Posts Tagged Drinking
Tonight was my “unofficial” farewell party. For those who haven’t been following the blog, when a teacher relocates to another part of Japan or moves home they often get two farewell parties: the “official” party which is attended by teachers and staff, and the “unofficial” party which is attended by teachers and students.
Azeroth took charge of organizing the party, inviting students from the two branches that I worked at in the area, Numazu and Mishima. The turnout was really impressive! We started off our evening at an izakaya and then ended up going to the second party at karaoke. The whole evening was a lot of fun, and I’m happy that I got one last chance to say goodbye and make everyone listen to my terrible singing.
Tonight was our last night in Japan on this visit. I ate dinner with the family, and after Tiny Dog went to sleep I went off to have a beer with my old roommate Azeroth.
Unlike a few days ago, we decided not to hit the town. Instead we had a night in, similar to many we had while we shared an apartment together. We picked up a variety of beer and snacks from the nearby 7-11, and watched episodes of Drawn Together, Rick and Morty, and Archer while laughing our asses off.
One sign of a good friend is when you can go for a few years without seeing each other and then pick exactly where you left off when you get a chance to meet. My life has changed a lot in the 11 years since I moved back to Canada: I got married, started a career, got a professional designation, and became a father. Even with all of those changes, hanging out while drinking beer and eating mysterious snacks still felt like home.
Happy Canada Day! I hope that I’m not going to be hungover tomorrow for my flight home!
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?
Another week, another farewell party. One of the teachers from Fuji school requested a transfer to a branch near Kyoto. As with other teacher farewells, we got a gang of teachers and students and went out in Fuji for some (many) drinks and some (lots) or karaoke. The party got particularly lively.
I learned that drunk people should really not attempt to use the karaoke machine remote. It’s very easy to type in the wrong number, and the “cancel song” button looks very similar to the “backspace” button. Canceling a song that someone is singing is bad form!
I also learned that the average karaoke room table is not a good place to stand, especially when it is covered in spilled beer. Fortunately nobody was hurt during the sudden fall to the floor, although some additional beer got spilled.
Another observation was that karaoke places do not have enough bathrooms when you really need one. Some of the teachers decided to take out their frustration by throwing around toilet paper rolls that were awkwardly stored outside the very slow bathroom. This is fun, but not a great way to behave in public.
Discussing politics while drunk is NEVER a good idea. It’s an especially bad idea with a group of people from different countries where words like “conservative” and “socialist” have different meanings. Fortunately karaoke was very loud, and it helped cover up the pointless political debate.
After cleaning up as much of our mess as possible, the teachers ended up at the nearby convenience store to get some snacks for the train ride home. I found a selection of heat and serve burgers in the baked goods section of the convenience store, which for some reason I found hilarious. When I say hilarious, I mean I literally felt that this burger, in a wrapper that said “burger” in both English and Japanese, was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I couldn’t stop laughing.
As funny as I found the burger, my brain was still sober enough to realize that it probably wouldn’t be very good. After making an impassioned 5 minute sales pitch, I finally did convince another teacher to buy the burger. I expected it to be terrible, which would have been funny (for me). He told me it was one of the best burgers that he had ever eaten, and wouldn’t offer a bite so I could taste it. This turned out to be funny for him.
Like a previous trip to Fuji, we ended up taking the late train home. There are going to be a lot of sore people in the morning.
(2015 Update) I still don’t know why I found that burger to be so funny, and I never worked up the courage to eat an convenience store reheatable burger.
I got a call from Junk to go for lunch at Dirty Ken’s restaurant downtown (not the real name). Junk picked me up, and we tried to find a parking spot downtown that wasn’t completely filled with snow. After we braved the snow filled streets and got parked, we found that the restaurant was closed.
Our backup plan was Stella’s in Osborne Village, which was excellent as always. After breakfast we hung out for a few hours watching Simpsons, and then I returned home to prepare for the New Year’s Party at the fraternity house.
Due to the crazy amounts of snow and the fact that I was planning on drinking too much to safely drive home, I took the bus to the frat house. Winnipeg Transit is not the best form of transportation, and it doesn’t even come close to Japanese trains, but it sure beats driving in the winter.
The party was pretty good, even though only about half of the expected people showed up due to the snow. The people who did show up enjoyed a typical evening of alcohol fueled mayhem. Highlights included a live band in the basement, a sad female singing in Portuguese in the shower, communal baby duck, a cool projector, and getting to hang out with Hippie, who some of you may remember as one of the people who came to visit me in Japan in the summer.
