Japanese Drinking Games

October 18, 2010

I thought I’d put all the Japanese drinking games I’ve posted before in one handy place for all you adventurous boozehounds!

Predictably for a country obsessed with the concept of “play,” Japan has dozens of drinking games to choose from. Most of the games have absurdly complicated rules, and rely on the drunkest/stupidest person making a mistake and then having to glug down their drink as a forfeit. When someone in Japan has to neck a glass of booze, their tormentors goad them on by chanting “iki iki iki!” (Be careful not to say “iku iku iku!” which is what Japanese people gasp during orgasm, fact fans.)
With my voluminous western beer belly, I certainly have an unfair advantage in these games. Indeed, while playing drinking games with the Japanese, I often find myself consistently winning, getting thirsty, and then deliberately losing, just so I can finally take a sip of my drink. Despite this, drinking games are still fun to play because, by nature, they transcend language barriers, and are a surefire way to kick-start a party. Below is a list of some of the more popular Japanese drinking games.

Pin Pon Pan
Being a strong drinker is no guarantee of safety in a game of “Pin Pon Pan.” It’s such a fast-paced and confusing game, that being an uncoordinated dimwit like me is sufficient to ensure that you lose and get sloshed every time. The rules are thus:

First, someone kicks off the game by saying “Pin,” and whoever is sitting to their left must quickly continue with “Pon.” The next person in line must then say “Pan” whilst simultaneously pointing their finger at any random player at the table, who has to immediately say “Pin,” which starts the whole process again.

You might have to read that twice.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of opportunities to screw up. If you hesitate, it’s “iki iki iki” time. If you say the wrong word: “iki iki iki.” If you point at the wrong time, or you forget to point: “iki iki iki.” Hey Presto: lots of drunk people!

The Osama Game
The “Osama Game” is popular among uninhibited university students, and involves much hilarity, humiliation… and chopsticks.
Before you ask, the name “Osama” is not a reference to Osama Bin laden (such a game would, of course, be “Hide and Seek.”) “Osama” actually means “King” in Japanese. In the game, one player is elected King, then he or she thinks up funny dares for the others to perform. Players are inevitably required to embarrass themselves, so I wouldn’t recommend the Osama game to sober or timid folks.

Here’s how to play: Take a chopstick for each player and, with a pen, write “Osama” on one of them, and number the others from 1 upwards. Next, someone holds the chopsticks in their fist, so that the numbers are concealed, and everybody draws a stick, being careful not to reveal their number to the others. The lucky guy or gal with the “Osama” chopstick gets to be the King.
The Osama then decides on a task, and states the chopstick numbers of the players who must perform it, (without yet knowing who those players are). For example: “number two must kiss number five!” or “number three has to do the Macarena!” or “numbers seven and eight must down their drinks!” Everyone then reveals their chopsticks, and the unlucky buggers with the chosen numbers have to stand up and do as the king commands. All of this leads to a succession of antics which are pant-pissingly funny (until you are the person making a tit of yourself.)
After each deed is done, the chopsticks are gathered once again, and the process is repeated. Usually everybody gets a chance to be the King, and players relish the opportunity to exact revenge on those who tormented them in previous rounds of the game.

As the night progresses, and the booze flows, each successive player elected as Osama becomes more sadistic and creative than the last, as they fiendishly cackle their orders. “Number three must lick number one’s armpit! Mwah-ha-ha!”
I was once ordered, by a particularly inventive bastard, to take off my left sock, put it on my right hand, then walk around the bar shaking hands with as many strangers as possible. I also had to pretend to have an orgasm as I shook each confused person’s hand. There were a lot of bewildered people in that place, I can tell you. Luckily I was drunk at the time.
As you can imagine, the morning after playing the Osama game, people tend to wake up and groan with shame.

The Pocky Game
The Pocky game is another perennial favourite of inebriated Japanese university students, and involves chocolate-covered biscuit sticks called Pocky. (I’m addicted to Pocky and its ever-growing myriad of different flavours, including strawberry, almond, and green tea. If you are not in Japan, do not worry: You can get hold of Pocky in western countries, too, in Asian supermarkets and import shops.) If you don’t have a sweet tooth, Pocky’s savoury alternative, Pretz (pretzel sticks available in flavours such as pizza, corn, tomato, and salad) can also be used.

