It's not clear if the writer of an article that appeared on the English-language website of the Asahi Shimbun recently got his own joke, but by saying that the Finance Ministry is "creating a buzz" by proposing to lower the alcohol tax on beer, he got to the heart of the matter. The government hopes that more people will drink beer if the price goes down, thus generating more tax revenue.

At the same time, the tax rate for happōshu (malt liquor) and so-called type-three beer-like beverages will be increased so that the levy on all three categories will be the same: ¥55 for a 350 ml can. What is causing some people to scratch their heads is that it seems unlikely that sales of happōshu and type-three beverages will remain the same once their price goes up, because the only reason they sell at all right now is their low price, which is a function of their lower tax rates as determined by malt content. The Asahi reports that since sales of cheaper brews are dropping anyway, maybe a lower tax on beer will increase sales of real beer and assure a steadier flow of money into the treasury.

But maybe the reason for the tax change is something else. On his blog at the portal site Breaking News, freelance writer Sadao Arai asked in April, "Who will benefit from the alcohol sales law revision?" but he wasn't talking about the alcohol tax. He was talking about a proposal to ban super-low prices for alcohol to protect small liquor stores that are being driven out of business by discount retailers and supermarkets. Arai, whose family used to have the monopoly on wholesale liquor business in the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo, doesn't believe that the real reason behind this law is protecting small stores, since it's way too late to do that.