Posts Tagged drinking in Japan
When English teachers leave NOVA, there are usually 2 major farewell parties: the “official” party with teachers and staff, and the “unofficial” party with teachers and students.
Tonight was my official farewell party. Most of the teachers from the area showed up, and a few staff joined as well. We enjoyed beer and sushi at Ryoba, the most popular izakaya for teachers. I was happy that The Penpal was able to attend for a few hours. Her parents are extremely strict and didn’t like her out late, especially to hang out at an izakaya with a bunch of rowdy English teachers. I’m happy they were flexible for my farewell party.
After closing out Ryoba, the second party included karaoke and pool (billiards) at one of the new karaoke places near Numazu station. It was a lot of fun and I didn’t have to worry about being in rough shape for work the next day: there is no more work!
After work I had plans with a few teachers to go for a beer at Wara Wara. Our outing started small, but as word got around more people kept showing up. Our table started to get cramped, so we asked to upgrade to a larger table. Wara Ware was already hosting a large party, so they couldn’t give us anything bigger.
Since we didn’t want to remain stacked like sardines, we relocated to Uotami, where we were joined by even more teachers and friends. I’m not sure if everyone really needed a drink, or if people were afraid of missing out: whatever the reason our small group going for a few beers had turned into an event. We eventually outgrew our table at Uotami, so the staff moved us into an available party room.
The good news is that our spacious party room contained a karaoke machine. The bad news was that the karaoke machine did not have the usual selection of English songs that we could find at our usual karaoke places. The thought of staring at an unused karaoke machine was too much for me to bear, so I started searching through the song book for anything that might have more English than Japanese.
Many of the printed songbooks for karaoke rooms show the first line of the song next to the name and artist. I scanned through the list and stopped at something that looked amazing: Sad Cows Song by Japanese ska / punk bank Shakalabbits.
The song was 98 seconds of pure awesome. With lyrics including “Let us drink to much milk hey, because we feel sorry for the cows around the world” it quickly because a highlight of our evening. Hooray for Shakalabbits!
Today is one of my scheduled days off. This morning I was woken up by my phone. I got a call from NOVA asking me to work an overtime shift in Fujinomiya.
I was totally caught off guard by the overtime request and still half asleep so I almost said yes. Somewhere in the back of my brain an alarm bell started ringing, reminding me that Fujinomiya was about a 40 minute train ride away and that the school was full of group kids classes. I like extra money, but I needed the day off more so I declined and went back to sleep for a few more hours. I found out later that the overtime shift came available due to a teacher calling in sick the day after a party.
One of the annoying things about being a conversational English teacher is that everyone has different days off. This allows the branch to be open 7 days a week, but guarantees that no matter which night of the week there is a party, someone is going to have to work the next day.
Drinking is part of the English teacher culture – many of the fun events after work involve alcohol in some way. In time you either learn how to moderate your intake on work nights or how to work through a hangover. Calling in sick the next day is universally considered to be bad form among teachers, and will make you very unpopular with managers and branch staff (as I learned first hand).
It should be noted that “not drinking” is always an option, but then you risk truly hearing how bad everyone is at karaoke. I don’t recommend this at all.
If you are teaching English overseas, always make sure you can get into the office the next day!
After work I took a rare taxi ride to the Numazu port area to check out a bar called “Tap Room”. It is a small brew pub with a great view of the port. The house beer was fantastic, and they had a huge selection of (slightly expensive) snacks to go with it.
One of Koalako’s friends was the live music for the night, singing English songs while playing acoustic guitar. We also got a free performance from another one of Koalako’s friends Shinya, who specializes in close magic. It was entertaining to watch him perform the same tricks twice, first in English and then in Japanese for the crowd at our table.
Like most nights out, we all ended up at karaoke later on, ruining some songs over nomi-hodai.
(2017 Update) The correct name of the place I went is Baird Taproom Numazu Fishmarket. The brewery is a local success story – the American owner and his Japanese wife moved to Numazu and opened a tiny brewpub. Supported by family, they slowly grew and now have 6 tap rooms and export overseas. Read more here then go and enjoy a delicious beer!
Tonight I went out for drinks with my old roommate Azeroth, who is now once again living in Numazu.
Azeroth and I lived together from 2004-2006 when I was teaching in the Numazu area. I visited him on my subsequent trips to Japan, including a fun night out a few years ago not too far from the broken nuclear reactor. This time no major travel was required – his new condo is about a 15 minute walk from The Penpal’s house.
