Posts Tagged hangover

December 8, 2004 – One Year (and a bit) in Japan

Today’s column is a few months overdue. I had the best intentions to write about my Japaniversary when it happened, but life got in the way. Anyway, here goes.

I have officially been in Japan for 1 year (and 2 months). The last year has gone by entirely too quickly. I have managed to meet about a zillion people, work in a completely new job, see many interesting things, and do things I never imagined before. It has been a great year, and I am looking forward to (possibly) another year in this great country. Of course, with the good comes some bad as well. So without further delay, here is the official “Drinking in Japan first year in Japan Highlights and Lowlights List”, presented in alphabetical order.

Highlights

  • Australians – I have never seen so many Australians in my life. They are generally really cool people. They are like the Canadians of the Southern hemisphere, if Canadians lived in a warm country. Maybe Canadians are the Aussies of the Northern hemisphere, who knows.
  • Drink Bar – Many “family” style restaurants have self serve drink bar with free refills. Great for hot days!
  • Food – The selection and quality of food here is unbelievable. Everything tastes good!
  • Japanese people – Japanese people are great! Overall, they are very friendly and helpful to visitors, and are really fun to party with.
  • Kamakura – There is a GIANT Buddha here. What more do you need?
  • Karaoke – I LOVE karaoke! I love that most karaoke is in a private room with friends, and that you can get food and drinks delivered.
  • Koban – A Japanese police box. Instead of having a few centrally located police stations, there are many small police boxes scattered throughout the cities. The police are able to patrol a familiar area, and are great for giving directions to lost travelers. The Koban system works really well for densely populated areas.
  • Kyoto – You can experience Japan’s history in a city where you can’t walk down the street without tripping over a temple or shrine.
  • Mt. Fuji – Impossible not to like. A snow covered Mt. Fuji is beautiful.
  • Nikko – Probably the most breathtaking place in the country for sightseeing. Allegedly there are monkeys there too.
  • Niku man – (niku = meat, man = steamed bun) Chinese steamed meat buns are sold for 100 yen each in convenience stores and are a great snack. You can also get pizza man, curry man, and bean paste man.
  • Shinkansen – A.K.A. the bullet train. Cruising across the country at 250km/h rules!
  • Tokyo Nightlife – Wow. There are so many places catering to everyone’s liking, it is really impossible to see it all. I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the options.
  • Skirts – Skirts are popular here, and they are great. Seriously great.
  • Skylark Express – What can you say about a restaurant that serves you hamburger steak, rice, soup and a vegetable in 60 seconds for five dollars?
  • Students – One of the best things about being a teacher is actually seeing someone improve over time. Giving a level up recommendation to a student is one of the highlights of my job.
  • Visitors – I had two sets of visitors this summer which both provided incredibly fun times and great memories.
  • Winter – A winter without snow and with temperatures that stay on the happy side of freezing are okay by me.
  • Yen – Japanese money is worth a lot in other places.
  • Yokohama – It’s big, fun and has everything Tokyo does, but a completely different feel.

