New Year’s Eve

December 30, 2007

I remember sitting on my sofa in England on New Year’s day 2000, watching the television news. The “millenium bug” hadn’t wiped out all our computers as predicted, and no asteroids or aliens had come. Instead, the news programme was reporting how people all over the world had celebrated the biggest night of the century, the previous night. They showed footage of jubilant merrymakers dancing on the streets of Rio De Janeiro, people in Times Square wearing novelty “2000” sunglasses and hugging under a sky lit up by fireworks.
Then they cut to Japan, where a group of very sober and serious looking folk were standing in line outside a temple, shivering and exhaling clouds of condensation. This didn’t strike me as a the most fun way to celebrate “the party of a lifetime.”

I’ve since come to learn that in Japan, New Year’s Eve is all about visiting temples and praying, or staying home and spending time with the family, (as oppose to drinking yourself to oblivion, like myself.) It’s a bit like Christmas day at home, I suppose.
Ask the average Japanese person how they plan to spend New Year’s Eve, and they’ll tell you that they’re going to watch an annual girls-versus-boys singing contest on the NHK channel.
Now, I’m not one to judge, but that sounds about as exciting as reading women’s magazines in a dentist’s waiting room.
It is, however, excellent news for me, because it means that I can go out in town without having to deal with all the usual New Year’s nightmares. On New Year’s Eve at home, the bars and clubs are bank-drainingly expensive to get into, and rammed full of wasted, sweaty people who only go out about twice a year and can’t handle their drink and, consequently, bumble around jeering and farting. It also takes about two hours of interminable waiting to get served at the bar. This makes December 31st, hands down, the worst night of the year to leave the house.

On the eve of the millenium, I spent the night freezing my nuts off in Trafalguar square, watching fireworks with about a million other people, trying to acrobatically dodge puddles of steaming puke and avoid being crushed to death. It was like being in some kind of hellish, post-apocalyptic refugee camp. I spent much of the night repeatedly failing to get into any pubs because they were all too busy or had uptight dress codes. I eventually walked dejectedly home because it was impossible to find a taxi.

There won’t be such woe this year in Japan, oh no.
This New Year’s Eve, I can happily stroll into my local pub and meet my friends just like any other night, without paying to get in or waiting to get served. Bliss.
(…Unless, of course, it’s f***ing closed!)

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Bonenkai

December 28, 2007

In late December, each Japanese company throws an end-of-year shindig called a “bonenkai,” where employees can bid farewell to the year by getting plastered on the company dime. Very much in the same spirit as the office Christmas parties at home, with less photocopying of arses.
My company had a bonenkai last week and, never one to turn down a free drink, I obligingly attended. Typically, the party was an all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal and, being entirely broke after Christmas shopping, I took full advantage of the arrangement, digging into endless silver platters of pasta, pizza, roast beef and seafood, and glugging down glasses of red wine, beer and sake.

While the consumption of copious quantities of booze is necessary for the Japanese to let off steam in such uncomfortable social situations, there are still certain codes of conduct that must be observed- you can’t turn up in a toga fashioned from a bed-sheet, pour a pint of beer over the boss’s head and propose a panty raid on the local nursing college.

Before the festivities begin, you must wait until everybody’s glass has been filled, and say “kampai” (“cheers”) before you start to guzzle your drink down. Failing to do so gets the same frosty reaction you might get after merrily tucking into supper at an Amish household before grace.

When the dinner plates had been cleared, the boss stood up, and the table fell silent. He asked everyone to make a short speech reflecting on the year just passed and expressing hopes for the coming year. Far from being a great lover of public speaking, I sat, nervously drinking, trying to make sense of my co-workers’ slurred Japanese speeches, awaiting my turn with mounting dread. When the boss eventually gestured for me to speak, I mumbled a few platitudes. This was greeted by a painfully long, awkward silence, followed a little polite clapping.

As the night grew longer, I glanced at my watch and realized I’d have to leave soon to catch the last train home, or be stranded in the city and forced to sleep in a karaoke box or an internet cafe, like some kind of high-tech tramp. Japanese etiquette dictates that you can’t just grab your coat and sneak out the back door. You have to wait for the end of the party to be formally announced by the boss, who does so by leading the partygoers in a loud clap and exclaiming “ippon jime!”
My coworkers were taken-aback by my amusement at this protocol. “So how do you end parties in England?” they asked.
“Parties at home always finish when the barman shouts, ‘all right everyone, piss off, it’s closing time.'”

