National | BY THE NUMBERS

Brewers hope to bask in suds sales as mercury rises

by Taiga Uranaka

The mood at breweries goes up with the mercury — when it’s blazing hot, ice-cold beer is irresistible and sales skyrocket.

With each 1 degree rise in the temperature, national beer consumption increases by 1 million large bottles a day in June-August, according to Kirin Brewery Co.

The estimate, taken from a 7-year average through 2002, translates into 660 kiloliters of beer each time the thermometer goes up a notch.

But Japanese breweries have seen a steady decline in beer sales in recent years, hit hard by a prolonged economic slump and the more diversified tastes of the younger generation.

The situation was made even worse by last year’s cold summer, along with a tax hike on the traditionally cheaper “happoshu,” a low-malt beer-like beverage.

The combined shipments of beer and happoshu by Japan’s five major breweries fell 6.3 percent in 2003, the second-largest decline in the postwar period. The happoshu market shrank for the first time since the product was first introduced in 1994.

Last year was the coldest summer in a decade, according to the Meteorological Agency. The average June-August temperature in eastern Japan, including Tokyo, was 0.6 degrees lower than the usual summer average. In July , the temperature was an average 2.1 degrees lower.

The change in temperature was significant, an agency official said. “Like human body temperature, a difference of 1 degree means a lot.”

But this summer has already been extremely hot. A heat wave hit the archipelago earlier this month, with the mercury rising above 35 in many regions.

The annual rainy season was declared over Tuesday in most parts of Japan, 18 to 20 days earlier than last year, the agency said.

It said the rest of the summer will bring average temperatures to northern and eastern Japan and average or higher temperatures to the west and south.

But if it gets too hot, beer makers will have another problem.

“If temperatures go too high, people start taking thirst-quenchers like water and sports drinks,” said Makoto Ando, a Kirin spokesman. “They end up taking too much liquid and lose their thirst for beer by the evening.”