasses of his mates and take up the role of refilling them. Before a glass refills, the one being served must drink from his or her glass, and then move it towards his compatriot. Pouring drinks for one another is a symbol of companionship, which demonstrates respect for drinking compatriots. When someone offers to pour you a drink, he or she expects a decline, indicating the traditional humbleness and formality. In the case where a hierarchy of leadership exists, as with bosses and employees, it is expected that lower-ranking employees should fill the glasses of their leaders.

During the first round of drinking, it is expected that drinking friends will share the same type or brand of drink before deciding to change one’s preference. Japanese believe in teamwork that is adopted in almost all practices the local citizens choose to engage in. In the case where one decides to have enough of the alcohol, he or she should not drink from the refilled cup or glass. The other common culture between the Japanese is playing drinking games that also vary based on the setting of the drinking place or participating individuals. Most of the games involve continuous elimination of members, following a set of rules until one or two people remain.

Paying the alcohol bill also varies amongst different kinds of participants. The common practice in Japan requires the comrades to split up the bill that is brought singly to the table. In other instances, the bosses or those ranked higher than others could offer to pay the entire bill or a part of it based on the affordability.

Who Follows Rules?

All members follow the cultural rules of drinking alcohol. This culture embraces people who drink and those do not drink alcohol. The same rules also apply to foreigners visiting Japan. Whether in a restaurant, bar or combination of both, the drinking practices might differ in all the three places, but they have a generally accepted aim of promoting communal sharing.

Consequences of Breaking Written or Unwritten Rules

Actions, such as pouring you a drink, bring about frowns and may upset the spirit of friendship among the drinking friends. In the case where violence is encouraged, there may be injuries and sometimes loss of lives. Additionally, the state authorities could arrest those who decide to break the rules and charge them in different ways.

Uniform Enforcement of the Rules

The cultural standards of drinking in Japan are enforced equally to all people drinking alcohol in the country. The same is also applicable to those who do not drink, but still keep company with alcohol users.

Unacceptable Behavior

Despite ancient traditions of drinking in every Japanese city, the local people still express unacceptable behavior that results from the consumption of alcohol. Such behavior includes violence and fights that may cause injury, death and end of friendships. People involved in the drinking of alcohol are not allowed to throw insults or engage in abusive exchanges with comrades or any other person. Such misbehavior causes a public disturbance that affects comfort of others in the surrounding.

Most Surprising Discovery

In Japan, the nation and its authorities have ignored the concept of underage drinking. Instead, a majority of the junior and high school students are known to have experienced alcohol. This is common for both girls and boys. Boys particularly exhibit various drinking problems like engaging into fights. Survey results show that minors get access to alcohol from their homes as well as convenience stores. Further still, Japan’s religion does not prohibit alcohol consumption. Because of this, public intoxication and drinking are termed as legal. The Japanese also have the habit of testing foreigner’s alcohol tolerance, putting constant pressure on other people to make them drink more.

Part 2: The Actual Interview

Setting of the Interview

The interview takes place in a restaurant and bar setting. The interviewee (Peter Jones) chooses a place near the window that allows him to enjoy the view of the city. Two bottles of beer for him and a diet coke for me are on the table. According to Peter, this should keep him at ease and enable him to speak up openly.

Interview Questions

  • When did you start drinking?

I started at the age of twenty as a social drinker. We all know that drinking in Japan is legal, especially for any person above the age of twenty. It happened months after I graduated from senior school and before the state called me to serve in the military. At the time, alcohol drinking only took place when I met up with friends and chatted away about our life challenges.

  • How can we categorize you when it comes to drinking alcohol? Alcoholic or non-alcoholic?

Compared to the beginning, I can categorize myself as a problematic alcoholic.

  • Is there an alcoholism history in your family?

Drinking is termed as a culture for Japanese; therefore, it is an acceptable behavior. It is true my family has a history of alcoholism. All the men in my family were known for their social drinking. This turned out to be one of my sources of alcohol as it was readily available in our home and neighborhood. Additionally, every family meal that was served was accompanied by alcohol, which established a conducive environment for conversations.

  • Are the majority of your friends alcoholics?

I have made several friends over the years. While some are childhood fellows, I managed to become friends with others at the time of my military career. Most of my childhood friends fall into a category of social drinkers. The only time they tend to drink is when we get together months after work or in the time of celebrations. My military friends, on the other hand, are problematic alcoholics. Like me, the military experiences faced while in combat forced us into drinking with an aim of forgetting such memories. We all share the opinion that drinking helps to forget the military life, allowing us to interact with society.

  • Could you describe your years serving in the military?

For the past 15 years, almost three-quarters of a year was spent in a foreign land, fighting in a war or fulfilling other military duties. While in these settings, we had minimal interaction with others except the company of fellow military men. As expected, the experiences have disrupted our lives in several ways, resulting in an adverse influence on our social integrations.

  • What is the relationship between your drinking habit and your military career? Do you think your career significantly contributed to your alcoholism?

Having analyzed my history of drinking, I would say my military career has had a significant effect on my problems with alcohol. I became an alcoholic five years after I worked in the military and fifteen years later, I see myself as a problematic alcoholic. The horrible experiences and difficult lines of duty in the military forced me down this road of alcoholism. If I had not been involved in the military career, I would be a social drinker like most of my childhood friends.

  • Would you like to quit drinking?

Given an opportunity, I would like to quit drinking. Working in the military requires full-time commitment according to demands of the state and the law. For one to quit drinking in such a setting, he or she would require attention and professional help. After discovering my problem with alcohol, I sought the help of the authorities. The problem of military system is that the health of the military members is ignored. Neglect or failure to get such help results in continuous abuse of alcohol. The only way I can quit drinking now is through seeking help of a professional, possibly going to rehab. It would be proper for me to find other ways of forgetting about the experiences without relying on alcohol.

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