June 19, 2014
So Drunk You’re Famous
I recently wrote about how and why Japanese people live so long, but I admitted that that was surprising in the case of Japanese men, given how much alcohol they drink. Now, I read that a campaign has begun in Japan to highlight the problem of binge drinking by putting images of drunk people on social media. Not great for the people concerned, but possibly useful in addressing the problem.
Photos of passed out people will be put on social media sites with the hashtag #nomisugi, meaning “too drunk.” Crime scene tape will be put around the people wherever they have drunkenly landed on the street, and before they have even wiped the dribble from their face, they may be going viral. And these people won’t be difficult to find. It really is not a generalization to say that when Japanese people start drinking, they don’t stop until they have done some serious damage to their state of being, and possibly now to their reputation. RT claims that on Friday and Saturday nights in Tokyo, “thousands” of passed out people can be seen lying in doorways, on steps or sidewalks, or just about anywhere. That sounds like a slightly high figure, but it is true that in any major drinking area at least one or two victims will be easy enough to observe. Now they can be observed around the world.
Ironically, the campaign was started by a bar group in Tokyo who say, “As honor is paramount in Japanese society, we shamed people into drinking moderately or risk becoming our next Sleeping Drunk Billboard.” As well as putting garish crime scene tape around a poor, unsuspecting drinker, Yaocho Bar Group will put cardboard and other various adornments and writing to make the person into an impromptu 3D billboard.
What I have witnessed and been told by locals while living in Japan confirms that all our preconceptions of Japan and drinking are true. Overworked office staff go out to let their hair down (and let themselves down) by getting hopelessly spannered to the point where the polite and stoic respectability of the workplace finds its total opposite once the office doors are closed. I have also heard several times the theory that Asian people are physiologically less able to handle alcohol than people in the West, not only because they tend to be smaller in stature, but to do with a genetic condition whereby the liver is less able to process alcohol. The condition is sometimes referred to as “Asian flush” because it leads to a red face, as well as much worse, very often. It can affect anyone, but is much more common amongst East Asian people. This is pretty well accepted, so although Japanese drinkers undoubtedly do go out to get very wasted, their bodies are not helping them to deal with it well at the end of the night.
I must say, though, that while this is a big problem in Japan and perhaps more famous because of widespread interest in Japanese culture, the situation is much worse in South Korea (maybe North Korea too, but I haven’t been on too many nights out in North Korea, in fact exactly none, so I can’t comment). I saw far more passed out people per square mile in Korea, and many more of them were women than in Japan. It was as common as a bowl of kimchi to see young, nicely dressed girls covered in their own vomit in a state of semi-consciousness — and this is so early on in the night that I would often see it on my way out.
The same cultural approach to drinking applies as in Japan, and so does the same physiological condition. But there is one dangerous addition in Korea: soju. This is a very cheap and very evil liquor, which is known as Korean vodka. It is the traditional drink of Koreans and integral to their culture — it is also very affecting at 20 percent alcohol. I have seen people do very bad things on soju, much worse than just passing out, but that is a very common occurrence, too. To give an indication of how much of the stuff Koreans drink, the two most popular brands are the first and third top selling alcohol brands in the world. In the whole world. And this drink is only really consumed by Koreans. I don’t think there is enough crime scene tape on the planet to take the Japanese hashtag campaign there.
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