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Showing posts with label Drinking in Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drinking in Japan. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan

Oh my goodness, how could I be so impolite?

The folks over at Stone Bridge Press had sent me a book to review—Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan—and I completely forgot to do a write-up.

I didn’t expect to be enthralled by the book, nor learn anything from it, based on the book’s cutesy cover featuring anthropomorphic cats—but dammit, I did enjoy it.

The softcover book has 140 pages, and cost US $12.95 and features nine chapters of easy-to-read and easy-to-understand sections that will help you navigate your way through Japanese customs and cultural differences to avoid looking like a complete idiot.

Firstly, however, as a foreigner and thus guest in Japan, 99.9% of the time you will be treated as such by the Japanese populace. Culturally, Japan is a very polite society.

Now, since no one in Japan is really going to get angry with you for any faux pas or cultural transgressions you may make, why, you may wonder would I need to read: Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan ?

Simple. Who the heck wants to stomp around a country with complete disregard for its peoples or customs?

Barbarian hordes stampeding the women and raping the cows, that’s who. That’s not us, of course.

No… we want to do our best to fit in, with a “when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do” philosophy.

Rather than Rome (in the case of the adage, we are talking about Rome the country), we’re talking about Japan…

Trust me, you don’t want to commit half the mistakes I did. The Japanese are quite forgiving because they know we don’t know any better - but Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is here to educate you better.

Even though it is only confined to two pages, the book provides two 10-pieces of advice: Things you should never do in Japan; and things you should always do in Japan.

Excellent advice... and that alone would make the book worth its weight in cold chocolate coins.

Still, the book offers pointers on (based on the chapter headings): going out (to the mall) or on a date); standard etiquette; etiquette for traveling whether in daily life or on va-cay; hotel do's and don'ts; toilet and bath etiquette, which is actually quite important, as people are less forgiving at a hot spring facility; eating foods and drinks; homestays/visits; general language conversation (see below for my story on my mistake (?); and business etiquette.

My favorite language mistake? I was at an office enkai (party) and was asked how we Canadians say kanpai (cheers) when doing a drinking toast. I told them that Canada “cheers” is very common, but we do also possess a bit f an international flair and also use such cheers as "prost!" (German), Nazdrovia (Russian, Czech, etc), "yamas" (Greek), and good old "Cin Cin" (Italian).

Cin cin in English is pronounced as "chin-chin".

All cool, right?

Except in Japanese, "chin-chin" translates to a slang of "penis".

So when I told the Japanese we said "chin chin", all of the women cheered, while the men en masse grabbed their head (forehead, actually), and gave it a slight sideways shake in disgust.

The women were soon drinking heavily and toasted good fortune with bellows of chin chin, grinning as the cheers of "penis" abounded within the restaurant.

When someone from the restaurant came in to see what the hubbub was about, the women giggled and told them. Pretty soon the main part of the restaurant up front was laughing and drinking away to toasts of "penis" (or rather the Italian version), and I realized that internationalization in Japan could be a lot of fun if one wanted to stir up mischief.

Amy's Guide To Best Behavior in Japan may not cover all of the faux pas that a foreigner could get up to in Japan, but it can help you avoid many an embarrassing situation.

Is it worth picking up? Yes.

While it may not have avoided the infamous "penis" incident of 1990, it will help you fit in better in your new country.

Now, I'm still of the opinion that life is worth screwing up a bit in order to create better stories...

Can you imagine just how bland my life and this blog would have been if I didn't constantly screw up while in Japan? Boooorrrrring.

However, I had/have the capacity to deal with such fallout. Many of you would not.

Few men and women, for example, cared to let their true selves out in Japan... whether they are foreigners of Japanese. That old adage in Japan about the nail that stands up gets hammered down, isn't just an adage - it's a way of life.

Personally, I don't mind standing out.

But I do respect that fact that if possible, most people would prefer that their actions did not cause WWIII.

I can't guarantee that Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan still won't cause WWIII, but I can guarantee you that you will have fewer embarrassing interactions while in Japan. 

Don't get me wrong. I seemed to thrive in embarrassing situations... and those faux pas I made in Japan sure seem stupidly funny now... but I can guarantee you I was embarrassed by them at the time. Why do you think it took me so long to bring this stuff up?

Pick up a copy of Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan. Author Amy Chavez did a fine job of explaining how to "do it right, and be polite". Chavez has been a columnist for the Japan Times for 20+ years, writing about cultural differences between Japan and the West - kindda what I do mostly.

Currently she owns the Moooo! Bar & Calfe on the beach of Shiraishi Island. See HERE and HERE for info on her blog and bar! She's been writing since February of 20019 - a few months longer than I have (though I will lay claim to having a few more blog entries than Ms. Chavez - but quality over quantity?)

Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan is a quick read, though NOT skimpy on words. Has lots of fun drawings by Hazuki Jun (surname first) involving cats. Why not cows? I guess Chavez didn't wish to hawk her bar/calfe.

Contact Stone Bridge Press at and order a book and make cowgirl Chavez smile. You'll learn something from Amy’s Guide To Best Behavior in Japan, and maybe even get a chuckle or two from it as well. 

Chin chin,
Andrew Joseph
PS: For Michael at StoneBridge Press - sorry for not posting this earlier. I actually did read it days after receiving it... and I did write most of this then... but for whatever reason, I stopped at the point of the penis cheer, and forgot to complete it. D'oh.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Enkai - Japanese Banquet

Since 2006, when I first began this blog, I have often and casually mentioned the Japanese term “enkai” referring to it as a “party”. 

It certainly is, but unlike the standard work party the rest of the world is familiar with, the Japanese enkai has, as you might suspect, has its own unique flavor. 

