My Mother is a Tractor - Chapter 27

A Life in Rural Japan

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Note: Part of this chapter was adapted from a then unknown internet source that was e-mailed to me. I have since found that the original author is Larry Miller (see video clip below). Apologies for any possible copyright infringement.

The Five Levels of Drinking

First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man - Japanese Proverb

A few days later I was heading north for the annual ‘cabin’ party at Osake Dam outside of Urasa. The town of Urasa has a lovely fully imported Norwegian log cabin that it has placed at the foot of Mount Hakkai outside of town next to a lake. Mount Hakkai is famous throughout Japan, not because of being a mountain of any significance, but because its name adorns the best known sake in the land. The town rents the cabin out cheap to local residents and the town English teacher always made a regular booking. The gathering was nothing more than an excuse for a large number of the local gaijin, as in any foreigner within 200 kilometres, to have a sociable barbeque plus, you guessed it, to drink very heavily. The invite from Kevin did say that one could, “….spend eight hours the following day, climbing to the top of Hakkai-san”, but that kind of effort was unlikely.

Things can get wild and some people, like Jack, uncontrollable. Did you know that in Mongolia uncontrollably drunken people are often wrapped up in a blanket and tied with rope so that only their heads stick out? A little bit like an adult papoose I guess. One presumes that this still allows them to sing and/or vomit in the corner of their yurt and hence still be part of all the action.

Being a frog may help. It was discovered on a NASA mission that a frog can throw up. This is not so strange in itself but the method certainly is. The frog throws up its stomach first, so the stomach is dangling out of its mouth. Then the frog uses its forearms to dig out all of the stomach’s contents and then swallows the stomach back down again. I’m positive the frog’s partner would insist it washes its hands thoroughly afterwards. And why they chose to do this experiment in space I have no idea.

Maybe we should, at this juncture, pause to consider this phenomena of drunkenness in a holistic sense. I was e-mailed a theory, originally devised by comedian Larry Miller, about the joys of drinking to excess. I worked on it somewhat to come up with an adapted ‘Five Levels of Drinking in Japan’. Apologies for any possible copyright infringement.

It’s 11:00 on a weeknight, and you’re sitting in your local bar (‘The Happy Kitchin’ or ‘L’il Bastard’). You’ve had a few Kirin, plus some sake that the group next door insists you drink. You get up to leave because you have to teach Period One the next day, and one of your friends buys another round. The friend with nenkyu (the day off) tomorrow. Here at Level One you think to yourself, “Oh come on, this is silly, why as long as I get seven hours of sleep (snapping your fingers), I’m cool.”

It’s midnight. You’ve had a few more beers. You’ve just spent twenty minutes arguing against natto. You get up to leave again, but at Level Two, a little devil appears on your shoulder. And now you’re thinking, “Hey! I’m out with my friends! What am I in Japan for anyway? These are the good times! Besides, as long as I get five hours sleep (snapping your fingers) I’m cool.”

One in the morning. You’ve abandoned beer for Suntory whisky. You’ve just spent twenty minutes arguing FOR natto. And now you’re thinking, “Our waitress is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!” At Level Three, you love Japan, you love the world. On the way to the bathroom you buy a drink for the salaryman at the end of the bar just because you like his face. You get drinking fantasies, like “Hey fellas, if we bought our own bar, we could live together in Japan forever. We could do it. James, you could cook.” But at Level Three, that devil is a little bit bigger....and he's buying. And you’re thinking, “Oh, come on, come on now. As long as I get three hours sleep...and a complete change of blood (snapping your fingers), I’m cool.”

Two in the morning. And the devil is bartending. For last call, you ordered the extra large bottle of sake and a Pocari Sweat. You ARE natto! And now you’re thinking, “Our barman is the best looking man I’ve ever seen.” You and your friends decide to leave, right after you get thrown out, and one of you knows a...hostess bar. And here, at Level Four, you actually think to yourself, “ long as I'm only going to get a few hours sleep anyway, I may as well....STAY UP ALL NIGHT!!!! Yeah! That’d be good for me. I don’t mind going to that staff meeting looking like Shoko Asahara. Yeah, I’ll turn that around, make it work for me. And besides, as long as I get nineteen hours sleep tomorrow (trying to snap your fingers),”

Five in the morning. You unsuccessfully try to get your money back at the tattoo parlour (“But I don’t even know anybody named Emi!!!”). You and your friends have jumped on the shinkansen to Tokyo and wind up in a bar with American sailors and guys who have been in prison as recently as...that morning. It’s the kind of place where even the devil is going, “Uh, I gotta turn in. I gotta be in Hell at nine. I’ve got that brunch with Tojo, can’t miss that.” At this point, you’re all drinking some kind of thick blue stuff, like something from a weird Japanese animation feature – at roughly ¥800 a pop.

A waitress with nose rings and orange hair comes over, and you think to yourself, “Someday I’m gonna marry that girl!!” One of your friends stands up and screams, “LET’S GO TO A KARAOKE BAR!!!!!” - and passes out. You crawl outside for air, and that’s when you hit the worst part of Level Five - the sun. You weren’t expecting that were you? You never do. You walk out of a bar in daylight, and you see people on their way to work, or jogging. And they look at you in that strange way, as if to say...“Who’s Emi?”

Let’s be honest, if you’re 19 and you stay up all night, it’s like a victory because you’ve beaten the night. But if you’re a bit older, then that sun is like God’s flashlight. We all say the same prayer, usually kneeling at the porcelain shrine, “I swear, I will never do this again (how long?) as long as I live!” And some of us always have that little addition...“and this time, I mean it!”

Unfortunately the mad Canadian Jack had not yet been through this epiphany of regret. He and some others borrowed a friend’s car to do a beer run and had a slight ‘accident’ on the return leg. With the amount of blood alcohol for Jack probably approaching double digits he decided not to hang around to face the music. The next day we received a visit from the local constabulary and Jack was now contemplating his future in those parts.

This however didn’t stop in the indomitable Jack. Just a couple of months later he fell out the third floor toilet window of a karaoke bar. He apparently had wanted to make a surprise entrance back through the front door, then on to the nearby drum kit which the proprietor had forbidden him to play. Unfortunately he forgot that he had climbed up three flights of stairs on the way in. Friends wondered why he was taking so long in the toilet and when they went in to search for him heard a wee voice beckoning from outside, “I’m down here!” In between the buildings they found Jack prostrate in the snow with his leg broken in two places. When he had to fill out the medical insurance form for his employer, the local board of education, he claimed that he had, “…tripped over a gutter.” Unimpressed, they refused to renew his contract. Nevertheless he effortlessly found another position somewhere in Shizuoka and over the years somehow paradoxically worked his way into a position of authority. Maybe it’s because he’s so good at enkai. Now back in North America he apparently is president of the local JET alumni chapter.


Five Levels of Drinking by Larry Miller

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A "life in Japan" on the "JET Program" book

Tags: JET Alumni, ALT, Drinking in Japan, The Five Levels of Drinking, enkai, karaoke bar, natto, Hakkai-san, God's flashlight, Larry Miller

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