In anticipation of TokyoFebruary 9th, 2013 | Posted by in Blog
Covering alcohol and Obon
Well, hello. Thanks for stopping by! Those readers who don’t know – which will be the majority as I’ve told practically no-one other than work colleagues – I’ve this week booked a holiday to Japan with my friends. We’re going for two weeks in August, and I’m so excited I want to run through the house doing aeroplane impressions like a goblin on crack cocaine.
So, I’m using this blog as a way of containing my excitement (you are essentially my therapist, you know!) and as a way of channelling it into something useful. I have a long list of things I want to do, and many of the items on it will probably bore the friends I’m going with to tears, but who cares – I’m going to do them anyway, even if I have to wonder around on my own for a couple of days.
August is a pretty exciting time to be in Japan. For one, the Obon festival is going on – the time at which Japanese people believe their deceased ancestors return to the world in order to check up on how they’re doing. A sort of séance and an unexpected family reunion, if you will.
So lanterns are hung up to help guide the dead ones, dances are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made. I am well up on the lanterns and dancing, although visiting random graves might be considered a little odd and I’d prefer to eat the food myself. There may even be all-night drinking. Fantastic.
Actually, all the travel guides on Tokyo I’ve read seem to be quite keen to emphasise that all-night drinking is a definite option, and not just at festival time. Although getting utterly smashed in a country I’m not familiar with doesn’t necessarily appeal, it’s well known I like a drink. Cider, for preference, but I’m open to other options.
Apparently, beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage, so it’s lucky I can now manage to drink it, to some extent (couldn’t stomach the stuff at uni). The leading breweries are Asahi, Suntory and Sapporo, which I have written down on a post-it note and stuck to my laptop as they will probably be the words I need most out there.
On joining Axonn, I spent six months writing wine news every day, so I know wines are increasingly gaining popularity out there (French and red, for preference). And everyone knows the Japanese like their rice wine, but plum wine might be a little less well-known. However, I’m anxious to sample. I like plums, when I can get my grubby hands on them.
There are options that seem close to cider as well, fortunately. Chuhai, or shochu highball, is a fruit flavoured drink with an alcohol content of around eight per cent. They come in a variety of flavours – lemon, peach and grapefruit being just a handful – and there are even seasonal editions that come and go. I’m anticipating summer fruit for August, or some equivalent.
The other important thing to remember about drinking – and I’ve read this in two or three travel guides now – is that it’s customary to serve other people rather than pouring for yourself. For someone who gets drunk relatively quickly, this seems like a potential death-trap, but I think it’s quite important so we’ll have to go with it and see what happens. If I end up in a ditch (or indeed, a stranger’s bed), I’ll just have to find someone else to blame. Which is standard practice for me anyway, even in Britain where I have complete control.
Apparently, when someone wants to pour some out for you but you’ve already got a full glass, you have to take a mouthful to allow them to do so, and take another mouthful before setting the glass back on the table. Again, I’m worried about the level of control I have here, but at least it’s easy to know when you’re being chatted up.
And the Japanese equivalent of ‘cheers’? Kampai!
More on Japan to follow!