The enkai is indeed an office party, and can involve the entire company, or perhaps just a department, but here’s the most important part… it’s not held on the company premises. 

Yup… an office enkai is held in a private room or a part of a restaurant and tavern, and features a legitimate banquet dinner feast. 

There are many types of enkai. For example, when I arrived in Japan on the JET Programme, my Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) held a welcome enkai for myself. And when I left, there was a good bye feast… perhaps with more joy shown there. (That's me at my good-bye enkai in the photo at the very top.) 
Kidding. I left on very good terms… in fact… I didn’t want to go… and while the OBOE wanted to keep me on, the City wanted to replace me with a representative from their new sister city of St. Andrew’s, Scotland.  

It wasn’t anything personal, either, it was just good politics. I respect that, despite my disappointment.

Other forms of enkai are the bonenkai (year-end party) and the shinnenkai (New year party). 

Okay… but other than booking space a t a restaurant, and mandatory attendance (It’s not really mandatory, but when it comes to an office enkai, planned so far in advance… other than a death in the family, there’s no getting out of it. 

There is one person, called the kanji, who is responsible for the arranging of the enkai, including room/restaurant reservations, setting the attendance list, settling the bill, and depending on the person, being the MOC (master of ceremonies). 

The enkai begins with an official welcome and greeting from the kanji, immediately followed by a beer toast (kanpai!). 

Large bottles of beer have already been placed on each table, and everyone pours a small amount of beer into someone else’s glass - you never pour your own beer in Japan, enkai or otherwise. 
That's my secret fiance Noboko pouring me a beer at my good-bye enkai. Beats me why I am so happy... probably because I know that I'll see her again in a few hours time...
After the toast, it’s onto more talking and eating. Oh… and drinking. 

A Japanese enkai is a real booze fest. 

I’ve been asked this before:  what if I don’t drink alcohol (because of religious, health reasons, or maybe you just don’t care for drinking and it’s raucous aftereffects)? 

If it’s not an affront to your well being, I’d suggest informing the kanji ahead of time, but still having a sip anyway when presented. Or, after the first sip, request orange juice, or some other beverage. This should be mentioned to the kanji ahead of time… because you don’t want to look rude, especially when the choice to drink is your own.

So… after the toast, some drinking and eating, some enkai will have a talent show. Buddha help me, but in my case every time I attended, there was a karaoke machine. I don’t read Japanese, so I was relegated to only the songs available that had English subtitles. 

Those songs are invariably: My Way (Frank Sinatra); Country Roads; and Love Me Tender. I ain’t joking when I tell you that my karaoke machine mixed up the L with an R on Love, making it “Rove Me Tender”… which sounds a whole lot like “Rub me Tender” when sung by a drunk Japanese office worker. 

I opted for My Way, the first year… but rather than do the Sinatra version, I did the Johnny Rotten version. This was one of Johnny’s solo pieces after breaking away from the punk rock group, The Sex Pistols. 

Johnny had a warble in his voice, and because of my ability to mimic things, I was able to do a passable copy of Johnny Rotten doing My Way. The problem was, is that no one at the OBOE had ever heard the Johnny Rotten version… as such, despite my angry warble being spot on (I even changed my voice to sound like his), I’m afraid that I merely came across as sounding like someone who can not sing. 

Which I suppose is true. 

I don’t think the OBOE ever invited me to sing again at one of their enkai… though I did do Country Roads with my fellow AETs (assistant English teachers) at a Tochigi-ken JET weekend. I probably should have done Johnny Rotten version for the JETs, and stuck with taking it home via the Country Roads for the OBOE. Oh well. Live and learn. Next life. 
Kevin Blacburn, myself, Jeff Seaman, Matthew Hall, and Tim Mould doing karaoke at a Tochigi-ken JET Programme function. Go ahead and click on the photo and see what song we're singing. I dare ya. At least I was wearing underwear.
Anyhow… while everyone at the enkai is in rapt engagement listening to a co-worker croon some Japanese enka (folk song)… once that is done, it’s time for the free-for-all, which really means it’s time to move around and talk with others.       

This, my friends, is where everyone goes around to their boss et al, and pours a small amount of beer into their glass. 

Some people are so pissed drunk by this time, however, that they open their mouth and spew angry diatribes at their superiors. Good news, however, is that a Japanese enkai is like Las Vegas. Whatever happens at Las enkai, stays at Las enkai. 

It really is no big deal. The hierarchy of boss and peon is now reduced to drinking person and drinking person with a less expensive suit. 

Usually, these enkai will last either two or three hours… and dammit all, it ends right on the prescribed dot. 

But, as is usually the case, when one enkai ends, a group of committed party-goers will head of to a noodle shop or another bar, and continue the fun times, with a second, or Buddha help you, a third enkai. 

Been there, done that. 

I’ve been called a  "hebi-durinkah”, which is Japlish for “heavy drinker”. Yeah, I could drink more than most people… or at worst, would drink as much as the worst drinker (best drinker) at an enkai, and not look the worse for wear… IE, I don’t appear to be pissed three sheets to the wind. 
Myself and a local Ohtawara-shi sake maker. He offered me my very first glass of sake to welcome me to Ohtawara at the o-bon festival in August of 1990. It's here that I earned my pseudonym of "hebi-durinkah", after nearly emptying his cache of rice wine meant to be sold to the rest of the city during this festival. That is a Donald Duck mask I have on my head, as well as a festival jacket given to me by one of the festival workers. Donald Duck is my favorite comic book character (no, not Batman). To paraphrase: "I'm Donald Duck." Someone will get that joke. And yes... this was my second glass of sake. It was 37C at 10PM, and I was thirsty. It went down like water.
It was at a JET enkai, that I engaged in the infamous sake drinking contest with myself, a fellow AET, and a Japanese educational head. 

