I have drank alcohol six times in the last seven days. Roughly three of those times resulted in (slight to moderate) intoxication. As I write this blog, I am seriously considering making myself a gin & tonic.
It’s 2:45 p.m. on Friday.
I can’t be sure what will happen next week, but in all likelihood, I will repeat this process. This is, after all, a pattern I have been exhibiting since I got here.
Strangely, as far as I can tell, I’m just displaying the behavior of a normal human being (over the age of 20) in Japan. People drink a lot here. And it feels pretty good.
Except in the morning.
It’s true that I always liked drinking, but as Canadian grad student living at home, once or twice a week was usually enough. Three days of drinking was considered a big week.
And then I moved to Japan…
In a country where drinking is such an important and accepted part of daily life, from social and business drinking, to religious rites and traditional customs where sake plays a central role, there is no avoiding ‘the drink’ in Japan. At least, not if you want to have a social life.
For those who want to go out with friends (Japanese or otherwise), imbibing is almost always part of the equation. Wanna go to a baseball game? Well you can bring your own booze, so chances are you’re getting drunk. Wanna play some video games? Go to the local arcade bar and get smashed while playing Smash Bros. Cherry Blossom viewing in the park (if you didn’t know, drinking outdoors is legal in Japan)? Bring some sake. Long train ride out of town? beer helps pass the time. Meeting some friends anytime after 5 p.m.? You better believe there’ll be cocktails. You get the idea.
And it’s not just for the cool kids.
For those without active social lives: there are plenty of opportunities as well. While izakaya’s (Japanese style pubs) are the most common venue for social boozing, there is no stigma attached to drinking by oneself at home either.
When I first arrived in the summer, I was shocked by how unabashedly students of both sexes admitted to regularly drinking beer or wine by themselves on the weekend. Maybe I shouldn’t have been though. In the West, drinking by oneself might signal a problem, in Japan, it is actively promoted on subway ads.
So naturally, I’ve started drinking more.
And so have my foreign friends. And this is somewhat of a problem. But it’s only a problem because it isn’t a problem. You know what I mean?
Nobody sees anything wrong with the fact that I might soon be pouring myself a gin & tonic, at 2:45 on a workday. And that’s what freaks me out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an alcoholic (but that’s what they all say right?). I still jog several times a week. I eat all my vegetables, get 8 hours of sleep, and iron my shirts before work. But, my relationship with alcohol has changed.
Liquor is an amazing social tool, and it is one the Japanese use to full effect. This is not to say that constant binge drinking is a good thing or that people need to drink in order to enjoy themselves, and surely there are many here who battle with alcoholism (a disease which is treated with far less seriousness in Japan), but having a beer or two with dinner as so many Japanese do everyday (drinking is almost always accompanied with food here), is, I think, a great way to unwind after a long day at work.
If you ask me, they got it right with this one.
marvel in the glory of Korean hangover baby.