The Weird and Wonderful World of Japanese Booze

September 10, 2007

“Variety is the spice of life,” as the old saying goes, and this holds particularly true in Japan, where a trip to the local convenience store will reveal a mind-bending cornucopia of products, from green-tea Kit-Kats to Chardonnay-flavoured Fanta. The same adventurous spirit is applied to alcoholic drinks.
Anything is possible. In certain watering holes, even such a traditional drink as sake can be bought with a dead lizard floating in the bottle to spice things up. This exotic beverage would explain the phrase “pissed as a newt.”

If that’s not grotesque enough for you, you might like to know that it is not unheard of for the Japanese to drink sake mixed with turtles’ blood. This is considered to be an aphrodisiac, but it ain’t much of a turn on for me, I can tell you! Similarly, deer-penis sake is an expensive delicacy. This is also an aphrodisiac, but presumably not for the deer. It reminds me of a bad joke:
Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes?
A: No eye-deer.
Q: What do you can a deer with no eyes and no penis?
A: No f*cking eye-deer.

Of course, such drinks don’t appeal to the younger generation. They are more fond of chu-hai, which are sickly-sweet alcoholic fizzy drinks.

When I first arrived in Japan I was regularly guzzling this stuff at work, innocently believing it to be lemonade, and wondering why I was feeling woozy and getting headaches in the afternoon. There are a mind-boggling selection of canned chuhais in the fridges of convenience stores in Japan. There are even alcoholic variants of the amusingly-named soft drink, “Calpis”, including the gut-churning “Calpis Fuzzy Navel.”

Recently, enterprising booze-makers at Awa’s have concocted a chu-hai which has a foaming head, like beer. Quite why anybody would make such a potion is beyond me. Presumably they were pissed on their own products when they came up with the concept.

I myself am a beer man, and I am certainly spoiled for choice in that department. Aside from the nationally popular lagers manufactured by Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo, there are plenty of local micro-breweries across the land, producing products with charming names like “Nude Beer.”

In order to compete, some of the smaller companies are using increasingly inventive brewing techniques.
If it takes your fancy, you can buy a chocolate-flavoured beer known as Choco Bear Beer. Pass the sick-bucket please. It sounds like an idea fished out of Willy Wonka’s waste-paper basket.

Or perhaps you’d like to try the revolting-sounding “Bilk” which is a mixture of beer and milk. Apparently it’s a fruity beer aimed at women, and was conceived as a way to use up surplus milk. I balk at the idea of drinking Bilk. I suspect Bilk tastes like cow-piss, but you may be surprised to learn it is not made by the Calpis company.

Even the kiddies are catered for, with the non-alcoholic “Kodomo No Nomimono” (Kids’ Beer) ensnaring consumers while they’re young.

Once these youngsters develop a thirst, as they grow they can move on to Choco-Bear Beer and Calpis Fuzzy Navel, and then onwards and upwards until they themselves are adults and can design and market their own hideous and bizarre moonshine.
So there you have it- just a few of the wild drinks on the shelves of Japanese liquor stores and cocktail bars. If you were to buy all of the above-mentioned drinks and pour them into a large cauldron, it would make the most sickening and lethal party-punch known to mankind.


I’ve been Interviewed!

September 10, 2007

A pleasant person at Nipponster has interviewed me and put it on their site. Very flattering for my ego, but I can’t help but think they’re misguided maniacs for choosing yours truly!
You can check the interview out here, in two parts:
Nipponster Interview Part 1
Nipponster Interview part 2

Japanese Hip-Hop Dancers

September 8, 2007

Me and a buddy went to a Japanese hip-hop club the other day, drawn in by the flyer above. Can you guess why?
I have to say, the women in this club were throwing down some eyeball-scorchingly raunchy dance-moves. Evidently they’d seen a couple of sleazy “2 Live Cru” videos on MTV and taken them way too seriously, but I wasn’t complaining. These dance-hall divas were also doing some impressive acrobatics which resembled a jaw-dropping mixture of Flashdance and the Chinese State Circus, throwing themselves all over the room, body-popping, bouncing off walls, and waving their arses in the air. The only ladies who weren’t dancing were in wheelchairs, or hobbling around on crutches, apparently injured while attempting overly-ambitious dancefloor stunts.
Luckily I had my trusty disposable camera at hand!

*Note the crutch behind the couple dirty-dancing in the last picture!