My fellow AET literally passed out after his 10th shot of sake - to be fair he had been drink aforehand, because this was at the end of the enkai evening. 

Myself and the Japanese head, we literally went head-to-head - each of us swallowing 47 shots of sake… and we both realized that no one was going to win, and he had a meeting to attend  - so we called it a draw. 
Mr. Arakawa and myself one evening after our infamous drinking battle, toasting each other with a very small shot of sake.
Who has a meeting after an enkai? No one… He probably wanted to go and be sick, the poor retching soul. Me? I went dancing. Got kicked out of the club. Went and passed out in a forest diorama under a deer. Apparently I had to break into the diorama in order to pass out, but I did so without damaging anything. I awoke after a few hours, and went to my room. I think I made out with a female AET from my prefecture. Canadian redhead. yeah. I did. Woke up in my own room, refreshed and happy - but with a dry mouth.       

I was not susceptible to hangovers. Never had one. Not in my DNA. 

Personally, the enkai is a fun time for bonding, and this is where you discover just who the hell can really speak English, and you get to wonder why they are so afraid to speak it with you when they aren’t drunk. 
Yes, enkai are a lot of fun... or so I've been told. My memory is a little fuzzy.
Andrew Joseph

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Helpful Hints For New JET Participants - Part 7

Today, July 29, is the 28th anniversary of me setting foot in Japan as part of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Young then, I write this now feeling old, as more time has passed for since I arrived than before I arrived. IE, I was younger than 28-years-old.

For an honest review of what that first day was like, please read my old article YYZ, HERE.

For now… let me impart some last advice for you newbies on the JET Programme that could save your life or prevent major embarrassment.

Drinking in Japan. Everyone does it. Sort of.

Hey… not everyone drinks alcohol, and if you are one of those people like my buddy Vinnie, not to worry.

Yes, Japan is fueled by alcohol when its society is done with its oppressive work hours and the group is expected to drink together… but it is okay if you refrain.

For the foreigner/gaijin who is going to Japan for the first time, you will want to make a good impression with your Japanese cohorts.

There will be a welcome party for you, the board of education and all of the Japanese teachers of English you will work with.

Before that, there will perhaps be your boss taking you out to a nearby restaurant after you arrive at your hometown for the first time.

Heck, even your fellow prefectural AETs (assistant English teachers) might want to get together for a snort.

Whatever the case, you have three options.

1) Drink like the fish that you are.

2) Refrain from drinking period.

3) Have a sip for the toast that opens the party and switch to juice or water or cola or whatever.

I was a partaker of point #1. I could drink, and I could out-drink most people. I never had a hangover. I might get the spins, puke (six times, ever), but I’ll never really pay for it with a banging headache. Just the morning dry-mouth. I am the exception, and not the rule.

For the record... I don't drink much of anything anymore except Coke Zero Sugar. By choice, I might add.

In Japan... well... after downing several glasses of sake (Japanese rice wine)—it looks like water and tastes like water in the hot July/August humidity, but it has a habit of sneaking up on you 20 minutes later—I gained the nickname of “he-bi du-ri-n-ka” which translates exactly as what was said phonetically: "heavy drinker”.

It doesn’t man you are an alcoholic, rather that you can put it away.

For those who are in the Category #2...For dietary, religious, health or that's-who-I-am reasons, you may not want to drink. So don’t. Ask for a non-alcoholic drink. The idea behind these parties and get-togethers is to bond. You don’t really need alcohol to bond. It helps, but it’s not necessary. Be warned however… as the only sober person in the group, you will see a lot of loutish behavior from the men.

If you are a woman, someone will invariably make a comment about your boobs or Buddha help you, try and pinch your ass. Japanese work parties are like Las Vegas, however. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And in the Japanese party case, it is often best to forgive and forget… but recall enough to avoid being near that perpetrator at a drunken enkai/party ever again. I hope it’s not your boss.

My girlfriend and fellow JET, had her boobs lunged for and her ass grabbed by an old Japanese man at an international party. She told me about the incident and hung around me the rest of the night. My options were to ignore it or smash his face in. In this case, Japan… it’s best to play by the customs of the country.

Hmmm: And how figuring ridiculous is this whole thing now, when I write it all out!!!??!! Someone gets sexually assaulted and we’re all supposed to effing look away??!! Fug!

Look… I would get advice about such matters from your prefectural leader ASAP. I don’t have any advice other than that.

As for those who fall in under point #3... If drinking alcohol is NOT your thing and there is no reason for that decision other than the fact that you don’t want to be put in any sort of situation where you are not 100 percent in control, you could have a small mouthful of beer JUST for the opening kanpai/cheers, and then switch to no-alcohol drinks. It just shows you are trying to be part of the group, but still dislike alcohol to not make it a part of your Japanese diet.

Okay… are we done with drinking? Here’s the next piece of advice, and it deals with drinking.

Whether it’s alcohol or non-alcohol beverages, you are going to have to pee… and maybe even poop.

While the old-school Japanese toilets--the squat toilet--are more or less out of vogue and have been replaced, I can not guarantee that about any of the smaller towns or villages you may eventually visit.

I recent read a book that described the whole scene, but I found it to be in error.

In Japan, you may still find the squat toilet… a rectangular porcelain bowl that is sunken into the floor.

It is IN the floor.

