Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Booze and Business

You may have noticed that, for an Epic Hitchhiking Journey, the last week or so was a little light on the actual hitchhiking. After days of traveling by ferry and on foot, it was time to hit the road once more. Time to outstretch my weathered, sunburnt, hitchhiker’s thumb to the wild world of overpasses, underpasses, highways, and byways.

I was picked up by three business men in a Toyota. The car ride was notable mainly for the awful condition of the three men, who were loudly suffering at the mercy of a universal malady with many different names – futsuka-yoi in Japanese – to us English speakers, the hangover.

The topic of their conversation never moved far from their various complaints of headaches, stomach-aches, bruises, and nausea – all resulting from the prior night’s requisite session of binge drinking. They’d successfully managed to entertain some business clients, who’d moved much closer to a deal as a result of the prior night’s debauchery.

“It’s all part of doing good business,” explained one of the three, though no explanation was necessary. Japanese business without drinking is like golfing with no clubs. Evidence of this phenomenon can be found on any night of the week, in virtually any urban location, where dozens of men in suits stumble home or just pass out in public. Favourite resting places include park benches, train cars, and the classic sidewalk / street curb combination.

Now, I’m all for respecting individual choices and generally try to avoid casting judgement, but I see a big difference between drinking because you want to and drinking because you must. To me, the idea that alcohol poisoning equates to good business strategy is questionable at best, but in Japan, the practice is apparently not up for debate. It just is.


“Drink up, now, Takashi. My promotion within this fine company we work for depends on our ability to impress these clients with our red faces and increasingly loud voices. Haha, isn’t karaoke fun? Let’s order another round of drinks, eh, Takashi!

“And look! Look over there, they’re signing the contract! Let’s celebrate, Takashi. Have another one. Down the hatch, ‘atta boy! You’ll do well in this business, I can tell. I can remember when I was your age, still learning how to get shitfaced with clients so that we could forgo the crippling customs and awkward formal speech required of us during those dreadful, sober, daytime meetings. Now where are my shoes? I know they were around somewhere … Maybe I left them on the street behind the restaurant, where I vomited that second time. Oh, damn, how long ago did my last possible train home leave? Christ, my wallet is empty! How much did I spend on booze tonight?

“Oh, Takashi, look at me, I’m a wreck! How do you think my long term health is looking in light of my alcohol abuse? How is it affecting my family relationships and my son’s image of proper conduct? How will my wife react when she finds out I had to pay for yet another hotel – not because I’m out of town, but because of a pressing need to join other grown men in karaoke boxes bellowing 1980s children’s anime songs for the third time this week? I’m a god-damned mess. You need to set me straight! Get me some help. Show me the path to sobriety!“

“I’m sorry Mr. Kato, I’m afraid I can’t do that. The next round of drinks just arrived. Besides, you’re talking nonsense. Drink up.”


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