The Pocky game is a very simple game for two players (and several laughing spectators). Here is how you play: Take one Pocky stick. Each of the two players puts one end in his or her mouth and begins munching. The pair get closer and closer with each bite, creating an awkward intimacy, like the famous spaghetti sucking scene in “Lady and the Tramp”.
The first person who chickens out, and lets go of the Pocky, loses the game and has to down their drink. If the two players end up kissing, they are safe from punishment (but not from Herpes!)

The Pocky game is an exciting proposal at mixed parties, especially if you get to lock lips with someone you’ve got a crush on. However, I strongly advise against playing it with your buddies on poker night.

The Yamanote Sen Game
Perhaps the best known drinking game among the Japanese, this is named after the circular Yamanote train line in Tokyo. Players go around in a circle (like the titular train line) and each player randomly names any station they can think of that is on the Yamanote sen. While playing, everyone claps in rhythm, and each player has to say their chosen station name on the right beat. If they hesitate, repeat a station already named, say a station on the wrong train line, or can’ t think of anything to say, they have to drink.

Yep, the game is as tedious as it sounds, I’m afraid, but it’s inexplicably popular so I thought I should mention it.

Even though it’s called the Yamanote Line game, you can play with any category, not just station names. It could be an easy topic, for example pop singers or capital cities, or it could be ridiculously difficult, like Olympic shot-putters, or Yugoslavian film stars.
Another variant of the Yamanote Sen game is the “No Laughing Game” (Waracha Ikenai Gemu). The going-round-in-a-circle and hand-clapping format is the same, but the aim is to make the other players laugh with silly faces and noises. If someone giggles, they have to drink. The cold silence after each tortured attempt at mirth is painfully awkward and embarrassing, and I tend to laugh intentionally, out of politeness.

When I first heard the name of the Yamanote Sen game, I automatically assumed it involved stopping for a drink at each of the 29 stations on the Yamanote line, all in the same day. That sounds far more fun than the actual game, although to play you would need to be equipped with a portable stomach pump and an extra pair of pants.

Kiku No Hana
Speaking of stomach pumps, here is a game for the hardcore, serious drinkers! “Kiku No Hana,” which means “Chrysanthemum Flower,” (you will find out why later) is an enjoyably brutal game involving much consumption of sake for the loser.

You have probably seen the old trick in which a magician hides a sponge ball under one of three cups, then moves the cups around quickly, after which an audience member guesses which cup the ball is under. Well, this game would be the same, if the person who picked the correct cup was actually the loser, and was subsequently forced to fill the other two cups with booze and drink them (That deviation that would certainly add an edge to children’s parties!)

Here’s how to play: Take a sake cup for each player and put them face down on a tray. One player must then conceal something under one of the cups (traditionally a chrysanthemum, hence the name, but a coin will do nicely on one of those rare occasions that you don’t happen to have a chrysanthemum on you.) Next, the tray is passed around in a circle and each player must pick up a cup. If you lift the cup under which the coin is hidden, you have to take a bottle of sake and fill all the cups that have already been turned over, then drink the lot. That means that if you’re the sixth player and you’re unlucky enough to lose, you have to knock back six cups of sake. If the tray finds its way back to the sneaky bastard who concealed the coin in the first place, then he will get his just desserts and have to fill the entire tray of overturned cups with sake, and glug it down.

Here is a fun way to spice up the game: Instead of a coin under the cup, hide a little piece of paper and scrawl a message on it for the unfortunate loser. Words of sympathy, like “Ha ha! You’re f*cked!” or “Drink up, loser!”
An intense game, Kiku No Hana could be adopted as a version of Russian Roulette for thrill-seeking Alcoholics Anonymous members.

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Sexy Penguins

October 15, 2010

Here’s a typically weird and strangely compelling old 80s Suntory beer commercial, featuring penguins who periodically turn into sexy dancing ladies. I can only assume it’s supposed to be a simulation of what an extremely drunk/horny/bored man might hallucinate while looking at penguins at the zoo.
Whichever advertising executive came up with that demented idea was on something stronger than beer!


