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'Lethal weapon': Bereaved families warn against binge drinking as online games spread

A board game that uses small bottles of liqueur as playing pieces. (Screen grab from YouTube)

TOKYO -- As universities in Japan welcome new students to their campuses, and parties to welcome these students are held by various groups, a liaison council comprising the bereaved families of students who died from binge drinking are working hard to prevent calls at parties pressuring young people to binge drink.

    The Ikki-nomi Boshi Renraku Kyogi-kai (Liaison council to prevent binge drinking) is warning that "calls for binge drinking can turn into lethal weapons" as part of its move this spring to prevent binge drinking and cases of people pressuring others to drink.

    "Ikki! Ikki!" -- literally "Binge! Binge! -- was chosen as the most popular phrase of the year in 1985 in an annual contest held by a Japanese publisher, which gave the act of binge drinking an opportunity to become even more popular as a result. According to the liaison council, people have died from acute alcohol poisoning every year since 1983, for a total of 161 so far. Since 1993, the year after its establishment, the council has appealed to universities in the spring, when their academic year begins, and other institutions, to prevent binge drinking.

    A poster created by the Ikki-nomi Boshi Renraku Kyogi-kai (Liaison council to prevent binge drinking). (Image grab from the council's website)

    The call "ikki" has changed its form and appeared on video sharing platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. The council is particularly concerned about a board game that was created to be played at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. The playing pieces that YouTubers use are small 20-millimeter bottles of liqueur with 15 or 20% alcohol content, and in the game participants binge drink. There are multiple videos up on the site, with over 20 million views.

    Since the coronavirus crisis began, no deaths from binge drinking have been confirmed. The season for parties welcoming freshman students to universities overlapped with the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020, and the fourth wave in 2021, but Japan is heading into spring without any government-mandated restrictions for dining out in place. That is why the liaison council settled on the slogan "calls for binge drinking can turn into lethal weapons." It has made A2 size posters with the slogan, and sent them to 752 universities along with a written request asking that preventative measures be taken.

    "According to data from the Tokyo Fire Department, it is clear that the number of people transported by emergency services for alcohol poisoning after various coronavirus-related restrictions are relaxed will tend to increase," said Tomomi Imanari, the chair of ASK (Alcohol Yakubutu Mondai Zenkoku Shimin Kyokai), or the Japan Specified Non-profit Corporation to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Problems, and other addictions, where the council's secretariat is located. "Industry groups and others are putting efforts into preventing binge drinking, but there is no way to restrict online actions, so it is important that universities and students have the right awareness," she said.

    (Japanese original by Nao Yamamoto, Osaka Project Marketing and Liaison Department)

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