Recent government data confirm that Japan remains a nation of beer drinkers, with beer and beer-like beverages accounting for nearly two thirds of the 9 billion liters of alcohol consumed last year.

Overall wine consumption grew significantly for the first time in many years, and customs data indicate that France, Italy and the United States accounted for the lion's share of the gains. Imports from down under fell sharply however, dropping Australia two notches to sixth place in the ranking of global wine suppliers to Japan.

One advantage of alcohol's highly regulated status is that detailed government data are available -- albeit with some delay. Each spring, the National Tax Agency releases per-capita liquor consumption data for the previous fiscal year ending March 31 (better late than never, we suppose), and the Ministry of Finance's Customs Bureau announces final import numbers for the just-concluded calendar year.