My good friend / drinking buddy Triple D showed up late from work, and we recreated some of our wrestling night stupidity by attacking each other with plastic champagne glasses. It seemed like a fun idea at the time, but we both ended up with cuts on our foreheads. Fun fact: non stick cooking spray in an open wound stings like crazy.
Later in the evening Hippie, who was living in the fraternity house, retreated to his room with his girlfriend Sunny for some “alone time”. He left her alone in his room to have a shower, so Triple D and I (after way too many beers) decided to hang out with Sunny and interrupt their plans. When Hippie returned and found us hanging out, he was less than pleased. After much pleading and several threats, Hippie thought we were finally about to leave. At that moment, Triple D picked up some bongos and initiated an Epic Bongo Challenge.
One of the cardinal rules of being a Hippie is that you must own bongos. The related rule is that you are never able to turn down a bongo challenge at any time for any reason.
Triple D picked up Hippie’s bongos and played a pretty good beat, considering his blood alcohol content. Hippie took the bongos and responded to the challenge. I encouraged them both, and took the picture above. I honestly can’t say how long the epic bongo battle continued, but it probably seemed like hours to poor Sunny.
Eventually we did leave the room and I ended up crashing on one of the many available couches long after most people had gone to sleep. It was a fun New Year’s Eve with friends that I was going to regret in the morning.
(Updated Jan 4 – changed Hippie’s girlfriend’s from “Hippie’s girlfriend” to “Sunny” by request)
During the day we hung out in my room playing Playstation games and generally recovering from our adventures so far. In the evening we had plans to go to a family restaurant in Machida. Most family restaurants in Japan feature a “drink bar” for about 200 yen. A drink bar is a self serve soft drink area where you can enjoy free refills of coffee, tea, sodas and water. This particular restaurant also featured a 600 yen drink bar with alcohol. You read that correctly: for the low price of 600 yen a customer can mix their own cocktails. I think the intent is for customers to have one or two drinks with dinner, but there is technically no limit.
Yes, this does sound like a terrible idea in the making.
Lux and Zoe were going to accompany us to the restaurant. Before we left they took me aside and expressed concern that my friends would be in the restaurant all night taking advantage of the unlimited alcohol. They suggested telling the guys that there was a one hour time limit on the drink bar. I disagreed and tried to explain that the idea of a time limit would only lead to problems. I explained that I knew these guys, and a time limit would be a challenge to them. Lux and Zoe continued to disagree with me, so eventually I told them I would play along, but I assumed no responsibility for the outcome.
We all boarded the Odakyu line for Machida, and explained the “rules” of the drink bar. The guys were all very excited and started asking questions about when the one hour time limit started – from the time we sat down? from the time we order? I told them I would get the details at the restaurant.
We got a table for 7 and placed our orders. As soon as the orders were taken, everyone rushed the drink bar and started mixing drinks. We started slowly, with everyone checking their watches. By about the 30 minute mark there was always at least one of us refilling their drink at any time. For the last 10 minutes I am pretty sure that Green did not return to his seat at all. We all left full of delicious food and booze for under 2000 yen per person.
When you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short time, you can go from feeling completely sober to drunk in a matter of minutes. This happened for most of us on the walk from the restaurant to the station. We passed two large gaijins walking in the other direction. Code Red asked if they were Canadian like us, and the said that no, they were American Marines. Code Red responded “Go Yankee Go!”, to which Flounder added “home”. Our military friends did not take kindly to this, and suggested they would meet us later. Code Red, missing the implicit threat in the comment, answered “awesome! We will see you guys later!”. The marines clarified that it would not be a pleasant meeting. I believe Hippie and Code Red tried to apologize as we continued walking away.
By the time we arrived at the station, we were drunk and belligerent. While we waited on the platform, I noticed that a few train security officers watched our group from a distance. They seemed relieved as we boarded the train and ceased to be their problem.
When we returned to Hello House, Green removed his shirt and started walking around the house. Lux and I hung out on the stoop reflecting on the amount of alcohol that we all drank for 600 yen each. Eventually one of the other Hello House residents, a gay British male, came to the stoop to complain about Green walking around shirtless. His comment was “nobody wants to see that”.
Video games, cheap alcohol, pissing off Marines, train security, and unwanted shirtlessness. All in a days work.
Today’s long delayed topic is drinking. I wanted to write about this earlier, but found that I needed to do some important field research first. Drinking is a popular leisure activity in Japan, and one that people are fairly open and excited about. The attitudes are completely different from western countries in some ways.