We met outside his new condo and caught up on life as we walked towards the Nakamise area south of Numazu station. Nakamise is a covered shopping area which was home to my old NOVA branch. The area is full of stores, restaurants, and more importantly, izakayas. Our first stop was a place known for their good selection of grilled meat on sticks. We were joined by Klaxman and one of our former students, and enjoyed some drinks and izakaya food.
Klaxmax and the student called it a night at a sensible time. Azeroth and I dropped them off at the station, charged up with an energy drink, and then went back in search of another beverage or two.
One of the best parts about being friends with Azeroth is that he takes the time to scout every drinking establishment in the area. As we were walking, he listed off our many options and their merits. Truly he has missed his calling as an alcohol tour guide.
Deciding to avoid any chains, Azeroth led us down a narrow alley that I would have normally passed right by. At the end was a door with a picture of a pig’s head and a sign which read “BooFooWoo”. Unless I am missing something, there is literally nothing about the name and picture on the door that would give you any hint that you’re at a bar.
As soon as we entered, Azeroth was greeted like a regular and we were shown past the narrow pathway between sunken tables towards prime seating at the bar. After placing our order, the bartender brought over the karaoke machine that was being passed around. I did a pretty decent version of Ziggy Stardust while Azeroth busted out the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We both got some cheers and applause from the rest of the bar, and made sure to return the favour when they sang.
BooFooWoo is exactly the right kind of place for some low key drinks and karaoke with friends. We ended up having a few more drinks and performing a duet of Come and Get Your Love before calling it a night.
As I walked (stumbled) the long walk back towards The Penpal’s house I realized how much I missed nights out like tonight from my teaching days. Being a parent cuts down the time to go out with friends and getting older makes recovery the next day even harder. I’m happy I got a chance to get out this evening and hope I get another chance before leaving.
Epilogue: I’m pretty sure the Penpal’s father was still awake when I got home. Not sure if he was was worried that I would get lost or just wanted to see how late I came home.
Today was Atami summer festival. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I had so much fun last year that I decided that I couldn’t miss out. A few of my coworkers and I met up after work and rode the train through the mountains (literally through tunnels) to Atami, where we were greeted by Koalako.
Before the parade, we did some pre-gaming at Koalako’s parents house. They supplied us with Hapi coats, the traditional vest like garments that people wear to hot, humid summer festivals. Just like the year before, we got to help pull the float through the hilly, winding streets of Atami, completely surrounded by people, noise and lights. It was hot and humid and felt like we were in the world’s noisiest sauna! We all had fun, the only incident being Molly getting beer in her eye on an errant pour.
Koalako’s parents invited us back to their house for a post festival celebration including lots of food and beer. The beer was served in the traditional style, pouring into small glasses from big bottles. Every time there was some space in a glass, one of our hosts would fill it with beer. This is a great way to lose track of how much you’ve had to drink. Having some experience with this before, I kept a close watch on my beer consumption. My coworkers took a while longer to catch on, so making the walk back to the train station particularly challenging.
Despite Molly falling asleep on the platform while waiting for our train, we all got home safely, if a little drunk and sweaty. Just like last year, Atami summer festival was a great time!
Today was St. Patrick’s Day, a cultural celebration of someone that I assume was named Patrick. Like many Canadians, I don’t know the reason for the celebration, but I do know that it’s a great excuse to wear green and drink.
It’s not easy to find a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Japan, but my coworkers managed to do just that. They learned that Speak E-Z, billed as an English school and bar, was hosting a St. Patrick’s day event.
There is nothing particularly wrong with Speak E-Z, but among NOVA teachers it had gained a reputation similar to the way that people react to GasPanic; meat factory for foreign guys to meet Japanese women. Speak E-Z was far less sketchy than GasPanic, and didn’t have any indication that you needed to have drink in your hand at all times to remain inside (author’s note – don’t take that sign literally!)
After work the other teachers and I headed straight to the bar, which was already unusually busy. I would guess that Speak E-Z should comfortably hold about 50 people. There was a band set up in the corner taking up space, and by the end of the night there must have been over 100 people jammed into the remaining space. I didn’t care because they had 300 yen green beer.
My memories of the evening are fuzzy. I remember running into Palmer’s ex-girlfriend and talking to her for a while. When she and Palmer were together, she was ALWAYS at our apartment, even when he wasn’t. This kept Azeroth and I from getting along with her, so it was good to get a chance to talk to her afterwards. She is a pretty cool person overall.
I also remember drinking more than enough green beer, and then later finding out that the mugs had left green rings around my mouth. This led to another vague memory of deciding that I was done with green rings around my mouth and that I should switch to tequila shots.
