JIN-388 -- One Cranberry Juice for the Road

The J@pan Inc. Newsletter
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
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Issue No. 388
Wednesday October 11, 2006 TOKYO

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CONTENTS:
@@ VIEWPOINT: One Cranberry Juice for the Road

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@@ VIEWPOINT: One Cranberry Juice for the Road

On the evening of August 25 Futoshi Imabayashi, 22, drank copious quantities of beer and shochu at home and a local pub. Then he got behind the wheel. He didn't see the SUV on the bridge over Hakata Bay in Fukuoka. He slammed into the vehicle's rear. The SUV plunged into the bay, killing three children, ages 4, 2, and 1.

The accident shocked the nation and led to a crackdown that netted 4,383 drunk drivers during one week in mid-September.

I had personal experience with the crackdown. At the top of the hill where I live I was stopped several times. The red wands would wave me over, and the officer would poke the breathalyzer into the car and ask if I'd been drinking.
"Not a drop," I would reply. This became routine, and I got to know the officers at the checkpoint. There were the diffident middle-aged, bespectacled officer and his petite assistant, cute as a button in her uniform.

I would give them words of encouragement: "You're doing a great job."

They deserved an A for effort. But I question their modus operandi. Every night at the same corner they waved their red wands. Surely denizens of the "water trade" knew of the hilltop checkpoint. Alas, it was a pro forma inspection, largely done for its own sake.

Meanwhile, automakers are examining the installation of systems that prevent the engine from starting if they detect alcohol on the driver's breath. Even if the companies, including Nissan and Toyota, succeed in system development, they will have to work out pricing issues and meet legal regulations. And the systems may not be foolproof. How, for example, could they detect whether the person blowing into a breathalyzer is the driver?

More encouraging are frontline efforts to deter people from overindulging in the first place.

Amiyakitei Co. Ltd., a yakiniku restaurant chain with headquarters in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, is revamping operations at "Minoji," its chain of suburban yakitori restaurants, in response to the recent crackdown on drunk driving. What's the connection? Well, yakitori, those marinated morsels of chicken on a skewer, go well with beer, sake, or shochu. Yakitoriya, as these specialty restaurants are called, are known for their alcohol-inspired cheer.

Amiyakitei wants to make the restaurants places where you bring your family rather than make merry with your buddies.
So the company is expanding Minoji's food menu to include a variety of chicken dishes, such that yakitori is no longer central. It has, for example, increased its selection of rice pot dishes (kamameshi). It has also rearranged the seating and hung a new shingle to attract families. It will open a test store in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, in November.
If the test store draws mom, pop, and kids, Amiyakitei plans to remodel existing stores.

Many customers drive to Minoji restaurants, most of which, located in the suburbs, are not conveniently accessed by public transportation. At present alcoholic beverages account for 25 percent of sales volume. Amiyakitei hopes to reduce their share to 18 percent by increasing sales per customer through diversification of the menu. According to the Nikkei Shimbun, the respected financial daily, Keisuke Sato, Amiyakitei's president, said, "We aim to create a restaurant not dependent on alcohol sales."

After Futoshi Imabayashi's fatal bender in August, Minoji's sales have plummeted. Sales in August were down four percent from those in the same month last year. In September they were down as much as 12 percent.

Even more encouraging than efforts like Amiyakitei's is a gradual revolution in consciousness. Topers are starting to realize DUI kills. I offer myself as a case in point.

Last week I drove to a favorite watering hole in Yokohama's Chinatown. What did I order? Cranberry juice. And I was glad I did; for I was ready for the red wand treatment by Lovely Rita Meter Maid on top of the hill.

-- Burritt Sabin
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Comments

All these people getting behind the wheel drunk should be punished especially if they cause accidents. The DUI fine is not enough, they should be checked in a drug free rehab and then arrested for a period. This way they will get their addiction out of their system and maybe learn that every bad thing gets punished.

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