Lowlights

  • Being illiterate – It is a shock to go from being an intelligent, functional person to being almost completely illiterate. It is frustrating to have trouble doing basic everyday things. I am improving, but it is still difficult.
  • Crowded trains – There is not much more uncomfortable than being wedged into a train that is 200% over capacity while trying to carry a bunch of bags.
  • Garbage collection – The rules for garbage collection are annoying and difficult to understand. Garbage must be separated into about 500 categories, each with their own collection day. And there is always one cranky neighbour making sure you are doing it right.
  • Getting lost – Only the largest streets have names, and most seem to have been designed completely at random. Someone’s mailing address is no help at all when it comes to finding anything. With my meager Japanese skills I can ask for directions, but understanding the answer is still challenging.
  • Hangovers – Cheap alcohol, all you can drink, the Japanese party spirit, and my rubber arm make for some serious overindulgence. I have had 2 of the worst hangovers in my life here.
  • Japanese style toilets – I am still scared to death of these things, and have managed to avoid them for any “serious” business.
  • Kids classes – I still don’t feel completely comfortable in a classroom full of children.
  • Loneliness – Being far away from home can be incredibly lonely. It sucks knowing that your friends and family are enjoying life as usual while you are stuck in a small room on the other side of the planet. No matter how much you fit in and how many friends you make, it’s jut not home sometimes.
  • Missing Last Train – Last train comes way too early, and if you miss it you are committed to an expensive taxi ride or staying out till first train.
  • Movies – I like Japanese movies, but without subtitles I am lost. Watching Jackie Chan movies is nearly impossible because only Japanese subtitles are available.
  • NOVA Usagi – Man, I really hate that thing!
  • Size – Streets are narrow, rooms are smaller, clothes are smaller, cars are smaller, everything is smaller. It’s a big adjustment for me, and I am not even a particularly large person.
  • Summer – Too hot, way too humid.

It’s been a good year, and thanks for reading!

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November 14, 2004 – Hurting

I am hurting today from the party last night. Fortunately my streak of not having a single NOVA kids class since moving to Mishima NOVA continues. A kids class today would NOT have been enjoyable.

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July 30, 2004 – Birthday aftermath

Yesterday I thought I had a bit too much fun at karaoke. This morning I realized how badly I had overdone it. I was sick in the morning in between birthday phone calls from home. I ended up having to call in sick to work, which is terrible considering that I was out for beer with many of my coworkers the night before. I expect to hear about this later.

(2014 Update) Don’t miss work because of drinking. Also, never miss work because of drinking with your coworkers. That’s just irresponsible.

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July 16, 2004 – Return to Gyu-Kaku!

I was working with a slight hangover from last night’s karaoke. Working with a hangover, no matter how small, is not fun.

After work I took Lux to Gyu-Kaku. Once again, the food was fantastic! Lux is a smoker, and usually I don’t enjoy eating in the smoking section of restaurants. However, the ventilation at Gyu-Kaku is very good due to all the smoky grills at each table. The fan above our table sucked up all the cigarette smoke and I didn’t notice it at all. Just one of the many reasons why Gyu-kaku is great.

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May 28, 2004 – Watching the Stanley Cup Finals in Tokyo

Watching NHL playoffs at the Maple Leaf bar

Watching NHL playoffs at the Maple Leaf bar

I woke up with a raging hangover from the previous night and the inability to find my glasses. Our plan for the day was to watch game 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Maple Leaf bar in Shibuya. Hippie and I slowly got our stuff together, and then walked up the step stairs towards Jem’s apartment to collect Flounder, Code Red and Green.

When we arrived, we found that the other guys were just as tired and hung over as we were. I don’t think anyone in our group got more than 4 hours of sleep. We finally collected all of our belongings, making sure that the video camera was safe, thanked Jem and her roommate for graciously saving our drunk asses, and then walked out into the cruel morning air.

Descending a steep staircase on the side of a hill can be challenging at the best of times. When tired and hungover it is a very unpleasant experience. The stairs were spinning slightly below me and my eyes couldn’t focus properly. I was legitimately worried about falling down the stairs and coming to a sudden stop on the concrete far below. As a group we all stopped halfway down to catch our breath and regain our balance.

The 15 minute walk back to the station seemed to take an hour. At Hodogaya we got on a crowded rush hour train towards Yokohama. At Yokohama we got on an even more crowded rush hour train to Shibuya. The train was packed wall to wall business people, and the air conditioner wasn’t working correctly. We silently held on to to the handles trying our best to survive until Shibuya. When we arrived in Shibuya we took a few minutes to enjoy some fresh air before walking to the Maple Leaf Bar. Fortunately we scouted the location on a previous trip to Shibuya so we didn’t have to search for it while hungover.

