Now that we’re well out of cherry-blossom season, the next round of outdoor drinking parties will take us out into the beer garden.

The muggy heat may seem tolerable only with an ice-cold ale in hand, but clinical psychologist Jim McRae says drinking shouldn’t be the only way to let off steam.

“I think problems with alcohol are not well understood by the general population of Japan,” he says. “What surprises people (who are new to Japan) is that there’s a lot of social pressure to drink, especially with work groups. Because the custom is that you pour someone else’s beer before you pour for yourself, if there’s any space in your glass for someone to pour beer into it, they will.”

McRae has lived in Japan for more than 30 years and is a clinical psychologist. He also provides clinical supervision to U.S. Navy alcohol counselors at the bases in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Sasebo, Okinawa Prefecture.

On the strong drinking culture in Japan, he explains, “the thing that makes sense to me is that (drinking) is the one time in Japan you can let loose and say what you really feel and it won’t come back to hurt you. It’s sort of the only stress reliever of that type in Japan”.

McRae says readers should remember to drink safely while having fun this summer.

“For most people it takes an hour and a half or so to metabolize each alcoholic drink,” he says, adding that one of the ways to stave off some of the bad health effects is to drink slowly. “If you’re going to have five or six beers in one day, don’t do that very often. You should do that only once every few months, but I’m afraid lots of people do it every other weekend. The problem is that many people can live like that for a long time, but their health is being compromised over time.”

For the sake of your health — and your wallet — space drinks apart with a round of water. Also remember to keep an eye out for your friends.

“If drinking alcohol is causing problems in your life, with your family, work or with yourself,” McRae warns, “then you probably shouldn’t do it.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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