Mobile Mishap

February 22, 2008

The other night, after another barnstorming booze binge, I clumsily fumbled with my keys outside my tiny apartment, trying not to piss-off the neighbours, before tumbling through the door. I’d had a debauched and hedonistic night with my friends in a string of bars, including a karaoke place which had a selection of novelty costumes for its patrons to wear. A mental time was had by all, and I’d used my phone camera to capture my pals and myself in various states of drunken abandon, jiving and singing in schoolgirl uniforms and the like.

Someone begged me to share these hilarious pictures over the internet, so I decided to send them from my phone to my PC, so I could stick them on Facebook. With my drunken sausage fingers I selected “ME” from the list of contacts on my phone and sent the pictures to my computer email address. Hey presto! Isn’t technology wonderful?
With hindsight, I should have waited until I was sober before attempting this minor act of technological wizardry.

When I later checked my email, the photos hadn’t arrived. Upon examining my phone I realized where I’d gone wrong. Thanks to the alcohol-induced blurred vision, I hadn’t mailed the pics to “ME,” I’d mailed them to “MIE,” who is my landlady. Mie is a rather reserved middle-aged woman, who is constantly nit-picking about the correct separation and disposal of rubbish, and other such matters. Quite what she thought when, at four AM, she received a picture of me dressed in a much-too-small monkey costume and guzzling from a pitcher of beer, is anyone’s guess but I’m expecting the eviction notice any day now.
Oh well, it could have been worse. I could have been trying to send naked pictures of myself to “Adult Friend Finder.” That would have led to all sorts of confusion.

Toilet Trouble

January 18, 2008

Visitors to Japan find much amusement in the high-tech toilets. You know, the sort of futuristic robo-crappers that C3PO might drop his techno-turds into. Tourists point and guffaw at the heated seat and the panel of buttons so complex you need a pilot’s license to operate.
I wasn’t laughing, however, when I was puking into one of them the other day.

In a state of drunken delirium I had blithely missed my last train home from Tokyo after a frenzied drinking session, and had to stay on my friend’s sofa. His classy new apartment was equipped with a space-age lavatory and, early the next morning, I was kneeling in front of it, miserably spewing up the acidic contents of my guts. I felt bloody awful and deeply regretted the three pints of gin and tonic I had knocked back towards the end of the night.

After some considerable time I finally stopped heaving and I reached blindly for the control panel to flush the toilet. However, as I fumbled feebly with with the buttons, I somehow made the mistake of operating the bidet function instead. As the sudden jet of scalding hot water hit me in the face, startling me and drenching my shirt, I sorely missed the traditional, cold porcelain toilets of home.

I Pay for my Laziness

August 11, 2007

I’m a naturally indolent man so, when lumbering home drunk, I often eschew steep staircases and slide down the railings instead, embarrassment being preferable to physical exertion.
One stormy night last week, I was diabolically smashed after two successive all-you-can-drink sessions in a hotel bar in Yokohama city, when I spilled out of the train at the station near my home, and squeezed through the ticket gates. A few commuters were huddled around the exit of the station, looking fearfully at the streaks of lightning overhead, reluctant to step out into the torrential downpour. Coming from Britain, where it rains more often than not, I was not fazed by this. I was, however, disconcerted by the long flight of stairs that I was going to have to descend. Drained of energy after a week of work and be-fuddled by booze, a slow dreary trek down the vast mountain of steps was about as appealing to me as eating effluence. Alas, it was unavoidable. Unless…
I spotted the shiny silver railing running down the center of the staircase, raindrops glittering on its surface. This railing wasn’t invented for people to hold on to while climbing the steps, it’s an efficient time-saving device, I concluded. Inebriated enough to have lost all rational sense, I decided to slide down the railing, indifferent to the inevitable crowd of disapproving spectators.
It wouldn’t be the first time I had utilized the station railing in this fashion. I had harnessed its effort-saving properties a few weeks previously.
I sat on the silver saviour and lifted my feet. Big mistake.
The previous occasion, crucially, I had been wearing jeans, the tough denim enabling me to slither down the railing at a snail’s pace, whereas tonight I was wearing a brand new suit, the smooth fabric of the trousers creating no resistance at all. This factor, combined with the lubricating quality of the rainwater on the slippery railing, resulted in me zooming down the railing faster than a speeding bullet-drain. Oh God. Like an out-take from a skateboarding video, I flew off the end of the railing and smacked onto the hard tarmac below, my graceless fall slightly cushioned by a shallow puddle.
The residents of my neighbourhood are generally startled to see a giant white man merely walking down the street, but when one smashes into the ground before them with an apocalyptic thud, they are horrified. Pretending I wasn’t in an enormous amount of pain and that I wasn’t furious that my expensive new suit was plastered in mud, I clambered to my feet, held my head high, and walked out into the lashing rain, half-expecting to be struck by lightning at any moment.

