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Online Survey (May 9, 2003)

Water shortages, pollution, and other threats to the supply of safe drinking water are currently afflicting many countries around the world. In March 2003 the three prefectures of Kyoto, Shiga, and Osaka hosted the third World Water Forum, an event held to promote constructive discussion about solutions to water-related problems. Taking up the topic of water, in early March Trends in Japan conducted an e-mail survey on Japanese people's attitudes toward water, and particularly drinking water. While nearly 80% of survey respondents were pleased with the stability of Japan's water supply, a majority of 60% said they would not drink water straight from the tap because of the taste or for some other reason. Over half said they use bottled mineral water as their main source of drinking water, but nearly 70% of people who drink mineral water reported spending less than ¥1,000 ($8.33 at ¥120 to the dollar) per month on this product. This finding shows that Japan still has relatively abundant water resources, in a world where 31 countries are experiencing critical water shortages.

Water Supply Seen as Stable
The water survey was administered to 300 people aged 20 and over, 150 (70 men and 80 women) in the Tokyo metropolitan area and 150 (75 men and 75 women) in other regions, of whom 120 were residents of Nagano, Niigata, Toyama, Shizuoka, Hyogo, and Kumamoto Prefectures, areas famous for their excellent water.

The survey polled people about their views on the current state of Japan's tap water. In a multiple-response question, the statement chosen most often (by 76% of respondents) was "the water supply is stable." In order of prevalence, the next most often chosen statements were "it tastes bad" (42%) and "I don't like the way it smells" (33%). These sentiments were followed by the more positive responses "it's clear" (25%) and "it is very reliable in terms of safety" (24%). [See graph 1]

Respondents were asked whether they drink water straight from the tap. Those who said they often do accounted for 19% and those saying they sometimes do 21%. Thus the proportion who drink water from the tap with any regularity amounted to 40%, while the majority (60%) rarely or never do (38% said "rarely," and 22% said "never"). In a multiple-response follow-up question, the top reason given for not drinking tap water was "it tastes bad" (cited by 62%of non-drinkers), followed by "it's bad for your health" (53%), "it smells bad" (39%), and "I'm not in the habit of drinking tap water" (26%).

Most Drink Bottled Mineral Water
Demand for bottled mineral water has been rising, perhaps because people are not happy with the smell and taste produced by the chemicals that must be applied to treat piped water. In the survey, those who said they consume mineral water at home accounted for a majority of 54%, with 20% saying they "always have it on hand" and 34% saying they "purchase it sometimes." Those who do not drink mineral water made up just 46% of the total; 28% said they "rarely use it" and 18% said they "don't use it at all." [See graph 2]

Mineral water drinkers were asked about their water-drinking habits. Almost all of them (97%) said they "use it, either chilled or as is, for drinking." Other uses, in order of frequency, included "for boiling to make tea or other beverages" (29%), "for cooking" (28%), and "for disaster preparedness" (9%).

Mineral water drinkers were also asked about the criteria they use to select bottled water. By far the most frequently cited criterion was "price" (83%). Next came "quality" (39%), "country or water body of origin" (29%), "manufacturer" (28%), "brand" (26%), and "hardness or softness" (26%). In a multiple response question asking non-users why they do not drink mineral water, the response chosen most frequently was "I'm not in the habit of buying water" (59%), followed by "it's expensive" (52%) and "I'm satisfied with tap water" (34%). And 8% said they have water purifying devices installed at home.

The survey also looked at the amount of money people spend on mineral water each month. (Those who reported drinking no mineral water at all were not polled on this question.) 68% reported spending less than ¥1,000 ($8.33) per month, while 18% said they spend ¥1,000 to ¥2,499 ($8.33 to $20.83) and only a small fraction, 7%, said they spend ¥2,500 to ¥4,999 ($20.83 to $41.67). These findings show that mineral water consumption is still quite low. [See graph 3]

Water from Rokko, Switzerland, and Nagano Highly Rated
Finally, respondents were asked which parts of the world they associated with water that tastes good. The top three answers were Rokko in Hyogo Prefecture (64 votes), Switzerland (54 votes), and Nagano (50 votes). If all the responses related to Alpine regions (both in Europe and Japan) are totaled, these regions would be the third most popular response with a total of 53 votes. People clearly associate Alpine regions, whether the ones in Europe or the Japan Alps, with tasty water.

Factors such as variations in the quality of water sources and in the degree of chemical treatment lead to differences in tap-water quality among regions. Therefore, one would expect to see differences in how residents of the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka and residents of other areas rate water quality. One thing that respondents from everywhere agreed on was giving the water supply high marks for stability. Among big-city dwellers, however, 55% said that tap water "tastes bad," 42% said that it "smells bad," and 25% said "you can't rely on its safety." These negative images were only half as prevalent (28%, 25%, and 11%, respectively) among people living in provincial areas. And while only 25% of respondents in Tokyo and Osaka reported that they drink water straight from the tap, the equivalent percentage in other regions was over twice as high, at 56%. People who chose "it tastes bad" as their reason for not drinking tap water accounted for 69% of non-drinkers in Tokyo and Osaka but only 51% of their counterparts in other regions.

A similar gap was found in people's mineral water consumption habits. While 26% of respondents in Tokyo and Osaka said they always keep mineral water on hand, only 15% of respondents in other regions reported doing so. Not surprisingly in the light of this finding, many more provincial residents (27%) than Tokyo and Osaka residents (10%) reported that they do not drink mineral water at all. Asked to explain why they do not drink mineral water, a high proportion of non-drinkers in provincial areas (45%) said "I'm satisfied with tap water," a reason cited by less than half that proportion (18%) in Tokyo and Osaka. [See graph 4]

Mineral Water Most Popular Among People in Their Forties
On the whole, the survey results revealed no pronounced differences between men and women or among different age groups. However, there were differences in a few areas. For example, of the respondents who said they do not drink water straight from the tap, the proportion of women who cited "I'm not in the habit of drinking tap water" as their reason for not doing so was 34%, more than twice the equivalent figure for men. And the percentage of mineral water drinkers was considerably higher among respondents in their forties than in other age groups: A total of 64% in this age group said they "always keep it on hand" or "sometimes buy it."

Pollees were asked to describe any recollections of drinking outstandingly tasty tap or spring water. One recalled drinking water from a well in the countryside as a child, while another had fond memories of stopping to drink spring water while climbing a mountain, and some cited the water they would drink after training as members of school sports clubs.

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Related Web Sites
third World Water Forum

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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