The Maple Leaf bar is, as you might expect from the name, a Canadian bar in Shibuya. On the inside everything is Canadian flags and wood. The bar is not usually open in the morning, but they make exceptions for hockey playoffs. We sat down at a table and ordered the special Canadian breakfast: 1000 yen for eggs, bacon, baked beans, toast and a beer. The wonderful staff, noting our condition, made sure to keep bringing refills of ice water.

Breakfast and fluids helped us all feel like humans again. This was partially offset by watching the Calgary Flames lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1. During the game a photographer was taking pictures for a story about Canadians around the world watching the NHL finals. Our picture ended up in the Yomiuri Newspaper and on the wall in the Maple Leaf’s washroom.

After the game we all headed back to Hello House for a relaxing and uneventful afternoon and evening.

(2014 Update) The Maple Leaf bar closed several years ago, which is a shame. If anyone can find a copy of the picture that was run in the newspapers of my friends and I watching hockey I would truly appreciate it. I have spent hours on Google over the past few years searching with no luck.

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April 12, 2004 – Drinking in Japan

Yes, yes I do

Yes, yes I do

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.

Drinking etiquette
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”.

Being drunk
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.

The Benefits
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.

Drunk Driving
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…)

Peer review
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?

Kanpai!

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February 13, 2014 – Recovery

I woke up in the morning feeling terrible after the previous night. Most of the day was spent re hydrating, trying not to get sick, and trying to get the train track grease off my jacket. After about an hour of scrubbing with soap and water, I managed to get most of the stain off. Not a very fun day.

Don’t be a dumbass – drink responsibly (or not at all).

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February 7, 2004 – Working with a hangover

Working with a hangover is no fun. Working with a hangover and teaching kids classes is less fun. Working with a hangover, teaching kids classes and having a completely overcrowded and disorganized work environment is, well, you get the idea.

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January 1, 2004 – Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

After spending most of the day recovering from the sins of the previous night, I ended up watching a lot of The Simpsons in the Hello House common room. At about 9:00pm I went to the station to meet up with Marshall`s friend who was en route to Thailand and had a one day stopover in Japan. Since Marshall was skiing in Nagano, I met up with his friend, gave him the cheap tour, found him some dinner, and gave him directions for the next day. To close out the day we watched some very strange Japanese TV.

“Very strange Japanese TV” is probably redundant.

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December 25, 2003 – Christmas chicken for all

Christmas 2003

I was woken up by two phone calls from Canada wishing me Merry Christmas very loudly into my hungover brain. It was nice to hear some familiar voices, but did they really need to shout?

At work I got to inform a student that she was ready for a level up. If a student’s ability is good enough, a teacher will fill out a level up slip and put it in to the student’s file. The next teacher will then agree with the level up, or give reasons for denying it. I was the second teacher, so I was happy to agree and then left the teacher’s room to find the student on her way out. I told her that I had a Christmas present for her and handed over the level up slip. She burst into a huge smile and looked like she was ready to give me a big hug. This would have been very un-Japanese, not to mention getting me in trouble with NOVA. I wished her a Merry Christmas on her way to schedule her level up test.

After work all of the teachers and some of the Japanese staff went to a Christmas house party in Yokohama. We changed trains in Yokohama station and I was surprised to see a long line of nicely dressed young couples waiting to purchase KFC. In Japan, Christmas is more of a day for couples than for families. Young couples will dress up nicely, get some KFC special Christmas fried chicken, and in many cases go to a love hotel. It’s no Christmas turkey, but not a bad way to spend the day either.

The house party was a good opportunity to spend time with some of my coworkers outside of the office. Usually I spend most of my free time with the other people in Hello House. I even got a chance to practice some of my Japanese with the NOVA staff in attendance. I would have preferred to be spending time with my family, but it was still good to be around people.

On my way home, I noticed some well dressed young couples riding home on the train holding hands. Apparently it was a good night for all.

Merry Christmas!

(complete rewrite of original post)

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