Work is very busy in Japan. Salarymen, as they are known, are regularly expected to work beyond the standard 8 hour day. Some Japanese take a samurai like pride in the fact that they work 12 or 14 hours a day. Leaving the office after 8 hours is simply not the Japanese way. Working insane hours is naturally stressful, and the preferred stress relief is usually heading out for a few drinks.
Where to get your drink on
In Canada you can only buy alcohol in liquor stores, bars, beer vendors or restaurants, but you can’t drink in public. In Japan you can buy and drink alcohol almost everywhere. Alcohol can be purchased at convenience stores, supermarkets, and my personal favourite – from alcohol vending machines. Japan has a huge selection of drinking establishments to suit every taste. The best option for visitors is the izakaya, which is a Japanese style pub. Izakayas serve a variety of different drinks and have a good selection of small orders of pub food. You really haven’t truly experienced a trip to Japan without a visit to an izakaya. Big chains like Wara Wara and Watami are pretty foreigner friendly with bilingual menus and pictures of all the food.
In my limited time in Japan, I have learned the following about drinking etiquette. First, you should never fill your own glass, and you should never let your drinking companion’s glass sit empty if there is something that can be poured into it. Cheers is “kanpai” which means “empty glass”. Telling someone to chug their drink is “ikki ikki”, which should not be confused under any circumstances with “iku iku”.
One of the main differences I have observed with drinking in Japan is the frequency and vigor that it is done. It is not uncommon at all to see drunk businessmen, arms linked, stumbling to the train in the evening. Every evening. In every train station. When it is time for drinking, one or two just aren’t enough. You have to approach it with the same enthusiasm that you take to your 14 hour work day. Over serving and over consumption are concepts that don’t exist. Heading to work with a hangover is common for many people. Missing the last train because of drinking is a rite of passage for new English teachers. Even the karaoke room that you will inevitably end up in after the bar serves drinks. Students frequently boast about how much they love to drink, and how much they drank the night before. It is a badge of honour with almost no shame attached. Beware – outdrinking a foreigner is a point of pride.
Some readers may be thinking that the description above sounds a bit excessive. However, in addition to being fun, drinking serves two very important purposes. The first is stress relief after too much work. Working insane hours without an outlet is a recipe for karoshi (death from overwork). The second is “nominication”, a word formed from “nomi”, the Japanese verb to drink, and “nication” from communication. Strict standards of etiquette prevent employees from speaking their mind to their superiors. Harmony must be maintained at all costs. If you have a great idea that could save the company, you need to bring it through the proper channels and get consensus at all stages. The only place you can truly and openly speak your mind to superiors is while you are drinking. Some of the most important business conversations in the country happen over drinks at the izakaya.
Despite the liberal attitudes towards drinking in Japan, drinking and driving is taken very seriously. I thought that Canada’s drunk driving laws were strict. In most places, a blood alcohol level above .05 will get your car impounded, and over .08 will cause you to lose your license for a period of time. In Japan, the penalties start when your blood alcohol level is above zero. That’s right, ANY alcohol in your blood means losing your license for a nice long time. It may make the trains a little unpleasant at times, but keeps the roads safe. (Well, as safe as Japanese roads get…)
The information above is based entirely on my personal experience and conversations with students and teachers. I strongly suggest doing your own personal research. If seeing is believing, seeing double must be believing twice as hard, right?
This will be a substantial rewrite of my original post, as I left out a lot of detail the first time. (For reasons that will become obvious)
Today was a day off thanks to a shift swap so another teacher could see the Super Bowl. Since Marshall and I enjoyed our last night out in Tokyo, so we decided to plan for a night out in Roppongi. We had a beer or two before leaving Hello House, then took the Odakyu line to Shinjuku and switched to the Oedo subway line to Roppongi.
By day Roppongi is an upscale part of Tokyo, home to foreign embassies and company headquarters. At night Roppongi changes into a busy night life area, with most of the establishments catering to foreigners. There is a good mix of classy upscale pubs, dance bars, meat market hookup bars, and expensive hostess and strip clubs. One of the most remarkable features is the touts. Walking down the street you will encounter a row of large African men who get paid to bring people into their bar. The pitch usually starts with a handshake and “my good friends”, and then you get a hard sell on why this particular bar or restaurant is the best in the neighbourhood. Saying no will usually result in a promise of a special price “just for you”. Some of the touts will give up easily, others will continue talking and negotiating until you agree to go in, or keep walking. If you have a particular destination in mind, just say no thanks and keep walking.
Our first stop was Hobgoblin, a pub style bar. After a few drinks we went to GasPanic, which is bigger and better than the Shibuya location. Thursday night is Gaspanic night, featuring 300 yen beers. There is a sign up on the wall informing everyone that “everybody must be drinking to stay in GasPanic”. On this particular night I took the advice too literally, and proceeded to get very, very drunk.
