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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Drinking In Japan To Make Friends And Earn Respect

Since my absolute crappy luck continues--my car has a right rear shock tower rotted away from the body and can NOT be fixed.. so I have a nine-year-old Mazda Tribute that will now be sold for parts, meaning I'm taking tomorrow morning off to drive to my mother-in-law's place to borrow her car for a few weeks while she recovers from colon surgery to remove cancer...

... so she has it worse than me, except for the Diabetes I was diagnosed with on Feb. 27... the son who needs major orthodontic work... but at least my wife is writing her final exam today.... so she can get out and find work... and it won't just be me who has worked since my son was 'created' nine years ago... in such time I have sold my house, lived in my dad's place, and accrued debt that could choke a horse but apparently not me for some reason.

And... I'm not even telling you anywhere close to what has been going on over the past five years.... but it ain't pretty. Just convenient.

It's enough to drive one to drink.

So... let's look at Japan and drinking.

You might look at the headline and think - WTF!? "Earn respect by drinking?"

In Japan, drinking is considered an acceptable means of social bonding. Whether it's with the local gaijin (foreigner) or with other Japanese, drinking is done and done often.

First off... do you, the newcomer to Japan need to drink?

Of course not. If you don't drink, Japan is NOT the place to start. Don't drink.

But... will you miss out on some bonding? I can't answer that personally, because when I was in Japan, I did drink. I don't now. Not only can I not afford it, but if I did, I am pretty sure I would be a full-blown alcoholic by now.

Actually... I thought I was going to become one in Japan.
Mr. Arikawa and I never did see who could drink more - tied at 47 glasses of sake apiece. In this photo, we are just having a sake shot. You'll notice that my silk tie matches the blue track suit of the Japanese music teacher from Ohtawara Chu Gakko in the upper most photo.
Upon arriving in Japan via the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, for example, you will spend three days in Tokyo at an orientation conference that despite your obvious excitement at being someplace new and exciting, these meetings are so boring that they will drive you to drink.

Fortunately, your Prefecture leaders who have already been in Japan for a year plus will take you out for a dinner... and drinks... and then out to a dance club... and drinks... before pouring you back into a taxi or train to take you back to the Keo Plaza Hotel in Tokyo where you will rest up and maybe get to do it again the next night.

That very first evening out... Matthew, Jeff and Ashley and I must have had about eight beers apiece with dinner. I know Jeff stepped in the Japanese toilet... it was also my first experience with a Japanese toilet and I couldn't figure out how to use it, so I just stood over and peed my stream down into this long porcelain blow imbedded in the ground. You are supposed to take off your pants and squat over it, by the way.

At the Java Jive dance club... Ashley and I hit it off and we must have had another six Screwdrivers (Vodka and Orange Juice)... and we were so hammered that we were making out in public, and in the back alley and in the taxi back to the hotel. Did you know that you should NOT give someone five ¥10,000 bills for a ¥5,000 taxi ride and then say keep the change. That was a US$450 tip I tried to give the taxi driver who was so honest he refused it. Or a tip of any kind.

After being driven out to my hometown of Ohtawara by my new bosses, we stopped off at a restaurant that was conveniently located at the base of my apartment complex... we had four beers each... not enough to make me anything but more thirsty.

A few days later, it was festival time in my city... I think it was one to celebrate the Dead returning... that was when I had my first taste of sake... Japanese rice wine. My father had warned me that this stuff tastes like water and then sneaks up and hits you over the head with a baseball bat.
Drinking alcohol can get you mixed up with the right or wrong type of person - depending on one's point of view... he seemed so nice before we started drinking...
He was correct. Of course... I didn't listen. It was 34C that evening and the humidity was even worse... as such, I was powerful parched... I was shot-gunning sake like it was Coke... and must have had about 20 glasses... and was joined in my exploits by the dealer who was selling the glasses... who was more than pleased to have the local gaijin no sensei enjoying his wares... and soon... other men joined in... and it was a freaking party!

I was hammered. Drunk. But for me... I just get louder and happier. I'm the good type of drunk.

It was a grand evening...

And the next morning... just like all of the mornings for me... I'm fine. I have never had a hang-over in my life. Never. I've been drunk, puked a total of five times in my life... but because I never get a hangover, I never learn my lesson.

Or at least... I never pay for drinking to excess. It made me a superstar amongst my local Japanese as I rarely had to pay for my own booze as they always wanted to see if they could out-drink me.

They couldn't. They would talk, I would talk, and we would bond. They spoke Japanese. I spoke English. We understood each other because there is nothing in this world quite like the love two or more drunks have for each other.

(L-R) Hanazaki's son, Hanazaki-san, Me, Ohtawara Mayor Sembo (1990-2014 and still going), Deputy Mayor, and Board of Education Superintendent. This was before I started drinking sake at the Obon Festival that first week in Ohtawara.
I went out to my Board of Education Office parties... English teacher parties... school teacher parties... and would even go out with locals who wanted to get to know me better by having a drink with me.

So I did.

As such... when you can drink whatever it is that the Japanese are drinking... and drink more than them and appear drunk but stable, you get a reputation for being a 'hebbi durinkah'... which only sounds bad. When you don't let it interfere with your day-to-day work, you gain a lot of respect in their eyes.

I saw teachers sucking back Asprin the next day, wet towels placed over the head, teachers begging students to be quiet... and then they would see me smiling and at normal volume ... and the students would see me... and they would look at me with a bit more respect.

I actually won a sake drinking contest... three AETs and one Japanese JET boss, who if someone would have given him money, he would have been a professional drinker.