Japanese Hooters

October 12, 2010

Nope, the title isn’t an opportunistic attempt to get lots of new boob-Googling readers my blog (although if that happens, I won’t complain.) In a couple of weeks, another of American’s fine cultural exports will arrive in Tokyo: Hooters. Japan’s first branch of the American restaurant chain, famous for its buxom waitresses in tiny orange shorts, will open in Akasaka on October 25th.

The Tokyo Hooters is the latest addition to the 455 branches of the chain found in 29 countries around the world. In a country which does not have much time for political correctness, it won’t be met with much protest. Indeed, it will fit right in with the maid cafes and hostess bars. The biggest problem will be finding suitably endowed women to work there. Although, by many accounts, bust sizes in Japan have been steading increasing for years, thanks largely to a more westernized diet, including fatty food such as hamburgers and milkshakes, (as provided by fine establishments like Hooters!)

I’ll go along and check it out and report back!

Hooters Tokyo
Address: Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 2F,
2-14-3 Nagata-cho,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0014.


Karaoke Babylon

October 11, 2010

A couple of years ago, I was asked to write an article about karaoke for a travel site, but it never got used, (probably because of the increasingly hyperbolic and negative tone towards the end!) so I thought I’d post it here:

Karaoke Babylon

Just as soft drugs supposedly lead to harder drugs, in Japan booze inevitably leads to… karaoke.

Now, I should point out that Karaoke in Japan is a very different proposition to Karaoke at home. In Japan, you generally go to a “Karaoke box,” a building full of tiny private rooms where you and your friends are led to your own snug little booth, with comfy chairs, a remote-controlled karaoke machine, and a phone for ordering drinks and snacks. Here you can happily warble without the drawback of being humiliated by a jeering, drunken mob of disapproving strangers. The rooms come equipped with phone-book-sized lists of songs to choose from, both English and Japanese. Every kind of song imaginable is available, both pop-tastic hits and indie obscurities, from 50s standards to current chart-stormers released as recently as last week.
At home you would not be trusted to drink in such a room unsupervised, without stealing the karaoke machine, or at least throwing up all over it. Meanwhile, the Japanese are trusting to the point of recklessness, cramming their karaoke boxes full of state-of-the-art gizmos, such as giant flat-screen TVs which broadcast the number of calories you burned off during your performance, and novelty items like tambourines, or sometimes even costumes. (I advise you to approach these costumes with caution. Thanks to the advent of camera-phones, pictures of me clad in both a monkey costume and an ill-fitting schoolgirl uniform are now floating around on various social networking sites.)

All this makes for marvelous, childish fun, so it’s no surprise that karaoke clubs light up towns all over Japan. There were approximately 130,000 of them at last count, in 2007. A desperate karaoke junkie could easily find somewhere to sing, even if stranded in the remotest of villages at four in the morning. Near any major station, you should be able to spot a branch of one of the big chains- Big Echo, Shidax, Pasela, Daytripper, 747, or Karaoke-Kan. They are as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. And karaoke boxes are not the only outlet- the “snack” pubs and hostess bars frequented by businessmen uniformly have a machine in the corner. You can get tinny digital karaoke tunes on your mobile phone, with the accompanying lyrics scrolling down the screen. There are at least two karaoke channels on cable TV, running an endless loop of backing tracks and subtitled song words, over romantic images of tropical beaches and cornfields.
Insecure individuals slip into karaoke boxes alone to practise. On quiet weekday afternoons, senior citizens go for a polite croon with their withered old friends. Solitary salary-men book themselves a room just to sleep in, when too much grueling overtime leads them to miss their train home. Tone deaf or terminally shy businessmen, who want to wow their bosses at parties, pay big bucks to personal karaoke trainers, who knock their vocal skills into shape, like musical Mr. Miyagis.