Fun in Store

March 20, 2007

One thing that makes life easy in Japan is the multitude of colourful convenience stores, or “convenies”. These brightly-lit shrines to capitalism can be found on every street corner, open all day and night, with inexplicable names like “Three F” and “Sunkus” (a woeful attempt to spell “thanks”.) Inside, they look like compact versions of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, full of shelves adorned with luminous packages and bottles branded with bewildering, boldly-written gibberish names like Pocky, Pocari Sweat, Asse, Calpis and Bubble Man II. You can buy comics, condoms, DVDs, Adidas T-Shirts, make-up, batteries, lightbulbs, bananas and, most importantly, alcohol.
Convenience stores certainly make drinking more, well… convenient. Even in the remotest suburb of Japan, at four AM, you can wander a few yards from your front door and buy a beer without any hassle. Amazing!

Every night out seems to begin with a couple of convenie beers or perhaps chu-hai (fruity, stomach-dissolvingly acidic alco-pops) consumed at home as you throw on your glad rags. And every night without exception ends, en-route to your house, with a trip to the convenie for a shopping spree of midnight snacks and preemptive hangover-cures.
The staff are awe-inspiringly enthusiastic, crying cheerful greetings the moment you enter. Such welcomes are worlds apart from what you’d expect in the squalid inconvenience stores at home, where you’d consider yourself well-attended-to if the clerk flinched briefly to look up from his magazine. The Japanese shop-staff take remarkable pride in their jobs, even if their jobs are minimum wage. And working all night in a convenience store is not without it’s perils. These poor souls have to deal with incromprehensible drunken customers such as I. Convenience store workers of Japan, I salute thee!

Hostess High Jinks

March 16, 2007

Being reduced to paying for someone to talk to you is considered suicidally depressing in the West, but in Japan it’s a national past-time. Inebriated salarymen with low self-esteem regularly flock to “hostess bars” to enjoy the company of scantily-clad young ladies, who pour their drinks, light their smokes and laugh at their jokes. You can spot these ladies on the streets of Tokyo, trying to charm men into their clubs with their sparkling personalities.

Female customers are getting into it too, with “host bars” increasing in popularity, and girls spending pots of money to spend time with ingratiating men with bleached-blonde hair and open-necked shirts, who resemble George Michael, circa 1983. Being a host sounds like a dream-job, but it’s not quite the cushy gig you might think. Apparently, the clientelle of host clubs largely consists of malevolent off-duty hostesses, who derive sadistic pleasure from treating hosts like shit, as a way to let off steam after work. Ha ha!

All of this would hold little interest for me were it not for the knowledge that these establishments tend to refuse admittance to gaijin, for fear that foreign customers would be disappointed to discover their hosts and hostesses can’t speak English. After learning this, my curiosity was aroused. I suddenly wanted to hit a hostess bar but, as anticipated, I was repeatedly turned away by inscrutable, stony-faced bouncers.

So, when a friend and I were strolling into town one night, we were surprised when two young hostesses dressed in revealing, customized military uniforms approached us and invited us to enter their club, the oddly named “Army’s Bar.”
“What the hell, let’s do it. Might be a funny experience,” we decided, and followed the girls into the basement bar. They waited until we were seated before telling us the deal- 1000 yen for every fifteen minutes, but drinks were free. That’s $10 for a few minutes of mere conversation, so it was was with trepidation that we signed up.
We resolved to take advantage of the cheap booze, and hastily ordered a round of tequila shots.