An example of a Japanese squat toilet.
I remind you of this twice because on our very first night out in Japan (Evening number three for me... evening one was spent watching CNN and sleeping; two was with American cool and sexy chick Kristine and her Saga-ken AETs... I arrived in Japan earlier than many other AETs from around the world), Ashley, Matthew, Jeff and I were powering down some beers with the rest of our fellow AETs at a restaurant in Tokyo.

Jeff was the first to break and went looking for the washroom, stumbling through the restaurant kitchen, before being pointed in the correct direction by the cooks. He told us this later.

He stepped through the doorway to the men’s room, entered the toilet area and stepped in the rectangular porcelain bowl and then yelled in shock as his shoeless sock was now soaking wet. We all heard him scream and some of the others who hadn't had as much to drink actually got up to investigate.

Yes... Jeff had stepped into a Japanese toilet.

Here is something everyone who comes into contact with a Japanese squat toilet should consider:  you guys in particular... and women... I have no idea what the fug you should do, but if you are similarly dressed to men and wearing slacks, pants or jeans… then this advice is for you.

The squatter is in an enclosed room. Lock the door. Look at the door. There’s a clothes hook or two. Take off your pants and hang them up on the hook. You can do the same with your underwear. Who cares? This is your locked room.

The idea here is to avoid possible splash-back or poor aim causing problems for you down the road.

When squatting, face the area where the pipes are… You can either hold on as you squat, or use those thigh, calf and foot muscles to find the perfect squatting position (hands-free) to poop.

You are thinking… what? Hold onto the pipes where thousands of others have held? Ick!

What the fug do you care? You are going to wash your hands when you are done, right? With soap?

When you can, find a 7-11, and get a small, pocket-size bottle of liquid hand-sanitizer. As well, get a packet or three of small, personal tissues.

Public washrooms in Japan lack toilet paper and even paper towels to dry your hands. Better restaurants will have it, but public washrooms like at the train or subway station will not. Not usually.

Product brand representatives are always giving away small packs of tissue for use as toilet paper or snot rags. You might even be handed a small dish towel. Keep one of those handy in a backpack or handbag/purse to dry your hands. Wash it from time to time.

By the way... Japanese restaurants may require you to remove your shoes at the eating table (such as Jeff, Matthew, Ashley and I found that evening), and provide you with slippers for movement around the place… with plastic toilet slippers placed just within the doorway to the actual toilet.

When you use any such slippers, it is always a great idea to PRE-TURN then in the opposite direct from whence you came, making them easier to slip on and off… also the next person after you can easily access the toilet slippers… it’s a courtesy for others, and something that will make your own life a lot easier.

Let's change the subject.

You may notice that in the top image, I had scrawled in ¥3,600,000... that was what they paid us per year back in 1990. AFTER tax. I'm sure the figures I am presenting below are also after tax.

Back then it was abut US$36,000 or CDN$42,000 - a pretty hefty sum for someone coming out of school, looking for their first job and gaining a bit of adventure.

How have things changed? Well, here's what participants on the JET Programme earn now in 2018:
  • First Year: ¥3,360,000
  • Second Year: ¥3,600,000
  • Third Year: ¥3,900,000
  • Fourth and Fifth Year: ¥3,960,000
Work Hours per Week: 35 hours (maximum)35 hours (maximum)
Holidays and Paid Leave: All Japanese National Holidays PLUS 10 additional discretionary paid days off. You can take more time off, but it is unpaid.

As you can see, in 2018, JET participants actually make less in their first year than I did back in 1990. It's US$30,250 or CDN $39,500.

The second year salary is the same in Japanese Yen, but now equates to CDN$42,339 or US$32,420.

Which if you are taking into account cost of living increases et al, it sucks, considering everything is more expensive 28 years later. Sorry.

Third-year, it still comes in at US$35,000 or CDN$45,900 - which is better for Canadians than it is for Americans.

Fourth and Fifth year is CDN$46,5000 or US$35,600.

Any way you slice it, the rate of exchange works out a bit better for Canadians, but sucks big-time for my American cousins.

Lest you complain too much, however, let me tell you about a Japanese English teacher friend of mine, Inoue-sensei, who had 20 years of teaching experience. He made less than I did. He wasn't being punished, as he was up for a vice-principal position.

Japanese teachers work far more hours than us JETs, a solid 5-1/2 days a week that is far greater than a basic 9-5 scenario thanks to after-school club activities. They also have class Saturday mornings until 1PM, and are on-call 24/7 should a student get into any outside trouble such as... shoplifting... people call the school to get hold of the kid's homeroom teacher. Only after the situation is resolved, are the parents notified.

It's why teachers still hold a position of respect within Japan. Even you, as an assistant English teacher, are thus held in higher regard than the average working person in Japan... because you are a teacher.

So don't fug it up.

And never tell your Japanese cohorts your salary. I did, but I vowed to always answer any question in English asked of my by a Japanese person. They won't hold it against you for making what you earn, but it may make them feel bad about their own situation.

Inoue-sensei rationalized it well-enough by saying of course I should be paid more... to leave my home to come and work in a foreign land...

True... but that should only count against a teacher who has been on the job for a few years... not for a 20-year lifer!

Let me give you another bit of helpful advice. Once you land in Japan... stop converting the Japanese Yen into your Home currency. Just don't do it.

If you see something you want, buy it if you can afford it. If you can't afford it at such-and-such time, buy it when you can. If it is gone when you come back, then it wasn't meant to be. No regrets.

Okay... that’s all for now... if there are any of you newbies out there who have a question about anything, feel free to contact me. I will provide you with an honest answer or solution.

Okay... one more bit of sage advice...

Lastly... take it from me... a guy who who was there from 1990-1993... the time in Japan goes by quickly.