Japan is, after all, the birthplace of karaoke. The name is derived from the words “kara” (which means “empty”) and “okesutara” (which means “orchestra”). “Empty orchestra” may sound like an episode of Scooby Doo set in a haunted concert hall, but to the Japanese it has less spooky connotations.
It was invented in the early 70s by an enterprising drummer-come-mad-scientist from Kobe, called Daisuke Inoue, who cobbled together the first ever karaoke machine out of a mini-amp, a mic, a coin box, and a car stereo equipped with a tape of his band playing backing tracks. You might imagine that he now spends his days singing “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” into a diamond-encrusted microphone but, alas, this is not so. Poor old Inoue neglected to patent the idea, never made a penny, and now peddles cockroach-repellant for a living. Doh! Inoue may well consider himself unfortunate, but I’m sure old men across the globe, who regularly have their quiet evening beers in the pub interrupted by karaoke nights featuring the caterwauling of shit-faced Celine Dion wannabes, would consider his bad luck to be divine justice.

Nevertheless, residents of Japan have a lot to thank Daisuke Inoue for. His creation has one invaluable use- a trip to the karaoke box is the ideal way to finish off a hot date. What better way to ensure a sexy end to the evening than to escort your lady or lad into a dark, secluded room, where booze flows freely, conversation is no longer required, and you are able to express your romantic side through the power of song. I’m sure many a child has been conceived on the soft seats of a karaoke box, sound-tracked by crappy instrumental versions of Barry White songs, while the microphone lays idle. Before getting anywhere, however, guys may have to swallow their pride- Japanese girls often expect to be serenaded with their favourite songs, by the likes of The Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears. I am ashamed to say I, myself, have sold-out and sung sickly love-ballads which not only have I never heard before, but I have, in fact, studiously avoided. It is extremely difficult to hit Britney’s high notes, I can tell you. Such performances are both humiliating and risky (lest we forget, phones have video-cameras on them these days,) but sometimes a man must do what is necessary to get his leg over. At least nobody has asked me to sing Meat Loaf. I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.

Lamentably for me, these romantic encounters are few and far between, and I’m far more likely to end up piling into a karaoke box with a group of drunken mates. A trip to the karaoke box with your buddies can be tremendous fun. Well, it’s fun once or twice. The first time that you heroically hold aloft that mighty microphone, like He-Man, years of inhibition, embarrassment, and repressed emotion come flooding out in the form of music. It’s incredibly cathartic. Old teenaged dreams of pop-stardom momentarily manifest themselves as you belt out the classics with relish.
By the seventh or eighth time you hit the karaoke box, however, the novelty has already worn off, and your own nervous excitement has been replaced by dread at the prospect of spending an entire evening in a tiny box with the same handful of people, all singing with such ineptitude that you yearn for Simon Cowell to appear and berate them. Luckily, most karaoke boxes offer cheap, all-night, all-you-can-drink deals, so you can cope with the cacophony by drinking excessively.

Here’s how a bad all-night session in a karaoke box typically unfolds:
Late at night, after drinking in a bar, some deluded show-off will propose a karaoke jam. You must then decide between catching the last train home, or enduring five hours of liver abuse and aural torture in a karaoke booth. This is a no-brainer if you’re sober, but common sense tends to fly out the window when you’ve been drinking copious amounts of sake.
Once inside, the most inarticulate, slurring wino in the group grabs the mic, and the musical misery begins. You now find yourself trapped for the night in a claustrophobic, black room, with men and women fighting over microphones and screaming themselves hoarse. Emotions are laid bare, fluids are spilled. It’s a bit like the films “Cube” or “Saw,” but with a worse soundtrack. In the karaoke box, no-one can hear you scream (unless you’re the one with the mic).

These five-hour sessions, customary for those who have missed their trains home, can become brutal affairs, thanks to sleep-deprivation combined with cheap unlimited alcohol. As the night unfolds and everybody becomes drunker and more emotional, aggressive lunges are made for the remote control. Everybody squabbles over whose song is next. Blood, as well as beer, is sometimes spilled. One guy I know was head-banging so vigorously to his own rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” that he smashed his face into the table -Thwack!!- and cracked his head open. He was unconscious on the floor in a mess of blood for an alarming moment before clambering to his feet, whimpering.

On the karaoke monitor, the repetitive washed-out video images of young couples promenading in San Francisco, London, and Paris look like out-takes from an early 90s commercial for women’s deodorant. They begin to have a hypnotic effect after a couple of hours and make you lose the will to live.