Drinking pro-tip: if you are half way through an evening out and suddenly think that tequila shots are a good idea, go home. You’re judgement is impaired and you will only make bad decisions from this point forward.
We left at closing, covered in green spills, smelling like cigarette smoke (yes, you can smoke inside in Japan), and still tasting tequila. Someone decided that they would offer Vivian a ride home in their bicycle basket. Vivian is a tall, full figured British woman who has trouble buying women’s clothes off the rack in Japan. She was not designed to fit in a bicycle basket. They surprisingly lasted about one city block before the bicycle fell over, spilling both driver and passenger. I ran to assist and managed to twist my knee YET AGAIN. Despite the anesthetic effects of the alcohol I had consumed, I had a miserable walk home and an unpleasant sleep.
At least I didn’t have to work early shift like the other teachers!
Hello readers, this is a story which didn’t originally appear on my blog 10 years ago. I usually have no problem writing about my own misadventures, but I am often reluctant to write about somebody else’s. It’s a fun story, and since it’s been 10 years I have decided to write it up properly. I’m not sure the exact date that this happened, but it was likely in January or February 2006. Enjoy!
During the first few months of 2006, there were drinking related events happening even more often than usual. In order to spare my liver and my wallet, I decided to decline an invitation to a standard post work izakaya / karaoke / last train home event. Palmer stayed home too, while Azeroth was out with the other teachers. We were having a quiet night in, when just after midnight I received a phone call from Christopher Cross; he was trying get Azeroth home in a taxi, and had no idea where we lived.
Most of the NOVA teachers in the area lived in one apartment building just north of Numazu station. Azeroth, Palmer and I were the only ones in a company apartment in a different location. Our apartment was east of the station close to the Seiyu department store, and about a 15 minute walk from the other apartments.
I asked Christopher why they were in a taxi, and he told me that Azeroth was far too drunk to get to the train station. This was unusual, because Azeroth had an insanely high tolerance for alcohol, and could function under levels of intoxication that would have dropped the average person. For him to be in a taxi, he must have been REALLY drunk. We told Christopher to tell the driver that we lived near Kadoike Park, thinking this would solve the problem.
A few minutes later we got a new call from Christopher. Azeroth had barfed in the taxi, and had managed to catch most of it in a plastic bag. Apparently catching most of it wasn’t enough for the driver, who kicked them out on the side of the road. After debating with the driver briefly, Azeroth fell out of the taxi, hitting the ground pretty hard. The driver pulled away, leaving them in an unknown residential area somewhere in Numazu.
I’m writing this story in 2016, where this situation would be a minor problem. Chances are good that one or both of my friends would have a smart phone with GPS and map software. Christopher’s Japanese was not great, so he likely would have a translation app ready to assist. The problem is that this story took place in 2006, where their cell phones could only make phone calls, send text messages, and take really crappy pictures.
Although we found the situation funny (because we weren’t there), Palmer and I decided we would try to help as much as we could. The first order of business was to find out where Christopher and Azeroth were. There are virtually no street signs in Japan, and Christopher was unable to read any of the signs on utility poles that might give a hint of where they were. We got them to start walking towards the brightest light they could find, hoping it was a major street.
I pulled out my atlas of local street maps that I had purchased after getting a bicycle. When Christopher and Azeroth found a main street, I asked them to read any of the signs they could see. Azeroth could read Japanese, but he broke his glasses during his fall out of the taxi which didn’t help the situation. Christopher couldn’t read Japanese, but was able to read the one nearby sign that had English, the sign on fast food chain Ringer Hut.
Palmer’s computer was nearby. He pulled up the Ringer Hut website and found the Numazu locations. We guessed at a few likely places and looked them up in my street atlas, which also displayed major stores. Christopher noticed that there was a gas station near the Ringer Hut, which helped us identify their exact location in my atlas. They were in the north east corner of Numazu near a large park called “Kadoike”, which was not at all close to the small park called “Kadoike” across the street from our apartment. Dear Numazu – this is confusing!
Now that we knew were they were, the next step was getting home. Thanks to my atlas I found that they were only a few blocks away from a convenience store. It should have only taken a few minutes to walk, but Azeroth was in no condition to walk quickly (or in a straight line).
They called back when they arrived. Christopher wanted to get the staff to call for a taxi, but didn’t know how to say that in Japanese. While I was trying to come up with a good translation, Palmer suggested that he just go into the store, say “taxi” over and over, and point at his drunk friend. This was surprisingly effective, and is a good reminder that the best communication doesn’t always need a lot of words.
