Asia Shorts

Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth: Alcohol and Drug Use in Japan



ISBN 978-0-924304-85-9. 180 pages. Paperback.

Jeffrey W. Alexander

In Japan, beer has been known, since the 1960s, as the “beverage of the masses,” and whisky culture has roots stretching back to the 1950s. Meanwhile, methamphetamine was first developed in Japan and came to be sold commercially by the 1940s, and the country has also experimented with homegrown hangover drugs. By combining studies on each of these products and marketplaces, Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth explores the efforts of those who brewed, distilled, synthesized, and marketed Western alcohol and innovative pharmaceuticals. Jeffrey W. Alexander asks how these products became so popular, available, and fashionable, and explores what their advertising campaigns say about Japan’s shifting culture, which is often quick to absorb and refine foreign wares. Alexander’s research highlights themes like the seedy reputation of early bars, the style of prewar beer advertising, the scourge of illicit postwar liquor, the promises offered by hangover pills, and the swift campaign to demonize meth and eradicate its use. Examining these products, as well as their innovators and advertisers, offers us unique and rich perspectives on Japan’s experience with drugs and alcohol.

“The history of intoxicants is rife with misperceptions and normative evaluations—or often simply ignored. Jeffrey Alexander’s engaging and readable study trains a discerning lens on this fraught subject, showing how the manufacture and marketing of stimulants that originated in the West was both a symptom and a byproduct of rising affluence in postwar Japan.”

— Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, author, Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History

“Drinking Bomb and Shooting Meth is a masterful analysis of modern Japanese alcohol and drug culture. Alexander links shifting attitudes toward a century-old methamphetamine culture, and a post-WWII pink poisonous alcohol “bomb,” with anxieties over addiction and foreigners—a trajectory that could hardly differ more from that of the seemingly more fashionable whisky and beer, whose consumption is shown to have moved from shady alleyways to decidedly more positive venues. This is a must-read scholarly study, with details alternately humorous and horrific.”

— Norman Smith, author, Intoxicating Manchuria


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