Enjoy yourself. Find ways to ensure you enjoy yourself. It doesn't have to include drunken forays or screwing yourself blind. It could be a bike ride to a nearby temple or a trip to a mountain or volcano, or a walk through a rice paddy or 20, or getting yourself an aquarium, or discovering a restaurant or, a novel idea, making new friends.

Go out... let yourself be seen. Take in everything. Make notes... because, as even the conversation I had last night with my friend and former JET Matthew will attest... memory fades.

I made notes on everything while I was in Japan... Matthew questioned me last night if I had made up things or if it was true. It's true. Sh!t happened.

I wrote down even my most innocuous and poisonous thoughts. Daily. Without fail. Ya never know what may one day prove to be of interest to someone else. I didn't write stuff down in 1990 because I was going to be a blogger. The Internet as it is now did not exist then. I wasn't even going to be an author. I just wrote stuff down so I could remember later to tell the kids or grandkids.

Everyday in Japan, a lot will happen if you let it.

And, as I found, after creating this blog since July of 2009, and taking to writing everyday as of February of 2011... after reading my notes, I had no idea I had done some of things I had done. Some were cool, some were stupid, some were kind, some were vicious. All were interesting.

But it was all my experience in Japan.

Now go make your own.

Andrew Joseph
AET on the JET Programme 1990-1993

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mug Of Beer

First off, let me apologize for the briefness of this blog. For the first time since I was in diapers, I took a nap in the afternoon on Sunday.

I don't know why... perhaps I was tired from coaching baseball in the hot sun, tired of watching my kid play Fortnite (a pox on the house of that video game creator), or perhaps it was the heavy lunch... or cripes, maybe I'm getting older and heading for that time when I need to wear diapers again as an old man.

I'm not there yet... but damn... a nap.

Above, what we have here is a matchbox label from Japan advertising a local beer establishment in Tokyo (I assume).

What little I could read of the Japanese language has evaporated with being nearly 25 years removed from the country I write about here.

I don't even drink beer anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I could if I wanted to, I just don't have the want.

Besides, being cash poor doesn't leave me with the options of getting drunk as a skunk like I used to while I was in Japan.

Back then, I only really drank in social situations that demanded I get as pissed as the Japanese I was with. It was a social thing... for us all to let down our hair and get to know each other away from the formal setting of the work environment.

It was and is a very important part of the Japanese social structure.

I suppose offices outside of Japan do the same thing, but at least here in Toronto where we live far away from the office, and far away from our co-workers, and like to drive to work, more often than not... getting hammered at an office party and then having to leave the car at work and take some alternative way home is something many people dislike... and so, we often refrain from getting hammered.

There's also the fact that unlike Japan where everyone gets stinking drunk at an office enkai (party), where things are said, and if embarrassing are never discussed again... outside of Japan that sort of behavior will get you fired.

I have been a pretty sociable guy. At work I will talk to anyone about anything they like... I listen, keep secrets, and provide thoughts or advice where I think it might be appreciated.

But at work socials... not so much.

I actually work best in social gatherings up to maybe five people at most... anymore, I shut down and just listen... and usually become bored and quietly leave after what is the shortest possible time to still be considered socially polite. Or I don't go at all.

Even I think my actions are weird.

I actually have very few friends... but that's okay. If I call you my friend, I mean it. But work... work friends have always been particularly difficult for me.

I'm a writer. That means I spend most of my time locked in my own mind trying to make sense of the thoughts I have heard and written down.

Its seems in complete contrast to the outward persona I show... that super-friendly, funny guy... or the baseball, hockey, soccer coach, or the piano, clarinet teacher, or the guy teaching English to junior high school teachers in Japan, or even the writer who doesn't mind spilling the beans on his most private thoughts while he was in Japan, or private thoughts about things he learns about Japan now.

I call it being on, when I'm around people. But lest a machine burn out, it needs to switch off every once in a while.

In Japan I would drink to excess to show that anything the Japanese could do, I could do several beers better.

In my mind, it was not only a means of showing the Japanese that they did not have a lock on being superior (this feeling IS actually a part of the Japanese identity that exists even  today - and I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing)... but it was also a means for me to cope being in Japan.

When us gaijin (foreigners/outsiders) go to Japan to work and live, we leave being the creature comforts of whatever country we are from... the most important being family, friends, and yes, language.

I had never been away from home until I went to Japan. I had done five years of university and two years of college, and managed to do so while living in my parent's basement, allowing me to continue playing D&D, watch Star Trek reruns - and to basically have never kissed a girl. Click HERE to see what I mean.

Drinking Japanese-style helped. But I was smart enough (in my opinion only) to only have drunk and been drunk when in social situations... IE, never alone.

I have long felt that alcohol, while tasty when in social situations, never tasted very good when alone.

Unfortunately... or fortunately... when it came to imbibing alcohol, I never met the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participant who could out-drink me. Okay.. maybe there were two guys... one for sure... but we never competed... we just drank when with each other.

Anyhow... despite all those great stories I have told about the drinking exploits of myself in Japan... while I enjoyed them at the time, it was never who I was... just who I needed to be at that time.

Apparently, my opening statement was written before I finished writing this blog. I never know what the hell I am going to write before I do.

Hopefully, something more interesting tomorrow.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Guide To Drinking Japanese Whisky

I would be lying if I told you I know a lot about alcohol, let alone Japanese alcohol.

I might have drunk enough of it to be confused for a naval crew on shore leave, but that doesn’t mean I know anything other than “drink goes here” pointing at my mouth.

During my three years + in Japan, my drink of choice was Coca-Cola, followed by anything with vodka in it.

Then I switched to rum and Coke, and then switched to a bourbon and soda.

