We asked your opinions about this long-standing, big-gulping tradition.

Recently, we asked you, SoraNews24 readers, to give us your opinion on Japan’s custom of loudly slurping soba, ramen, and other noodles as they’re eaten. When the votes were tallied, you showed a pretty clear stance on the subject, but as we sifted through the comments, one in particular caught our eye.

“What really bothers me is the sound of people drinking a beverage in commercials where you hear the sound of the throat moving.”

This caught our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun by surprise. Having grown up in Japan, P.K. has been exposed to the big-gulp sounds of beverage advertising for his whole life, making the practice seem completely normal to him. Honestly, until now, he’d always just assumed it was a universal thing done in all countries, and hadn’t had a sense of it being a uniquely Japanese thing.

▼ Here’s an example from a commercial for Calpis Soda, where even the narration says “Goku goku” (“Gulp gulp”) as the actress quaffs without quietude.

So…why? Well, for starters it’s a way to quickly convey just how much the drinker is enjoying the drink, since they wouldn’t be gulping with such gusto if it were anything less than absolutely delicious. Japanese weather patterns probably play a part too. Almost all of Japan gets very hot and humid in the summer months, with those conditions usually lingering for a good chunk of September too. During that period, pretty much every beverage maker in the market rolls out special summer-themed commercials, in which they’re eager to show just how thirst-quenching their products are on a sweltering, sweaty day, so once again, big gulping noises are meant to show how satisfyingly refreshing the drink is.

There might even be a linguistic factor at play. In Japanese, the word nodogoshi often comes up when talking about beverages. Translating literally as “throat passing,” nodogoshi is conceptually similar to mouthfeel, but refers specifically to the sensation as a liquid slides down your throat, and whereas “mouthfeel” seems to crop up most commonly in English when discussing wine, nodogoshi has long been used when talking about beer, which is much more heavily advertised on TV and other video formats, and in mainstream beer advertising and even for soft drinks. Since gulping is a sound that comes from the throat, it becomes an audio clue that whatever is being drunk probably has a good nodogoshi.

All of these factors combined actually came to be perceived as making gulping noises too effective at enticing people to drink the beverage being presented. In 2017, after decades of on-camera gulping, Japan’s major brewers collectively decided on a self-imposed advertising restriction in which they mutually agreed to stop using the gulping sound in their beer commercials, following a statement of concern from the Japanese government that the sound could cause harmful levels of temptation and stress to viewers who are grappling with alcohol dependency.

▼ OK, Super Dry, you can stay, as long as you keep quiet.

Gulping continues to be common in advertising for non-alcoholic beverages, though, and has become so ingrained in portrayals of enthusiastic liquid consumption that they’re not likely to disappear anytime soon. But even though P.K., and most Japanese people, have no problem with those commercial gulps, what about people who didn’t grow up with all this cultural context? Curious to know more, we once again conducted a survey trough the SoraNews24 Facebook page, asking:

Quick question about Japanese commercials for beverages. Many times, the actors and actresses make big gulping noises as they drink. What do you think about this?
A. I think it’s gross.
B. It doesn’t bother me.
C. Actually, that sound makes me want to drink it even more!

When P.K. checked back, we’d received 606 answers, and while it wasn’t a landslide like we saw with our noodle-slurping survey, once again one response was by far the strongest.

● I think it’s gross: 9 percent of responses
● It doesn’t bother me: 75 percent
● Actually, that sound makes me want to drink it even more! : 16 percent

As with the slurping survey, it’s a safe bet that as readers of SoraNews24, the respondent pool is a more Japanese media-savvy than the average outside-Japan demographic, and so probably a bit more flexible and acclimated to such cultural differences. Still, it shows that maybe Japanese marketers really are on to something, especially for commercials that are for use within Japan.

Oh, and before we wrap things up, there’s one point of distinction between noodle-slurping and gulp-drinking. While you’ll commonly see Japanese people slurping noodles in real life, the gulp-drinking is really more of a commercial-only kind of thing. So while no one will mind if you audibly slurp your noodles in a restaurant or your Japanese friends’ home, making exaggeratedly noisy gulping sounds while actually having an Asahi Super Dry or Pocari Sweat will probably get you some weird looks, and maybe even a request to quiet down.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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