When you are going out for all night drinking, it is important to treat the evening as a marathon, not a sprint. Pacing yourself is the key to staying upright until morning. Also, if you happen to be stressed out or in a bad mood, going out for an all nighter is probably not a good idea. At the time we went out, I was homesick, stressed about work, trying to get my visa switched, and aware that February 12 would have been a 6 year anniversary with the ex. All of the ingredients were ready in the recipe for disaster.
My memories of GasPanic got a little fuzzy as the evening went on. Marshall and I were hanging out with another group of people and pounding beer. At one point I asked the bartender (who was blond) what night of the week would be good to bring a group of Canadian University students for a good time. He told me in broken English that he didn’t know because he had only been working there for 3 weeks, and that he was from Russia.
Eventually Marshall and I realized that I was in no shape for an all nighter and we decided to call it a night before last train. We walked to the Oedo line subway station and went to the platform. Like a good train passenger in Japan, I lined up at the front of the platform behind the yellow line. The subway station was spinning around me, and at some point I lost my balance, spun around, and fell backwards off the platform onto the train tracks. Through luck or some instinct I managed to fall on my back instead of on my head. I instantly jumped up to my feet and there were several people reaching down to pull me back up on the platform. Marshall was not one of them – he looked on shocked at my sudden fall.
After falling, Marshall and I decided to wait for the train sitting on the benches safely away from the tracks. A few minutes later the train came and we started the 10 minute ride to Shinjuku. Near the end of the ride I got sick in the subway car, causing everyone around to quickly move away. Marshall snapped pictures with his cell phone.
At Shinjuku we stopped in the men’s washroom so I could clean myself up. Assuring Marshall that I was okay to continue, we waited for the Odakyu line express towards Noborito. The train ride from Shinjuku to Noborito is about 20 minutes long. I made it until the second last stop before I started to feel sick again. My drunk brain decided that barfing on the train once was enough for the evening, so without any warning I bolted off the train as the doors were closing. Marshall didn’t have enough time to react so he couldn’t get off the train in time to stay with me.
I believe I got sick in a garbage can on the platform, and a friendly train line employee showed me to a nearby sink to clean up. My brain, in survival mode, managed to send enough Japanese to my mouth so that I could ask if I had missed the last train to Noborito. He assured me that there was another train, and made sure that I got on it. I don’t remember anything from that point until I was in the toilet stall in Hello House. Somehow I manged to get off the train at the correct station, used the ticket gate, and then navigated the zigzagging path back to Hello House.
Marshall found me in the stall and expressed relief that I was okay. I thanked him for trying, and apologized for being a mess. After drinking as much water as I could handle, I went to sleep in my slowly rotating room. As you are reading this, please be aware that I am not proud of this story. Getting drunk and falling on train tracks should not be a badge of honour for anybody. Getting that drunk is NOT cool, it is NOT a good time, and if you feel differently you should probably stay away from alcohol. It still scares me to this day to think of how things could have ended up much worse, and I am thankful that I am here writing the story now.
Usually when someone drinks too much and acts stupid, they make the empty promise “I will never drink again”. My resolution to myself as I drifted off to sleep in my spinning room was “I am taking a break from drinking, and I will never drink that much again”. Since February 12, 2004 I have been drunk many times, but never blackout falling down drunk, and I never will be again.
(rewrite of original post)
Marshall and I went out to a small local izakaya called Avenue. It was about a 5 minute walk from Hello House where the smelly alley meets the main street. Anyone who has ever lived in the area will know exactly what this means.
When I left Winnipeg there was a big push to cut down on over-serving. For those who don’t know, over-serving is continuing to sell alcohol to customers who are already (seriously) intoxicated. Coming from that environment, it was a bit of a shock for me to have to step over a customer who was passed out on the floor. He was on his side clinging on to a plastic bag to puke into. At that point we also realized that we had just walked into a place with character.
Marshall and I ended up having several beers at our own table, which was separated from a large group table by wooden slats that you could easily see through. We caught the attention of the large group of Japanese guys at the next table who were celebrating a birthday. They started talking to us, and thanks to the universal language of beer (and some basic Japanese), we were invited to join them at their table. We ended up having a little too much fun with our new friends. I snapped the attached picture of one of them as he was encouraging us to drink something out of a mysterious green bottle. The 120 x 120 pixel picture was the most my 2003 phone camera could handle, and it adequately represents what my vision was like at the end of the evening.
I love this country!