Beer culture in Japan

September 14th, 2012By Category: Culture, Travel

Japan is truly an alcohol lover’s paradise. Bars and izakaya saturate each neighborhood, customers are rarely carded when buying alcohol (even when a little below the 20-year-old legal age), alcohol is sold in some vending machines, it is perfectly legal to walk down the street drinking, and being drunk carries less of a social stigma than other countries.

More exciting are the abundance of alcoholic drinks to try: beer, wine, imported specialties, sake and one type of alcohol I am curious to try, Okinawa’s Awamori or “soul spirits.” Check out the video here.

Yes, with the beer blessings available to the drinker in the Far East, it seems everyone can only celebrate Japan’s stance on alcohol. Things change when you mix drinking with driving.

Don’t drink and drive in Japan. First of all, the legal limit of blood alcohol in Japan law is extremely low, leading many Japanese citizens to not even drink a sip of alcohol because they can be subject to  severe consequences. While each prefecture makes their own drunk driving regulations, Japan as a whole follows a point system. Rack up too many negative marks and your license can be eventually suspended or revoked. Serious drunk driving incidents can result in jail time or deportation and denied reentry of Japan to non-Japanese foreigners. More common is a hefty fine, roughly U.S. $3000 by current exchange rates. Yet, Japan goes one more step for booze cruisers: the offender may lose their job.

Japanese public servants, including jobs such as government workers, teachers, and judges, are expected and considered to be exemplary models of society. As such, a blemish on their record, such as the serious issue of drinking while impaired, can result in them losing their job. Taking away your license is one thing, but taking away your job? While a car is, of course, essential in more rural areas, with no job, the Japanese citizen is really in some deep tofu. The lifelong employment system is changing, but it is still incredibly difficult to find a new career when middle aged, even if there was not a DUI (drunk under the influence) charge on file.

Send in the Angels

There are a few options the celebrated drinker has to find his or her way home when less than sober. Living in the bigger cities means that trains or subways are an easy option, except when stranded after the last midnight rail ride has come and gone. For those who drive, an often expensive and annoying taxi ride home and next day return to the parking lot to pay an enormous fee and pick up your car is a necessary evil. But there is one option that can give you hope and light in your darkest hour. For the casual drinker to the drunk-ass in Japan, we turn to our guardian angels: the daiko service.

“Halleluiah! They’re coming!” I shout in glee to my friends after I see headlights turn the corner to meet us at the parking lot of a fine drinking establishment. Ignoring my friend’s request to translate “Halleluiah,” we walk with the angels to our car. The daiko system is a type of special taxi. The standard procedure is for two drivers to come in a taxi. One driver hops into your car with you and takes you where you want to go. While one driver is driving your car, the second driver is following in the taxi, keeping track of the fare. This option costs roughly the same as a standard taxi. The plus side is that you can drive your car somewhere and have your car driven back to where you want, ready for the next day. One of the daiko service driver who drove our car even let the Lady Gaga music that restarted with the car ignition continue playing all the way home. He even liked my babbling singing voice—or was that just his Poker Face?

By Justin Velgus

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • leslie nguyen says:

    Haha to the first sentence! If only the states in America had the “daiko service.” I can imagine how interesting it would be.


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