We had glass after glass of beautiful, clear sake. One kid passed out at around seven... the others in the teens... and Arakawa-sensei and I (second photo from the top of this blog) ... we pounded back 47 apiece before we 1) ran out of sake 2) he had to go to a meeting, and 3) I was horny and wanted to go dancing or whatever it was one did before sex.

Several glasses of sake later, I'm still smiling but wearing a Donald Duck mask on my head. Donald Duck is my hero because he doesn't wear any pants.
While I was kicked out of a hotel disco for stumbling around too much, the next day Arakawa-sensei was nursing a huge hangover and me... he begged me to stopped smiling at him so loudly... I was fine.

It's called beating the Japanese at their own game.

It's why I would also eat any Japanese food they placed down in front of me.
Natto: It looks bad, tastes awful and smells worse... and I love it! Photo: Original uploader was Shades0404 at en.wikipedia

"Oh... you won't like this food An-do-ryu-sensei. It is natto... rotting fermented soy beans... with a bit of soy, mustard and a raw egg mixed over on a bed of warm rice."

Why? I would ask.

"Foreigners do not like natto. Many Japanese do not like natto. Basically, Japanese west of Tokyo do not like to eat natto."

I don't know about you... but perhaps it's because I'm a visible minority in Toronto... and I dislike being pigeonholed into a stereotype... I try and break the mold.

So... I not only ate the natto that they placed in front of me, but I told them it was delicious... and when they gave me more... I ate that too.

In fact... I would often buy my own natto and eat it several times a week. Just because I knew that a foreigner wasn't supposed to like it.

I did also win a natto eating contest... and had to use chopsticks to take out the eating champ...

I'm still smiling in the middle after drinking my weight in sake at the Obon Festival, but Hanazaki-san (left and Kanemaru-san (right) are feeling the effects of the heat and the booze.
That's why I drank alcohol, too. It was to beat the Japanese at their own game. And maybe to kill the taste of natto on my lips.

Japanese people like to have a bit of superiority over the foreigner... at least that's what they believe. No one can use chopsticks as well as a Japanese person. No one but the Japanese can eat natto. No one can drink sake as much as a Japanese person.

It's all BS, of course... and I always figured I was in Japan to teach them that stereotypes about foreigners are just that... stereotypes and not necessarily correct.

I wanted to show the Japanese that I could be as Japanese as them. At least in certain things.

They certainly worked longer hours than me. Could speak Japanese better than me... but dammit... I eventually got to the point where I could ask out a Japanese girl just like them... and could go out with the most beautiful women they've ever seen.

It's not because I'm handsome or smart or in great shape... rather it was just a kind of way to show the world that I can do whatever I want.

I loved my time in Japan... and I loved it even more because the Japanese were quite accepting of me because I was willing to do every stupid thing they did... especially the drinking.

Do you have to drink in Japan? Nope. Not at all. But if you do... and at the right time with the right people and don't act like an a$$hole... you can make friends and influence enemies.

Seriously... when people drink... they loosen up. Alcohol is called conversation lubrication for a reason.

You drink... you get drunk... you relax and let your hair down a little.

For goodness sake... know your limits... we don't want anyone dying of alcohol poisoning or puking on the school principal... but.. and this is important... when drinking... you go around and pour beer into everyone else's glass.

I guarantee you that the Japanese will be impressed with your manners... it shows respect. They will pour for you... and may even do it first because you are the guest in the country... but please ensure you pour and pour properly for them.

Oh... and for god's sake... when the Japanese ask you what English phrase you use to say "Kanpai" (cheers), to... do not ever say Chin-Chin. That's the Japanese slang word for 'penis', which will get many a Japanese office lady smiling and clapping, but will also get all of the men shaking their drunken heads in embarrassment. You do not want drunk guys shaking their head. That's when accidents happen.

That did happen, at my Ohtawara Board of Education office party... but it is also where I was taught a lot of the naughty Japanese words that every foreigner wants to learn.

Drunken respect.

At a wedding, I have a small glass of beer in my hand and am looking for trouble or whatever her name is.
Does it work for women? Uhhhh... if you are a foreign woman at an enkai (party)... they will try and get you drunk. Why? Because it's fun. But also... why does any guy try to get you drunk? Rii-iiight. Have a couple but know your limit.

Ashley could drink like a fish when we were at a city enkai... but that's because everyone knew she was my girlfriend even though she wouldn't admit that... so... she was protected by me... and when Ashley drank at an enkai it meant that even if Andrew wasn't there, Andrew was going to get some leg tonight (that's a spoken line from a Van Halen song).

But at her office parties... she'd get plastered and had the good sense to ride her bike out to my place to crash (so Andrew could get some leg)... or they would pour her into a taxi and drive her home. The women were always very protective of the other women from the drunken men.

That means you should try and NOT go out drinking with just the men unless you are one yourself. It's sounds sexist, and I'm sorry if it is... but, I'm not incorrect here.

Lastly... when out drinking and you don't want to drink anymore... because you have no idea how much you've been drinking thanks to that Japanese tradition of everyone else pouring drinks for you... simply place your hand on top of the glass. They will get it.

You can also do a funny drink face and pretend your head is spinning... stick your tongue out... they will get it...
What's wrong with my hair?! It's caused me to be able to lick the tip of my nose with my tongue.
Even I... the hebbi drinker had to do that on more than one occasion... because sometime you have to get up early and do other things... man can not live on the bed spins alone.

Just know as well... if you are at an office party... eat lots. It helps absorb the alcohol so it doesn't hit you as quickly.

Or... just have soda water. You don't have to drink... but, all I'm saying is that if you do, it can help you into the Japanese inner circle a little quicker.

I'm saying all this with a straight face because I do have a couple of readers who are planning to go to Japan who do not drink at all.

Andrew Joseph

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