asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Things to come 22 January, 2014

Filed under: news — johnraff @ 2:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

Japan’s rapidly aging population is a problem that the rest of the world will have to face soon enough, so things like this will probably be coming to a place near you before long. A discussion on the radio this Monday, about how old people suffering from dementia could best be cared for, mentioned a recent court case. As far as I remember it went like this: a 91 year old man was being looked after by his 85 year old wife and their daughter-in-law, who had moved from Yokohama to be near at hand so that the old gentleman would be able to continue living at home in spite of his difficulties. This is exactly the kind of “care in the community” approach that has been generally promoted as being in the best interests of both the individual, who could still live in familiar surroundings with a certain amount of freedom, and the community, who would be saved the cost of a place in a home or hospital.

One day, however, the man came back from his day-care centre and while the daughter-in-law was making a cu of tea he walked out of the front door and disappeared. Later he wandered onto a level-crossing and was killed by a train. On top of their grief, the family were hit by a lawsuit from the train company who had cancelled services, paid for buses for passengers etc etc, and the court ruled that the wife and daughter-in-law had been negligent in their care of the old man and ordered them to pay 7,200,000 yen damages.

So people who sacrifice their own time and efforts to save the country from being saddled with another dependent are rewarded by being held liable for any slip in their work! This outrageous ruling, if it becomes the norm, will mean:

  • Family members will be extremely reluctant to offer to help in looking after relatives with dementia for fear of the being held responsible.
  • Old people will be looked on more and more as a liability and danger, and their ability to contribute to society overlooked.
  • Such peoples’ liberty will be more and more restricted – locked doors, maybe even physical restraint.
  • More and more, the only option will appear to be incarceration in some institution, where the level of care is sometimes horrendous, and at best lacking in the warmth of a family, and at high financial cost either to the family or to the community.

Of course the train company were only claiming their rights under the law, but this whole area obviously needs some rethinking.

 

 

The Third Beer 31 May, 2012

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 1:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

Taxes. Unavoidable of course, and liable to change people’s lives. Fewer windows, less lung disease… Land tax in Japanese cities is high, with the result that empty lots are quickly put to some useful economic purpose to pay the tax. On the other hand, beautiful Japanese-style houses are knocked down because their owners could no longer afford to live in them.

Spirits like whisky and shochu are relatively low-taxed, so there’s not much reason to buy anything in the duty-free shops on your way here; beer, however, is hit with something like 45% tax! It used to be luxury item, for the snooty westernized Japanese who didn’t want to drink sake or shochu. Postwar, everyone started drinking beer, but the government, addicted to that nice 45% revenue, aren’t going to lower it any time soon. There are more oddities in the messy Japanese liquor tax system. The level of tax on beer is determined by its malt content. Under 67%, and it has to be called “happoshu“, not beer, but as compensation the tax rate is only 35% or so. Happoshu tastes vaguely like beer, but it’s pretty anaemic stuff, not really worth putting up with for the ¥15 you save over the price of a real can of beer. Even so, in these hard times pseudo-beers have been selling quite well, especially since the beer manufacturers discovered yet another tax category: this is for those “alcopops” that have been popular in the West, just flavoured water with some distilled alcohol added, and much lower taxed even than happoshu.

These so-called “third beers” were flavoured with anything the maker could come up with – soy beans, seaweed, or if you were lucky a very weak happoshu – dosed with some extra hops and a dash of cheap industrial alcohol to bring the strength up to the usual 5% or so. They tasted about as horrible as they sound, but cost about half what real beer did – maybe ¥2400 for a case of 24 350ml cans. Every month or so a new brand came out, each tasting as vile as the last, but the market shifted down from beer to happoshu, and finally the only sector where sales were holding up was that Third Beer stuff.

OK now the (sort of) good news. Over the years, those beer companies’ R&D departments have been hard at work, and the latest varieties of beeroids are very slightly less disgusting than they used to be. A couple of years ago Sapporo had a happoshu called “Sugomi” which wasn’t bad at all; it was soon dropped for some reason, but now they’ve got a Third Beer called “Mugi to Hoppu” (麦とホップ) which I’d have to admit isn’t really too bad. Mugi to Hoppu BlackThe name means “wheat/barley and hops” and somehow they’ve managed to concoct this stuff only from those ingredients without going into a beer tax bracket. It seems as if they brew a low-grade happoshu with a little bit of malt, boost the taste with some unmalted barley or wheat, add more hop flavour and some alcohol which has been distilled from wheat or barley (the two words are the same in Japanese). Put it in the fridge for a while, and amazingly it’s not too bad, especially on a hot summer day. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather drink real beer any time, preferably a craft beer from one of the local microbreweries, but at ¥100 a can this will do for a quick one after work. Last winter a “black” version came out which is even harder to distinguish from some kinds of black beer. If you don’t want to work your way through every variety of beer-like beverage in the supermarket, check this one out. (Sapporo haven’t yet paid me anything for writing this, but of course donations are welcome…)

Now the recent sales of beery things have been generally pretty poor in fact. Young people are abandoning beer in favour of sweeter “cocktails” and those alcopops which might have inspired the Third Beers. Actually, young people are abandoning alcohol in general, believe it or not. Instead of going for a quick one with the gang from the office after work, they go straight home and… do whatever it is they do… The single beverage category whose sales are booming is non-alcoholic beer. Seriously.

The country is going to the dogs.

 

 
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