Sunday, June 18, 2023

Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth

 Alexander, Jeffrey

Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth: Alcohol and Drug Use in Japan

Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies, 2018


This book is a collection of essays on alcohol and methamphetamine use in Japan with a focus on advertising in the post war period and how that helped shape changes in the markets for the topics covered.

The first chapter is on whisky. Whisky distillers during the WWII had to fully convert to making alcohol based fuel. A few hid away casks of products from before that mandate and were able to sell them when the war was over to help reestablish their companies. The chapter goes into detail on how the distillers established a new post war market, first by providing whisky for the occupying forces' post exchanges, then making a cheaper product for those who could afford it. In time they turned to the establishment of company owned whisky bars and advertising to expand their market as Japan recovered from the war. The "bomb" in the title comes from bakudan which was made in the early post war years by distilling out the methyl alcohol in industrial alcohol so it could be "drinkable." The result was a cheap, and illegal, booze sold to those desperate for a drink when decent booze was too expensive. Consuming it could, and sometimes did, lead to blindness or death. Bakudan would fade away as Japan recovered from the devastation of the war and incomes rose making legal whisky affordable. 

Second chapter is on beer, as barley was a class B food established brewers were able to continue to make and sell beer, mainly to the Imperial Army and Navy during the war. After the war they worked to expand their trade by also selling to the occupiers and with advertising to a growing domestic market which increasingly included women and college students.


The third chapter is on liver stimulants and hangover remedies made and sold by pharmaceutical companies. These were heavily advertised and sold as a solution to hangovers and preventative of liver damage from drinking. This lasted until they were proven to be mainly ineffectual and in some cases actually damaging to health in the late 1950s. By 1960 they had faded from the market with a few exceptions consisting mainly of vitamins and no longer advertised in the same way. The promotion in the 1950s of these  products is similar in some ways to the unfounded claims often made today about some diet supplements.

The fourth and final chapter is on methamphetamine abuse. In WWII methamphetamine was used to assist pilots to stay alert and eventually given to factory workers to maintain production. After the war the manufacturers had a surplus supply which they then began selling to the general populace. At that time it was legal to purchase in liquid form under several brand names to be injected and there were no restrictions on access to hypodermic syringes. It was not unusual for people to use it regularly, such as office workers using it on a night of drinking when they started to lose energy. When the health problems associated with methamphetamine abuse became apparent in the 1950s meth was outlawed. At this point large advertising and press campaigns were employed by the authorities and police to discourage use.


All in all this book was very informative with many details I had never heard of before.

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