Christopher told the taxi driver to go to Seiyu, the giant Wal-mart owned department store at the end of our street. Palmer, who was in fantastic shape, jogged down the street to meet the taxi. I tried to keep up and ended up panting and cursing. We met the taxi in the parking lot, and got a chance to see the damage to Azeroth. He stumbled out of the cab, carrying a plastic bag containing some vomit and a badly bent pair of glasses. He was bleeding slightly from his head and forearm from when he fell out of the taxi. Despite all of this, he was smiling and seemed to be enjoying his evening.
We thanked Christopher and sent him on his way home for some much needed sleep. Palmer and I escorted Azeroth home, cleaned and bandaged his injuries, and gave him plenty of fluids before sending him to sleep. The next morning Azeroth was still slightly drunk. We told him the story and made sure he gave Christopher a call to express his gratitude for helping Azeroth get home.
I obviously missed out on a pretty good party the night before, but it was still fun to help my lost, drunk friends get home safely. Who says an evening in is always boring?
Tonight we welcomed a new teacher to the Numazu / Fuji / Mishima area. He had arrived in the morning from New Zealand, so he was already tired when we started the party. He went home early, and the rest of us continued enjoying the evening in his honour.
Instead of hitting up one of our usual izakayas or karaoke rooms, we went to a small cocktail bar named Farao. The few staff were all wearing white tuxedos and the bartender can make pretty much any cocktail that you can imagine. Watching them make drinks is a treat – I asked for a martini and enjoyed watching them chip away at a crystal clear block of ice with shiny silver tools. The ice and premium alcohols were combined into a shiny silver shaker and expertly mixed before being poured into the nicest martini glass I had ever seen. They weren’t just creating a strong drink, they were creating art.
My roommate Palmer is friends with the owner so all of the teachers got discounts. We took full advantage of this situation and enjoyed a few more drinks than we would have at full price. Farao is the classiest place I have ever gotten drunk!
Also, martinis are strong!!
My friend Okonomi and I started our night out in Noborito with dinner, drinks, drinks, karaoke, and drinks. It was now 3:00am, a few hours away from the first train, and all of the regular bars were full. Okonomi suggested we got to a hostess bar instead.
A hostess bar is a place where well dressed, attractive women pour your drinks, laugh at your jokes, compliment your karaoke, and generally make you feel important. Of course, this doesn’t come cheap: drinks are overpriced and you pay an hourly rate for companionship. Okonomi suggested the Filipino hostess bar near the station, because the rate was only 4000 yen per hour. Since I was drunk, on holidays, and not wanting to sit around a train station for a few hours until the first train came, I agreed and we were on our way.
While we were walking (stumbling) to the hostess bar, Okonomi had told me that she had considered trying to find a job at a hostess bar to supplement her teaching income. Being able to maintain a conversation with students is a useful skill that can be transferred to a hostess job, the money could be pretty good, and there would be lots of free drinks. It would also be a great way to improve her Japanese in a hurry.
Upon entering, we were shown to a table by two beautiful women in evening dresses, and we ordered some drinks for both us and our hostesses. We all talked in English, Japanese, Okonomi impressed with the little bit of Tagalog that she knew. We took turns doing yet more karaoke, and had a good time hanging out. Despite the late hour and the fact that we were obviously drunk and not Japanese, the hostesses worked hard to make sure we were having fun.
Okonomi started asking our hostesses about how they liked working at the bar, and mentioned that she had considered it before. Within minutes the mama-san (bar manager) was over at the table having a conversation with her in Japanese. The offhand comment had suddenly turned into a job interview on the spot! Mama-san asked Okonomi about her availability, and asked her to stand up and turn around. After a few minutes of talking, Mama-san said that Okonomi’s Japanese would need to improve a little, but then gave Okonomi her business card and told her to keep in touch.
When I left Canada to teach English in Japan I knew I was going to have some interesting experiences. I never imagined that I would be watching a friend get an impromptu job interview in a hostess club sometime after 4:00am on an epic night out.
We left close to 5:00am, tired and drunk, and with our wallets feeling lighter. The hostess bar was close to Noborito station, where we caught the first train to Shin-yurigaoka. I had switched to non-alcoholic drinks at the hostess bar, so I was a little more sober than Okonomi. This presented a problem because her apartment was about a 20 minute walk up hills, and I had no idea where it was. We decided to get a taxi instead.
By the time we actually found a cab, Okonomi’s impressive language skills had deteriorated quite a bit. Since street addresses mean nothing in Japan, we had to give the driver landmarks and turn by turn instructinos. Okonomi kept slurring and switching languages, leaving me to translate for the driver. The taxi driver did not seem very sad to be rid of us.
We finally got to sleep around 6:00, knowing that we were in for a painful day.