I shouldn’t say “switched” per se, as it was actually me having those types of drinks one after the other on any one night out.

I also peppered my imbibing with beer and sake… with the former and later both garnering me a reputation among my Japanese cohorts as a “hebi durinka”… which isn’t drunk talk, but rather a katakana way of saying “heavy drinker” in English… though to be honest, I probably would have pronounced it that way after some of those nights out.

Nahhhhh… I could drink… drink a lot… I’d get toasted, then drunk, but not very often stoopid-drunk (maybe 4x in total), where I’d puke or do something stupid… but the three times I did ralph, it was after three Flaming Blue Lamborghini drinks, and the other time I broke into a taxidermy scene at a hotel to lay down in the forest scene amongst a deer (but no antelope, go figure… unless I was the antelope… wow… I think I just blew my mind… pkewwwww).

That later one was after drinking well over 10 beers, 10+ shots of sake and a glass of whiskey on a basically empty stomach.

Hey… I never claimed to be smart, just not stupid… though the above is scant evidence of a truism there.

My point is, is that I drank to excess, not for enjoyment.

I didn’t get grabby, or annoying (I hope), but instead just got louder and funnier (I hope), as apparently the more one drinks there’s an inverse ratio of deafness involved.

It didn’t seem to affect any randiness on my part, but aside from the wild AET get-togethers, and cry-in-my drink sessions over a break-up or 12, I never drank at home when alone, and only did so in my apartment when company was around such as with Matthew who would bring a beer or two, or Ashley who would share a bottle of Southern Comfort…. but I knew in her case, it was best to let her have most of it, and to be ready when she was.

While it is true that I spent a lot of time in a bar, in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan during my time there, I spent very little time there actually drinking alcohol.

I might have a glass or bottle of something, but I would show up at the local watering hole on weekday nights awaiting to be picked up by some suspecting (no unsuspecting here!) woman who had heard from someone that I could be a fun date with no strings attached.

I know… I was bad… but when I was bad, I was even better. Thanks, Mae.

As such… i had no idea, and didn’t care to know, much about what constituted a good drink, or a better drink. To me, all roads led to inebriation or back to my place. Rarely both.

In Japan, I tried to dress as well as gaijin-ly possible. It was nigh-on impossible to purchase clothing in my sizes, let alone anything stylish, so I had shirts, pants and a jacket made for me in Singapore (I love color!), and bought the not-yet fashionable for another six months teal jacket when I was back in Toronto one summer. It was more greeny and bluey, but it was teal when no one had teal in North America, except for perhaps Montreal, which is always ahead of the fashion curve, I think.

I would wear ties and hairbands (for my long hair) that matched each other, wore two watches (one each wrist), with local and Toronto times… and basically did my best to look good… though I did have crappy shoes.

I was a metrosexual before the term existed… though I wonder if my refusal to give a crap about what I was drinking would disqualify me from the term?

For those of you who care, GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly) has published an article about the best Japanese Whisky… but please keep in mind, the beverages discussed are merely one person’s opinion.

Also, please note that just because something is priced at a high level does not mean it is good. It could simply merely be high-priced.

Read the GQ article HERE.

Andrew "peasant" Joseph

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Japan—Where Livers Go To Die

Back in the day, which is to say when I was younger, when I lived in Japan (1990-1993) I was already the type of hardcore drinker of beer.

The first time I went drinking with the Japanese during the Ohtawara-shi O-Bon Matsuri (Festival) a few days after arriving in the Tochigi-ken city, after being offered glass after glass of the watery-looking drink called sochu (familiarly known as rice wine sake), it was laughingly commented upon that I was a hebidurinka... which Japlish for "heavy drinker", no so much a commentary on my then-svelte physique, but on my ability to drink copious quantities of their local hooch without turning red, stumbling around or becoming abusively wasted.

The photo above... that's me having my first - or rather having finished my first - shot of sochu. It went down like water... a much appreciated refreshment considering it was +9PM in August and somewhere around 36C, not counting the humidity.

Dionald Duck is my favorite comic book character, so seeing the mask at a kiosk, I bought it, unaware that it was only the little kids who wore such things at the festival. Perfect.

The orange cloak was something special people involved in the festival's organization received. I don't know why they gave it to me, but color me grateful. Too bad the darn thing was lost in my house fire a few years back.

Anyhow... when I drink, I just get more funny. Apparently everyone around me simply gets more hard of hearing, as I find I then have to talk louder.

This is an interesting situation since I had only recently developed the persona of being an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. Huh... alcohol gets rid of inhibitions? Smack me with a bonne homme stick.

That’s not to say I was an alcoholic who “needed” to drink every day rather than “wanted” to drink every day—because I wasn’t. I didn’t drink every day, nor did I ever sit alone at home in my apartment in Japan and have an alcoholic beverage.

I was a social drinker.

Yes, drinking, while sometimes providing you with poor fashion choices, can help you become brave enough to put your arm around a sexy woman like Melissa. Just a an AET friend. 
And no, I didn’t pop a cold one the minute someone rang my doorbell, though I admit sometimes a bit of conversation lubrication might have helped me overcome much of my nerves in having to try and speak Japanese to some random bell-ringer at my door.

When women were over, I didn’t even feel the need to get drunk, mostly because if I was going to put the moves on someone, I would insist my partner be willingly sober, and me capable of performing to the best of my abilities.

I do admit to having to ply a girlfriend—a certain real girlfriend I had for months and months off and on—with alcohol, as that seemed to help get her over her own inhibitions, as she seemed to come across as shy to most everyone else who met her. Southern Comfort… I was in like Flint.