Respite can be found in periodic trips to the toilets. En route, you can enjoy the muffled melodies from other rooms full of inebriated locals. Be sure to take note of your room number when nature calls, because all the rooms are identical. You might never find your way back, and be lost for all eternity in the labyrinthine corridors. Although, roaming the hallways can be an adventure in itself, and is often preferable to returning to your red-faced friends. More than once I have ended up stumbling into the wrong room, and been invited by jubilant drunkards to sing a Beatles song or two. (Be careful, though. Open the wrong door once too often and you might burst in on a rutting couple. Randy teenagers use karaoke rooms as a cheap alternative to hotels. The karaoke box is the Japanese version of the car back-seat.) Indeed, an amorous couple among your own party might also slink off to the bathroom for some intimacy that they will regret in the morning (perhaps sneaking the monkey and schoolgirl costumes out with them, to spice things up.)

As dawn draws near, your friends begin passing out on the seats. The tambourine lies broken. An inch of beer is sloshing around on the floor.
Slowly darkness descends, your vision blurs….
… and you wake up on a bench under the blazing sun, your ears ringing, the scuff-marks on the toes of your shoes indicating that you had been dragged there by the thankless karaoke-box staff. You rue having been foolish enough to go to the karaoke box yet again. I wonder if Daisuke Inoue ever knew it would come to this!


Halloween in Tokyo 2010

October 8, 2010

The popularity of Halloween seems to be snowballing each year in Japan. Although this phenomenon is largely thanks to opportunistic sellers of pumpkin-based novelty tat, I don’t mind- I’m fully in favour of any festival where you don’t have to buy any presents, it’s acceptable to dress up as a gorilla and get drunk, and women wear raunchy Wonderwoman costumes.

If you want to see some eye-poppingly inventive costumes, I highly recommend checking out the Halloween parade at Kawasaki’s Citadella area on Sunday the 31st. Some of the more incredible costumes could only have been made by professional prosthetic make-up artists. The parade itself is more like a deranged gay Mari-Gras than a family festival, and involves a horde of hedonistic costumed revellers staggering after floats blasting out psychedelic trance music, to the bemusement of passing Sunday shoppers.
Here are some pics from a previous year.

The festivities kick off at 14:30, but if you want to enter the costume competition, you have to register for 12:30. (Although, I wouldn’t bother registering unless you’ve got some help from the Jim Henson creature workshop).
After the parade everybody hits nearby Club Citta for a big after party, with drinking and dancing, from 16:30.

Also that Sunday night is Wild Mood Swings, a free Halloween DJ party in Shibuya, from 7-midnight in Club Echo (which is at the end of Center Gai, on the left). I thoroughly recommend this (since I’m one of the DJs!) Come along to Shibuya Echo and dance like the re-animated corpse of Michael Jackson.

Meanwhile, Metropolis magazine have their annual Halloween Glitterball costume party, Double Trouble, in Vanity Lounge and Bar on Thursday 29th.
On Saturday the 30th, pretty much every club in Tokyo has a Halloween event, including Ageha, Womb, and Air, among others.

Also worth popping into, are some bars and restaurants that are creepy and ghoulish all year round. Here’s a list below:
Vampire Cafe, a bloodsucker-themed eaterie in Ginza.
Alcatraz ER, a bizarre place, styled like haunted prison hospital, in Shibuya.
3 Bozu Paradise, Yokohama’s Frankenstein restaurant.
Halloween, in Yokohama, a small bar where it’s Halloween every day.

If you’re looking for some daytime Halloween hi-jinks, there are the usual festivities going on at Tokyo Disneyand. And if you fancy a particularly weird day out, you can visit Yumenoshima Tropical Greenhouse Dome, a botanical garden on Tokyo’s Yume no Shima (Dream Island), where you can see and touch 50 giant pumpkins weighing up to 100kg, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. Apparently, on opening day, they had a contest to see who could spit pumpkin seeds the furthest, and an event in which people were raced down a hill by rolling giant pumpkins (like Indiana Jones at the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”). Sounds like my kind of place!


Long Time No See!

October 8, 2010

Hello, faithful reader! Excuse the lack of blogging of late- I’ve been up to more antics than usual, so I haven’t had a chance to write for a couple of months.
I’ll try and remedy this over the coming weeks by posting lots of goodies.
To prove I’ve still got my finger on the pulse, here’s…er… an endearingly quaint beer commercial from 1963.