Summer in Japan has traditionally meant fireworks and beer halls, but this year the post-March 11 earthquake mood seems to be continuing, casting a shadow over these hot-weather staples.
Some 60 percent of firework festivals in the Tokyo area — and 20 percent nationwide — have been canceled, and beer sales are down.
On July 12, the June figures for sales by Japan’s five major beer companies showed a fall in beer shipments of 11.1 percent compared with the same period a year earlier; shipments for the first half of the year were down 3.5 percent from last year.
The cause is thought to lie in the post-disaster cancellation of banquets and other parties as well as less eating and drinking out by individuals.
In fact, half-year sales of cheap, “third-category” nonmalt beers were up 3.2 percent, presumably meaning more people were staying in and drinking at home.
On the other hand, the new popularity of Korean drinks, as well as the continuing sales of canned highball drinks, suggests there may be a larger trend away from beer beyond the post-quake depressed mood of consumers.
In the first half of this year, Korean exports of alcoholic beverages to Japan were up 63 percent over the same period last year, helped by the cheap won. This includes third-category beers, but particularly popular is makkori (makgeoli in Korean) rice wine, with sales up four times over last year.
Sales of Suntory’s Seoul Makkori have been so strong since its March debut that the company has tripled its sales projections; TV commercials featuring Korean actor Jang Keun Suk seem to have been particularly effective.
The makkori boom is no doubt connected with the Korean TV drama boom starting a decade ago. Although this started out with housewives, recently popular K-Pop singing groups have led to younger fans, sparking the popularity of makkori drinks among younger Japanese women.
And, in one welcome sign that summer lightheartedness has not been entirely lost, a new parfait is on sale at a Tokyo hotel whose height each day is determined by that day’s weather forecast. On a day with a temperature of 32 degrees, it is 32-cm tall, giving at least one benefit to a hot day.
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