“Sex Virgin Killer”

September 7, 2007

I’ve decided to champion the amazing, mental band “Sex Virgin Killer”, since no-one else seems to have written about them in English. I recently discovered them, initially intrigued by their eye-catching name, but I soon learned that they are a pretty mind-blowing and outrageous act. Sex Virgin Killer are more “rock n’ roll” than anyone else around right now: In addition to their confrontational name, they play very loud guitars, ride motorbikes, have vast multi-coloured haircuts like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and I genuinely can’t tell whether they’re boys or girls. They even keep up the noble tradition of smashing up their instruments and setting fire to things on stage. You most certainly wouldn’t trust these guys to babysit your kids.

Sex Virgin Killer can be seen playing live at the “Death Camp 2007” festival in Niigata in a couple of weeks, alongside such acts as “Illegal Abortion”, “Little Bastards”, “Stubborn Father”, and “Enema.”

Here’s a link to the Sex Virgin Killer Official Website where you can learn of CD releases and live dates.
Sex Virgin Killer are the wildest loonies in Japanese rock right now so if there’s any justice, they’ll be filling stadiums this time next year. But, based on my previous predictions, they’re more likely to be filling gas-tanks. I expected big things of the scantily-clad, all-girl hardcore-punk group Anadorei (“anal slave,”) who made the album “Pussy Cannibal Holocaust” and they didn’t exactly storm the Billboard charts.

Naughty Nightclub Flyer

September 5, 2007

Here’s yet another outrageously offensive Japanese nightclub flyer from my prized collection. This one features a DJ with an X-rated name. Can you spot it? I also like the fact the the DJs describe themselves as purveyors of “Wanky techno.” They are their own worst critics!

Movie Review: “Big Dreams Little Tokyo”

September 5, 2007

I’ve had the opportunity to see the film “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” ahead of it’s release. It’s a quirky little gem of a film, written and directed by Dave Boyle, and has fun playing with cultural stereotypes.
While often in movies we see a wise-cracking American wandering around the streets of Tokyo, bemused by his wacky surroundings, “Big Dreams, Little Tokyo” turns this cliche on its head- the protagonist, Boyd (played by Boyle, himself) is a white American who desperately wants to be a Japanese businessman, and hangs out in San Jose’s Japan Town, wearing a suit and handing out business cards to anyone he can, as he tries to sell the textbook he’s written, or to sell his services as an English teacher and translator.

Much of the humour comes from Boyd’s relationship with his Japanese-American room-mate Jerome (played by a scene-stealing Jayson Watabe), an aspiring sumo wrestler who constantly eats in an attempt to gain weight. Jerome lives with Boyd in order to learn Japanese, but often gets roped into his roomie’s crack-pot business schemes.

The austere, buttoned-up Boyd is more conventionally “Japanese” than the laid-back Japanese-Americans he encounters. Many are baffled by Boyd’s oddball behaviour. One frustrated bookstore owner screams “You are not Japanese!”
In direct contrast to, say, Bill Murray in “Lost In Translation,” who feels isolated in Tokyo and seeks companionship with another Westerner, Boyd lives in California but is only into meeting Japanese folks. When asked to give a white woman Japanese lessons he hilariously responds “I don’t do white people.” Although the root of Boyd’s obsession is never clearly explained, the guy reminds me of many of the Westerners I’ve met in Japan, who avoid other Caucasians like the plague.
In fact, Westerners who live in Japan or have done in the past, will find a lot to enjoy in this movie, particularly the bilingual humour. For example, drunk Japanese pranksters trick Boyd into saying “Kesa mai-asa” (“this morning, every morning”) which sounds like “Kiss my ass!”
There are also plenty of recognizable situations, like raucous drinking sessions with sake-swilling salary-men, and Boyd’s offer of English lessons as an attempt to get to know a Japanese girl (a cute nurse played by Rachel Morihiro).

Meanwhile, native Japanese viewers will be fascinated by the surreal parallel universe that Boyle has conjured up. It’s almost like a fish-out-of-water film about a Japanese guy in America, with the Japanese guy played by an American, and the Americans played by Japanese actors.
In fact, the film is very similar in tone to recent Japanese comedies, with it’s static cameras, restrained performances and gentle, eccentric humour. For this reason, it’s probably more likely to find success in Japan than stateside. However, it may well find an audience with fans of unconventional, character-based comedies like the “Station Agent.”

Since this site’s about drinking in Japan, I’d have to say my favourite scene involved Boyd acting as a translator at a dinner meeting between obtuse Japanese businessmen and a no-nonsense Mexican factory owner. When the Mexican asks his clients why the sake cups are so small, they reply. “The smaller the cup, the more you can say ‘kampai!'” That’s one line I’ll have to remember!

Here’s a link to the “Big Dreams Little Tokyo” website

Unintentionally Funny CD

September 3, 2007

This is a Japanese indie-rock CD. Nice title- I admire their honesty!