Strangely, when she was near me, and I wasn’t blah-blah-blahing to anyone and everyone around me, she didn’t seem shy… then again… there may indeed have been some sort of alcoholic beverage around.

Before Japan, aside from having rum & Coke drinks, beer in all its myriad form were my preferred choice of brain muddling.

Like my dad’s brother, my uncle Harold, I could drink-drink-drink, and then drink some more… and rarely barf (four times in my life: after a break-up with the above girlfriend; after sucking back a bottle of vodka at a college party months before leaving for Japan, sucking back 34 shooters and 11 mixed drinks for my 34th birthday years after leaving Japan, and the earliest one as a 20-year-old in Quebec City after powering down a bottle of Caribou Juice… some red wine whiskey mix usually sipped slowly to keep you warm during the outdoor evening festivities of the Quebec Winter Carnival. You drink it from a large plastic cane-like item called a bonne homme stick (good man stick).

Ahhh, good times.

You might wonder how I recall any of this… but aside from being a crying bubbling mess after the break-up in Japan, the rest of the time was just physical with little emotion.Worse yet, I recall every one else's alcohol-fueled slip-ups. But rest assured I am not the type to drink and tell. I can handle my liquor better than most.

I’m also one of those lucky buggers who never gets a hangover.

I can drink as much as I want, and maintain brain clarity. Without a hangover—even after those four barf-binges, I am clear the next day.Perhaps I could drink so much that I would die or slip into a coma, but I know how to drink far too much than is good for me, without doing that.

Practice, I suppose.

Uncle Harold could drink a bottle of booze and then go out and conduct the New Delhi Symphony Orchestra, or conductor of the Indian Army Marching Band… which were his jobs, by the way. The pained artiste, I suppose.

He can take the picture I'm painting, if I can take mine own self-portrait. He's been dead for 30 years.

Me? I may not have been able to function as well as him—he was a professional!

After winning a sake drinking contest against three people—two other AETs (assistant English teachers) and one high-ranking Japanese member of the prefectural board of education in Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture)—I went dancing. Now I did get kicked out of the hotel dance club, did break into a hotel forest diorama and awake from my alcohol-fueled coma with a stuffed deer peering down at me (I did NOT damage the diorama, as far as I could tell)… but the important lesson to be learned here as a 27-year-old (at that time), was that I awoke without a hangover, while the other two AETs were conspicuously absent from the conference for the next day, while the Japanese gentleman was functional but begging me to shut my big booming voice down to a level only a dog could hear.

Despite my adventures in spirits and whatever the hell Japanese rice wine is, beer was the drink most often plied down my pie hole while in Japan.

That's me on the right - drinking helps you make friends!
As an FYI, I haven't cumulatively drunk enough in the past 18 years to even equal a solid single night out in Japan. I don't enjoy it anymore, and don't feel the need to hide my true self behind a half-filled glass of alcohol.

To be quite honest... I've never really cared for the taste of alcohol and only really ever drank for the express purpose of the concept of excess. Look at me... I can drink more than anybody.

It hides all the other insecurities I had.

Now, those insecurities remain, but I don't really give a crap—so maybe I'm not so insecure as I thought I was. I'm cured!

Let’s take a closer look at the history of beer in Japan.

First off: The legal drinking age in Japan is 20. That is a handy bit of knowledge to have when approaching or being approached by a woman in a Japanese bar.

Secondly: In Japan—on virtually every street corner in every city, town, village and hamlet—have vending machines that dispense bottles and cans of pretty much any type of Japanese alcohol imaginable.

If you’ve got a few hundred yen, you can walk down the stairs of your apartment building, and purchase a beer, sake, or even wine.

I don’t believe I ever did that, despite the three machines parked on the eastern wall of the sake/convenience store located on the main floor of my apartment building (I was on the third floor directly above it).

I did purchase hot and cold coffees from time to time from the machines—Georgia coffee—but even from my friendly neighborhood sake dealer, I never bought alcohol. Hand to Buddha.

You know what… screw it… I think you’ve had enough.

Let’s pick up this topic tomorrow or maybe the next day, where it will be a look at Beer In Japan, rather than about Beer and Alcohol in Andrew.

Somewhere looking for gum,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I was tempted to leave this under "draft". Ha.
PPS: I had long ago determined that my reality is waaaaay more weird than most people's fantasy.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Documentary On The Life Of A Salaryman

Check out this wonderful mini documentary on karoshi (death by overwork) and the death of the Japanese salaryman.

In what started out as one gaijin (foreigner/outsider) placing chalk outlines around very drunk or very tired salarymen, has turned into a decent look at the tribulations of the affected worker class.

The video does NOT address drunken behavior, which I fear contributes quite heavily to well-dressed salarymen simply passing out…

After a long work day of usually un-paid overtime, it is not unusual for co-workers to go out for a bowl of noodles and some booze to help forget about the crappiness of their work existence.

On any given Friday evening or Saturday evening, a small gathering of gaijin on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme might meet at a bar or at a local restaurant/watering hole to discuss how lousy their week was… or, if it was Matthew, Ashley and myself, I would be wondering how many drinks it would take to get Ashley tipsy (more than you would expect), and when Matthew would take the hint and leave so Ash and I could have some fun time.

Kidding Matthew, kidding. Only sorta kinda kidding. Today’s my birthday. I’m getting away with this today.

Actually, while the three of us might chat a bit about our work week, none of us really had anything much to complain about. I think we were quite lucky to have Ohtawara-shi and its surrounding areas of Tochigi-ken as our work-base.

I’m sure Matthew would agree, considering the two of us both got a lot out of Japan… he, a wife and two kids… me, this blog and some good people I enjoy talking with.

