Japanese Hangover Cures

March 27, 2008

Not long after I’d first arrived in Japan, I inadvisedly got wasted on a school night and the next morning I had to get up for work, feeling like a rabid dog in its death throes. Fortunately I lived directly opposite a 7/11 which was full of potential remedies. I asked my room-mate’s Japanese girlfriend what was good for hangovers. She wasn’t sure, but wrote a request for a hangover cure on a piece of paper, in Japanese, for me to present to the convenience store staff.
I lurched across the road and handed my request to the bemused teenager behind the counter and he ran and found me a small glass bottle of elixir, which I glugged down, there and then. I quickly got over the urge to puke and was soon feeling just about ready to face the world.

I kept that handwritten request and made good use of it over the next few months. The same crumpled piece of paper was presented to a succession of spotty teenagers in convenience stores that year. In fact, it is still stuck to my pin-board, withered, faded and brown.

The Japanese are renowned for drinking heavily, and they have their own unique expression for “hangover”: “futsukayoi”, which means “drunk for two days.” You might like to exaggerate the level of your hangover by saying “mikkayoi” (drunk for three days) or “yokkayoi” (drunk for four days) etc.
Since businessmen are expected to get utterly trashed with their boss on a regular basis, there are plenty of hangover cures readily available in the shops of Japan.
What I was usually given by the convenience store staff were “genki drinks”. These are small, 100ml glass bottles of various potions which relieve all kinds of different medical complaints, from colds to loss of libido and, of course, hangovers.
Look out for the two bottles pictured below. They’re very effective at stopping booze-induced gut-rot, nausea and puking. A few minutes after necking one of these magic mixtures you’ll be bouncing around like Super Mario:

The sickly concoction pictured below is called Lipovitan D, and it was the inspiration for Redbull. It relieves physical fatigue and gives you boundless energy, but corrodes your esophagus like battery acid. (Having said that, I’m partial to the occasional Vodka and Lipovitan D cocktail at parties- guaranteed to give you the endurance and stamina of a Terminator, and make you equally as destructive.)

A popular pre-emptive hangover cure is to make a ramen shop your last port of call after a pub crawl. Gulping down a steaming bowl of ramen noodles before you hit the sack will nip your hangover in the bud.
Another age-old Japanese remedy is the humble miso soup. The nation’s favourite soup can be bought at most cheap cafes and restaurants for a couple of hundred yen, and seems to soothe the stomach and head in times of need.

Mari at Watashi to Tokyo endorses the miso method, and also recommends drinking green tea, eating grated daikon, or pushing pressure points.

I find that the amusingly-named sports drink “Pocari Sweat” makes you feel slightly less god-awful in the mornings by re-hydrating you and replacing lost sweat (hence the grotesque name). This is particularly effective if you’ve spent the whole night thrashing around on a dance-floor in a Tokyo nightclub.

The fruit, “Kaki” (persimmon) is considered a hangover cure in Japan. According to Metropolis magazine, their “combo of fructose, vitamins A and C and minerals is the secret”. The vitamins help metabolize the booze and break down the nasty toxins. Chomp on a kaki in the morning, and it will have the same effect as spinach has on Popeye.

Another natural remedy is kudzu, which is a kind of vine in the pea family. Powdered kudzu root has been an ingredient in traditional Japanese hangover cures for centuries. Desperate alkies take note- kudzu also suppresses cravings for booze.

Umeboshi pickled plums are also thought to relieve the morning-after problems. The pyric acid in umeboshi breaks down the booze in your body, settles your mangled stomach, and breathes life into your liver.
Asylum.com has some useful advice on post-piss-up umeboshi-munching: “For a normal hangover, bite off about a quarter of a plum and keep it in your mouth until it dissolves. For a whopper hangover, herbalists recommend popping a whole plum into your mouth. Continue to suck on it for about an hour after the plum has dissolved.”

The website What Japan Thinks conducted a survey of Japanese people to find their preferred hangover cures. The internationally accepted technique of drinking water topped the list, and sleeping came second. So, the familiar methods still seem to be the most reliable.

For the last couple of years I haven’t needed any of these remedies, though, because I take “ukon” before I go out drinking. Ukon is a miraculous turmeric supplement pill that you take before boozing, and it stops you getting a hangover. You could guzzle down a litre of whiskey and still wake up feeling as fresh as a daisy. Invaluable!

Anyway, as everyone knows, the best thing for a hangover is drinking heavily the night before, so I’m now going out to do just that.