The Japanese word for hangover – futsukayoi – gives some indication of just how much they drink. It translates as "two days drunk," but as the Japanese drinking blog Gaijin Tonic points out, you can also use mikkayoi (three days drunk) or yokkayoi (four days drunk). The alcohol market in Japan is one of the largest in the world, worth over ¥6 trillion or $52 billion.
With 22% of the Japanese work force working more than 50 hours a week (compared to 11% of Americans), hangovers – and the possibility of missed work – are something to be taken very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that there's a $178 million industry in Japan dedicated to the sale of prepackaged hangover cures and preventions. "One key feature of the Japanese market is that there's a high demand for drinks to recover from situations that are bad for your health, such as a hangover," marketing analyst Shun Yokoyama said in an interview with The Daily Mail. The demand is real, and it's not drunken college kids who are fueling it: it's professional adults. Makoto Yamauchi, a 54-year-old Japanese exhibition builder, swears by them. "I buy them about 10 times a month," he told NDTV.com.
"I always take hangover-prevention drinks before going out."
They key word here is "before." These drinks are meant to be consumed before or during drinking, rather than in the messy, shame-laced aftermath of trying to find your shoes in a Tokyo hotel room while your eyeballs threaten to explode in your skull. It's a sort of preventative pre-gaming... and it's big business.
(Ukon No Chikara commercial via YouTube)
Hair of the dog that bit you... or, what's in them?
As Atlas Obscura notes, the manufacturers of these Japanese "health drinks" take an organ-centric approach in compounding their tonics, that is, they focus on natural ingredients that supposedly aid in detoxifying the liver. Among the most popular are:
The main ingredient in the extremely popular Ukon No Chikara ("The Power of Tumeric"), which, the company claims, "strengthens the liver, stimulates gastric juice production and therefore promotes the breakdown of alcohol. Because of this effect, the day after a party can be started refreshed and worry-free."
(via Jordan Cheung: Flickr)
• Beef Liver:
Beef liver – specifically liver hydrolysate – is found, along with tumeric, in Hepalyse, another popular option that is also available in pill form. "I think it’s fair to say in Japan the remedies are a lot more medically specific," Japan-based food and drinks writer Nicholas Coldicott told Atlas Obscura, "There are pictures of livers on some of the bottles." The company's website says that Hepalyse comes in an "easy to drink pine flavor." Beef liver is vitamin-rich, containing plenty of iron and b vitamins, and is both natural and orally bioavailable.
• Amino acids, B-vitamins, and electrolytes:
The amino acid Taurine, along with vitamins B-2, B-6, and B-12, and sodium, magnesium, and potassium are found in many of these drinks, with the latter electrolytes being a major ingredient in Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink similar to Gatorade that many swear by as a morning after helper. The idea here is to replenish and rehydrate as sake oozes from your pores on the subway ride to work.
• Assorted "greens:"
One product – Solmac – is known for tasting awful. Japan Info writes that the tiny bottle contains a mixture of "grass, leaf extracts, turmeric, ginseng, and licorice." Leaf extracts? Grass? It doesn't sound terribly promising, but some say that's what makes it effective. The author of the Chanko Food blog writes "if you can down a whole bottle of it without gagging, you probably will make it through the day without vomiting."
Now one American wants to take his version of the Japanese hangover cure global.
23-year-old NYU graduate Eddie Huai used to get crippling hangovers, and not the kind that most college students endure every Sunday morning. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Huai said "I'm missing an enzyme to help process alcohol so happy hours with a few beers was a real problem for me." While on a trip to Japan, a friend introduced him to one of the more popular hangover tonics with startling results: he woke up feeling great. On his return, he decided to research and develop his own product with the help of a PhD. Together, they developed FlyBy, which comes in capsules that are packaged both in bottles and in single use packets and, like their Japanese counterparts, are meant to be taken before drinking.
(Courtesy of FlyBy)
There's no grass in this, but there is beef liver.
FlyBy contains ingredients that are scientifically and solidly proven to assist in the metabolism of alcohol. According to their label, FlyBy's 730 mg "detox blend" includes Liver Hydrolysate, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC), Milk Thistle Extract, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and Dihydromyricetin. NAC is used to treat liver failure and Acetaminophen overdoses in hospitals and is a well-known hangover preventer.
As the company notes on their website, "your liver can only process one drink per hour. So when you drink more alcohol than it can break down, alcohol-induced toxins build up and put more stress on your body. Flyby was carefully formulated to support liver function, replenish nutrients and metabolize toxins like acetaldehyde so you wake up feeling better." They include links to peer-reviewed research indicating the efficacy of their ingredients.
Following the Japanese model, Huai is targeting the same demographic: professionals who drink.
"So we're not focused on the binge drinking market (i.e. college students) at all," Huai told us in an interview. "Our target consumer is someone aged 25-40, whose body can't recover as quickly from a night out anymore, even if they're only having a few drinks.
"These people have the most responsibilities so it's imperative for them to be able to balance their social life with work."
Huai sees huge opportunities in a potential hangover industry... and not just in America.
Although not yet available in stores, 10% of FlyBy's sales come from the United Kingdom. Where there's drinking, he reasons, there are hangovers... and each one of those regrettable blacked-out, drunk-text mornings is an opportunity.
"The alcoholic beverage market was valued at $50 billion in Japan and the US alone is 7 times bigger than that, yet there's no dominant player in the hangover industry here," Huai says.