- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

TOKYO Some beers in Japan, once notorious for the high cost of drink, are now as cheap as a bottle of mineral water as drinkers tighten their belts and brewers fight to retain customers.
The economic crisis gripping the country has produced some real bargains in other areas as well.
Business suits in department stores cost $86, the price of a silk tie in the past.
A chain of barbers has opened more than 120 shops in five years by offering 10-minute haircuts for about $9.
The stores save on space and time by such devices as gently vacuuming cut hair off the customer's head rather than blowing it on to the floor, where it would have to be swept up.
Customers are even urged to bring the exact money so that staff do not have to waste time at tills.
But it is the sales of beer that have shown the most remarkable change. A can from the leading brewer, Suntory, costs as little as 91 cents in supermarkets, less than half the price of the cheapest brews 10 years ago.
Despite their straight-laced image, Japanese men are prodigious after-work drinkers and costly beers used to be fiercely marketed.
Now, 12 years since the economic bubble burst, brewers have had to develop cheap brews called happoshu, meaning "fizzing alcohol."
Happoshu draws less tax than normal beers because it has less malt. The drawback is that it lacks flavor. Despite that, it has captured 40 percent of the market with prices as low as 50 cents a can.

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