Thanks to my high alcohol threshold and the sobering effect of public speaking, I managed to get through the party without making a drunken spectacle of myself, unlike most of my co-workers who were red-faced and cackling, singing, stumbling over, and pestering waitresses with lewd comments. Of course, all this would be forgotten the next morning. In Japan, if you drink excessively at a work function, your colleagues will give you an enthusiastic slap on the back, rather than recommend a trip to an alcoholics anonymous meeting.

In a couple of weeks we’ll be having a “New Year party,” I’m told.


Kentucky Fried Christmas

December 19, 2007

In the West, the notion of going to Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner is considered profoundly depressing. Sitting alone in a soulless junk-food restaurant on Christmas day, forlornly chewing on oily chicken wings, is the last resort of the most desperately lonely, friendless, bedsit-dweller.
In Japan, however, it’s a national craze! Folks form long lines at Christmas, shivering outside in the cold, waiting for hours to get their hands on a seasonal party bucket.
Roast turkey is as rare as rocking-horse shit in Japan, and untried by most Japanese people, so many assume fried chicken is the next best thing.

I can sort of see the thinking behind the association of Christmas and Kentucky Fried Chicken- their logo is the right colours- red and white, and their mascot is a jolly, portly man with a white beard. But still, KFC?


Fantastic Japanese Booze Statistics

December 19, 2007

My dodgy little blog is somehow one of the nominations for “the best humorous blog about Japan,” on the esteemed website “What Japan Thinks.”
It’s nice to be noticed but I suspect that Michael J Fox would have more chance of winning a Jenga tournament than I have of winning this, judging by the popularity of the other great sites nominated.
So, if you’re feeling charitable, feel free to follow this link and vote for yours truly, to make my defeat marginally less humiliatingly large.

“What Japan Thinks” is a marvelous site full of interesting facts and statistics learned by polling Japanese folks on various topics, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to relate some of their findings which are about booze, since this is a site dedicated to getting pissed-up. So, according to their surveys…

36.1% of Japanese people drink Happoshu after a bath.

Budweiser is the most popular imported beer (tsk.)

59.6% of people drink chuhai at home.

Drinking water is the most popular hangover cure in Japan.

While drunk, women often sexually harass others, and men fall asleep.

Well I never! no wonder I go out drinking so often.


Wanko Menu

December 17, 2007

There are two reasons not to eat from the “wanko menu” at this cafe in Tama Plaza, Yokohama. A: It sounds like the chef’s been jacking off into the soup, and B: it’s dog food. “Wanko” means “puppy.” It seems that serving pricey gourmet grub to chihuahuas and dachsunds is the latest development in Japan’s obsession with cute, fluffy creatures. This is my second wanko food sighting in a week (check out the wanko ice cream, a few posts below.)
I wonder how “cute” these pooches will be when they look like bloated, sweaty, hairy grubs, waddling and wheezing down the street, laying turds the size of boa constrictors! If that happens, poor old Fido will quickly be replaced with whichever animal is featured in the latest hit TV commercial.
Remember, kids, a wanko is for life, not just for Christmas.


Japanese Beer Ad Girls

December 16, 2007

Japanese bars have posters of women in swim-wear drinking huge tankards of beer on the beach, thus combining three of my favourite things. These pictures, which advertise beers such as Asahi and Kirin, are very easy on the eye, so I thought I’d post a few on my blog for you to enjoy. You can see them below.
Young, attractive women are probably not the biggest target market for these breweries’ ads, but posters featuring lecherous, nicotine-stained businessmen vomiting into the gutter wouldn’t be to great for sales.


My Japanese Doppelganger

December 16, 2007

My path seems to be intertwined with a Japanese TV star, Hidehiko Ishizuka (otherwise known as “Ish Chan,”) a tubby funster who eats a lot, smiles so broadly that his eyes disappear, and wears only overalls in the winter.
Everywhere I go, this guy has been there before me. When I visit a restaurant or a bar, there’s a signed photo of him on the wall, posing with the staff. When I go to the over-sized shoe shop, there’s a signed picture of him, grinning down at me. When I go to the big and tall store, (the only place I can buy clothes in Japan due to my height,) Ish-Chan is the model in their brochures!

I suppose we have a lot in common. We’re both tiny-eyed, inanely-grinning gluttons, with an appreciation for food and drink. He’s my doppelganger!
The other day, a friend of mine spotted him strolling down the street, near where we live.
He’s closing in! One day I’ll wake up, look in the mirror, and it won’t be me. Ish-Chan will be staring back at me. Creepy!