I’ve never been much of an alcohol drinker. Truth be told I tasted beer for the very first time when I was 28 years old, when I came to Japan…and I hated the taste. Sorry, no offense to those of you who do drink. A buddy of mine said that a lot of people don’t usually drink beer for the taste but for buzz.
Why am I not a drinker? I don’t really know, but my mother and father aren’t drinkers either. I think I’ve seen my father drink beer only one time in my entire life…and he didn’t even finish it.
But, I have tasted a few different types of alcohol here in Japan that tasted pretty good. One was Mozart, an imported chocolate liqueur that was literally lip-smacking good. Umeshu (梅酒 |うめしゅう) , Japanese plum wine was also quite good.
At times I wonder if being more of a drinker would be a good thing, but then I remember that drinking can sometimes get to be an expensive habit for those who do it often enough. I also think about the physique goals I’m trying to reach in the gym. So this dialogue in my head always ends we me thinking “Nah, I’m good with not being a drinker.”
However, in countries the world over, alcohol seems to be a “social facilitator.” Peoples’ inhibitions are lowered and even the shyest of people can become a bit more socially loose. Nowhere is this more true, in my opinion, than in Japan. Drinking just seems to be a part of life here. In a society that has a reputation being more reserved & conservative, for people being overworked, where people are so devoted to their jobs, it seems like a common form of release. When I talk to many of my students and ask what they did over the weekend. It’s quite common for me to hear that they went to a drinking party of some sort.
Beer is generally the weapon of choice at izakyas (居酒屋|いざかや) – Japanese taverns or pubs, at welcome parties, at farewell parties, nearly any social gathering you can conceive. But sake is also quite common. At the parties I’ve been to here in Japan, my Japanese students are always so polite. When your glass is low, they fill it for you, they make sure everyone’s glasses are always full of beer, or in my case ginger ale (yeah, I know it’s not “manly,” but it tastes good). I thought maybe this was just because we were teachers, or foreigners, but it seems pretty standard etiquette in Japanese social gatherings.
Seeing students get tipsy or drunk is pretty normal. For the most part things, even in these situations, I haven’t seen anything too crazy…well, crazy is relative ain’t it?
Of course you get all of the different drunken personas: the sleepy drunk, the happy drunk, the giggly drunk, the aggressive drunk, the hot-woman-student-that-is-all-over-you-and-tempting-the-hell-out-you-but-you-don’t-want-to-do-because-you’ll-feel-bad-about-it-the-next-day drunk, the no change drunk, the social butterfly drunk, the loud drunk, and the violent (the last two are a bit more rare in Japan, a lot more common in America).
As a non-drinker (97% of the time), the ability to remember things can be very beneficial, or detrimental depending on the situation. Why? Because the memories stay with me and I can write posts like this one.
Like this one time, there was a farewell party where one student in his late fifties had a bit too much to drink and, I kid you not, proceeded to start humping my leg. I’d say that falls into the unusual category.
Or there was the extremely pretty Japanese student who decided she would randomly sit on my lap and start grinding at a student-teacher karaoke session. While I can’t say I minded that so much, but is was hard to keep my cool (see what I did there?).
How about the time I went to a bonenkai (忘年会｜ぼうねんかい), end-of-year party, with my karate school? I’ve never in my life seen men who could consume these levels of alcohol with out keeling over and dying shortly thereafter. My teachers could REALLY put it away! This party got a little strange when one of the students (mid to late 40’s brown belts) got a bit lit and decided he wanted to start randomly punching other students…FOR REAL! He got me once, and me being sober and all I felt every knuckle. It hurt enough for me to let him know “Do that one more time and see what happens…”
I can’t say these were the most comfortable of situations, but looking back these are great fodder for stories. I don’t know if they’re ones for the grandkids or not, but they were entertaining experiences.
From a non-drinkers perspective, it seems like initially, drinking culture in Japan is much more polite, and follows a slightly different set of customs than America does. But after people get going…it’s generally all the same (less the fighting in Japan, though). Drinking is a social an event as eating can be, while the effects are markedly different and often a lot funnier…as a non-drinker I can see the appeal. I can’t say I’ll ever get into it, but I think I get it.
But enough about my perspective! I wanted to get some different opinions on the drinking culture in Japan.
In your opinion, how does the drinking culture here in Japan differ from drinking in your hometown? Do you have any funny stories? I want to hear them! 🙂
Please post in the comments section below. Feel free to write as much as you like because I seriously want to know what you think.
Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.