Aims: The purpose of this paper is to outline alcohol availability, alcohol consumption and related harm, alcohol control policy and prevention programmes in Japan, few of which have been discussed in either the Japanese or English literature.
Methods: Data were collected primarily from the following two sources: statistics and survey results issued by the national government, including surveys funded by the government; and papers published since 2000, identified by searching the MEDLINE and Igaku-Chuo-Zasshi databases. These data were assessed regarding their quality and summarized. Some data presented here were produced specifically for this review.
Results: Although per capita alcohol consumption has tended to decline for more than 10 years, it has remained at a high level. Diversification of the drinking population has progressed rapidly, specifically in women, among whom alcohol consumption has increased sharply. Cross-sectional data suggest that alcohol consumption is associated with serious health and social consequences. Existing longitudinal data suggest that alcohol-related problems, especially health problems, have increased steadily over the past several decades, with few exceptions, including alcohol-related fatal road traffic accidents. Alcohol policy and prevention programmes have not developed to a level that can control these problems adequately. Specifically, the high availability of alcoholic beverages, including the lack of restrictions on sales and advertising and decreasing prices, are noted.
Conclusions: This review provides basic information regarding alcohol availability and alcohol consumption and related harm that may facilitate the improvement of existing alcohol control measures in Japan and encourage the development of new alcohol control measures. This research revealed the scarcity of longitudinal data regarding alcohol consumption and its consequences, and the lack of several important variables, such as disability adjusted life years, for improving our understanding of the comprehensive status of alcohol in Japan.