Anyhow… salaryman being dead drunk. That’s what the video fails to touch on.

It’s also a part of Japanese culture.

If they were ONLY tired from overwork, anyone of these salarymen could simply go to a Japanese capsule hotel in the local area and crash for the night… but they don’t.

These guys have missed their last train back home, or, as evidenced by the horrible sleeping posture, have passed out dead drunk whenever it was their brain shut down on them.

Drunken behavior aside, the video found on a FB page. That’s Facebook… I had no idea what FB was, until a sassy young woman told me in exasperation, writing it out as faccccccccceeeeeeebooooooook… which still meant nothing to me, but since she was cute, I figured I better learn about it. But when she mentioned her husband, I quickly forgot about it, which is why I may have a couple of accounts, but can’t figure out just why it is so important.

Now, much older than I was before—which is a good thing—I can recall getting drunk once or twice while in Japan.

Actually, I don’t know if it’s possible, but if it is I’m pretty sure I even got drunk twice in one evening. I think I was only fall-down drunk once—thanks, Matthew—but wasted at least once or twice a week for three years, I can attest that drinking in Japan is cultural enough that they are considering making it an Olympic event for Tokyo 2020…. which is what your eye sight won’t be after living there for a while.

Do you have to drink while in Japan?

No, of course not… but I would suggest that if you can, have at least an opening sip and “Kanpai!” just to show you are willing to fit in.

In the meantime, please enjoy this video on the life of a Japanese salaryman:


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Braille And The Japanese Drinking Man

I had no idea that Japan had its own braille alphabet for the visually-impaired.

I stupidly assumed they used braille English.

I’m not going to re-write the entry in Wikipedia… I’m just bringing it to everyone’s attention.

The matter was brought to my attention by a friend who sent me a link about how Japanese beer cans have the word for alcohol in braille upon them so the visually-impaired don’t ingest booze by accident.

The can above purports to show a can of Asahi Super Dry beer—a pretty good beer that I can recall through the alcoholic haze of my time in Japan—with the braille word in raised dots on the can’s top for “sake”.

Contrary to popular belief, “sake” (pronounced saah-kay) is not the clear rice wine every associates with Japanese alcohol. Sake is a term for Japanese alcohol. Shōchū is the actual word for rice wine…. but it has to be a distilled beverage less than 45% alcohol by volume, typically (not always) made from rice (kome), barley (migi), sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo), buckwheat (soba), or brown sugar (kokutō), though it is sometimes produced from other ingredients such as chestnut, sesame seeds, potatoes or even carrots.

I know… my mind is blown, too.

So… in Japan, just to fug up every person drinking booze, sake" (酒) can reefer to any alcoholic drink.

Nihonshu (日本酒) is Japanese liquor, but in this case it’s Shōchū when less than 45% alcohol… any more, its nihonshu. I think.

I’m confused, too.

Anyhow, Japanese braille:

a i u e o
⠁ (braille pattern dots-1) ⠃ (braille pattern dots-12) ⠉ (braille pattern dots-14) ⠋ (braille pattern dots-124) ⠊ (braille pattern dots-24)
k ka ki ku ke ko
⠡ (braille pattern dots-16) ⠣ (braille pattern dots-126) ⠩ (braille pattern dots-146) ⠫ (braille pattern dots-1246) ⠪ (braille pattern dots-246)
s sa shi su se so
⠱ (braille pattern dots-156) ⠳ (braille pattern dots-1256) ⠹ (braille pattern dots-1456) ⠻ (braille pattern dots-12456) ⠺ (braille pattern dots-2456)
t ta chi tsu te to
⠕ (braille pattern dots-135) ⠗ (braille pattern dots-1235) ⠝ (braille pattern dots-1345) ⠟ (braille pattern dots-12345) ⠞ (braille pattern dots-2345)
n na ni nu ne no
⠅ (braille pattern dots-13) ⠇ (braille pattern dots-123) ⠍ (braille pattern dots-134) ⠏ (braille pattern dots-1234) ⠎ (braille pattern dots-234)
h ha hi fu he ho
⠥ (braille pattern dots-136) ⠧ (braille pattern dots-1236) ⠭ (braille pattern dots-1346) ⠯ (braille pattern dots-12346) ⠮ (braille pattern dots-2346)
m ma mi mu me mo n
⠵ (braille pattern dots-1356) ⠷ (braille pattern dots-12356) ⠽ (braille pattern dots-13456) ⠿ (braille pattern dots-123456) ⠾ (braille pattern dots-23456) ⠴ (braille pattern dots-356)
y ya
yo    -y-
⠌ (braille pattern dots-34)
⠬ (braille pattern dots-346)
⠜ (braille pattern dots-345) ⠈ (braille pattern dots-4)

r ra ri ru re ro
⠑ (braille pattern dots-15) ⠓ (braille pattern dots-125) ⠙ (braille pattern dots-145) ⠛ (braille pattern dots-1245) ⠚ (braille pattern dots-245)
w wa (w)i
(w)e (w)o   -w-
⠄ (braille pattern dots-3) ⠆ (braille pattern dots-23)
⠖ (braille pattern dots-235) ⠔ (braille pattern dots-35) ⠢ (braille pattern dots-26)

By the way, when I wanted a beer in Japan, I asked for a biru.

When I wanted rice wine, I asked for o-sake... which everyone knew meant the rice wine one drinks after a meal.

I was not a whisky guy, but wi-zu-ki so-da could be pronounced phonetically, and everyone would know what you meant.

Try ba-bu-n so-da. That's right bourbon soda, a drink I sometimes had.

Somewhere blind drunk in the past,
Andrew Joseph