My friend and I each had a hostess to entertain us. Mine had a phony smile and cold, bored eyes, and asked me a sequence of predictable questions, such as “where are you from?” “what do you do for a living?” and “how long have you been in Japan?” ie: all the questions I get asked on a daily basis and am sick of hearing. I really didn’t want to pay for that, so I steered the conversation in a different direction, asking the girl if she enjoyed this line of work and how she felt about the regular customers. She seemed taken-aback but amused by this line of questioning, evidently not a common topic in Army’s Bar.
I pity the poor fellows who are so hopelessly insecure and starved of attention that they have to resort to this.
I noticed my friend looking over impatiently, having even less fun than me. There was only one thing for it: “Barman! More tequila! And keep ’em coming!”

We stumbled out of the club moments before our fifteen minutes ran out, with my curiosity sated and seven or eight tequila shots down the hatch.

The High Life in Shinagawa

March 10, 2007

The opulent Prince Hotel in Shinagawa offers an epic three-hour all-you-can-drink deal in their swish 39th floor bar, so me and my similarly opportunistic companions regularly leap at the chance to eviscerate our livers in the lap of luxury. Fun fun fun!
We head up to the snazzy establishment and knock back expertly-made cocktails while seated in a cosy semicircular sofa facing the window, gazing out at a magnificent panoramic view of the city as the sun sets and gives way to a million twinkling lights, our view of the skyline slowly blurring as we get progressively more smashed.

Ordinarily you’d have to sell a kidney to afford a single beer in a classy place like this, but the Prince charges a hilariously small fee for the mammoth drinking session (2300 Yen). I think the plan had been that customers would order heaps of food while imbibing, and the expensive grub would bump up their checks dramatically. Evidently the management hadn’t bargained on penny-pinchers popping into the nearby McDonalds before hitting the bar. The Prince Hotel waiters can get a little snooty when you ask for a seventeenth round of cocktails without having ordered so much to eat as as a bowl of peanuts.

Despite our obvious lack of class, my aspirational pal Jonny fancies himself as something of a high-flying international playboy, and loves to bask in the swanky ambience. Despite being perpetually broke, he masquerades as a wealthy visiting jet-setter, sipping Martini and smoking cigars.
According to Jonny, the Shinagawa hotel bar is the perfect place for romance – you can bring a date and dazzle her with the glamorous setting and breathtaking view, and the fast-flowing booze will double your chances of getting your leg over. If you can’t find a date to bring, never mind – the place is full of ladies on vacations or business trips, hoping to make use of their king-sized beds. Despite his lofty pretensions, Jonny never has two coins to scrape together, so for a bargain-basement lothario such as he, the cheapness of the drinks is the icing on the cake.

One night, however, proved less than economical for Jonny.
That evening, as we drank like lords, he exchanged lusty glances with an attractive girl at the next table. Eventually he made his way over to her, and after a few hours of canoodling and innumerable cocktails she suggested booking a room in the hotel. Blind drunk and hornier than a sex-starved bonobo, Jonny thought this was an excellent idea. ‘Since we’re already in a hotel it seems silly not to take advantage of the rooms,’ he reasoned to himself, grinning in anticipation as they made their way to the front desk.

After a night of intense pleasure, the next day he was woken abruptly by a ringing telephone. Blearily surveying his surroundings, he was surprised to find himself in a large, luxurious suite. Since he was alone in the massive bed, it would seem the girl had sneaked off in the early hours. It immediately struck him that this night of fun was was going to cost him a small fortune. He answered the phone with trepidation and was informed by a member of the hotel staff that, since the check-out time had long since passed, he’d have to pay for two nights. Gulp. The resulting check was similar in price to a second-hand car. So this is how the Prince Hotel makes all it’s money. Genius.

Shinagawa Prince Hotel, 10-30 Takanawa 4-Chome, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 108-8611
Tel: 03-3440-1111


March 6, 2007

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.