One of the first and most fantastic words any foreigner in Japan learns is “nomihodai” which means “all-you-can-drink”. Loads of restaurants and bars offer this deal, usually two or three hours of imbibement for a couple of thousand yen. I often find myself goggling in incomprehension at signs promising a night of drunken debauchery for the price of a couple of cans of supermarket-brand lager. “Drink as much as you like” quickly translates as “drink as much as is humanly possible, as quickly as possible, until you start seeing lizards, soil yourself and forget how to use your legs.”
As a rosy-cheeked nomihodai virgin I myself got extremely carried away when me and a mate happened upon the deal in a quaint little izakaya (traditional drinking-hole) near my flat. After obligingly leaving our shoes at the door and parking our bums on the wooden floor, we begun the difficult task of trying to decipher the menu. Somehow we managed to discover the all-you-can-drink deal among the squiggles, and our jaws dropped. We couldn’t believe our luck and eagerly signed up for a ninety minute session, ordering and quickly polishing off a pitcher of beer and then ordering another.
Much to the chagrin of the staff, we were gleefully draining drinks like thirsty camels after a trek through the Sahara. Glasses went up and down like yo-yos toward our sweaty, inebriated faces.
We soon began making new friends on the other tables. Japanese people, often reserved by daylight, quickly lose their inhibitions after a few beverages and become red-faced and cheery. They happily invited us to join their bizarre drinking games. After a few hours of this, come closing time, it was anarchy. The Izakaya was still teeming with wasted wastrels singing and dancing on tables, a karaoke machine has materialized from somewhere and someone was butchering Aha’s “Take on me”. There were several untouched glasses and pitchers of booze on the table and the incensed manager was pulling his hair out in frustration- Izakaya staff are always annoyed to see full glasses left on the table. Invariably customers have eyes bigger than their bellies and order way too much. I, too, hate to see anything go to waste, so, struggling against the tide of vomit rising up my throat, I heroically necked an entire pitcher of Moscow Mule in one go (which later, on my knees in front of the toilet bowl, I regretted.)
Now, reading through this, you might be cringing and thinking, “hey, scumbag! That kind of behaviour is just not on- while overseas you should be acting as an ambassador for you country, not like a delinquent dipsomaniac!”
Newcomers to Japan often exhibit this outrageous lack of decorum, naively assuming everyone in Japan is getting up to exactly the same hi-jinks as them. Some ex-pats complain that these kind of obnoxious escapades makes all foreigners look bad, but I’d like to think that Japanese people don’t tar all overseas visitors with the same brush just because they saw me staggering, drunk, with my trousers around my ankles, shouting incoherently.