Learning Japanese through booze

As much alcohol as I’ve been putting away recently, it seems only fitting that this most recent post revolve around the ol’ fire water. And Japanese, of course.

The alcohol in this particular case is chuhai, and while many people know what chuhai is, not many seem to know the origin of the word. Luckily, TAKARA brand Shochu Highball — a drier, less sweet cousin of the run-of-the-mill chuhai — has provided a mini history lesson right there on the side of the can. Enjoy.

チューハイの原点。

チューハイは戦後まもない昭和20年代の東京下町で「焼酎ハイボール」として生まれたといわれています。「ハイボール」とはお酒の炭酸割りのこと。焼酎を炭酸で割ったから「焼酎ハイボール」。これを短くして「酎ハイ」と呼ばれたのが語源のようです。東京下町の大衆酒場では今でも大人気の飲み物です。

The Origin of Chuhai.

It’s said that chuhai originated in the 1940s shortly after the war, in Tokyo’s Shitamachi area, as the “shochu highball.” “Highball” referred to alcohol mixed with carbonated water. Because the carbonated water had been mixed with shochu, the drink was known as a “shochu highball.” This was shortened to “chuhai,” which would seem to be the origin of the word. To this day, the drink remains popular in Tokyo’s Shitamachi watering holes.

Good stuff, huh? Good. Now get drankin’.

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Cheap chuhai alert

hanachu2While I can’t say I quite see the connection, discount wholesaler Hanamasa has decided — in honor of Hina Matsuri, or “Girls’ Day” — to knock a few yen off its already cheap chuhai. As of today, a single can of chuhai is just 88 yen, which is definitely less than you’ll find elsewhere.

One caveat: the Hanamasa chuhai is a bit blah, and includes a not insignificant amount of sugar. I can never get through more than a couple of them without feeling as though all that 糖類 (saccharide) is starting to build up on my teeth. But then again, 88 yen is 88 yen.

While at Hanamasa, I was also able to pick up a two-liter (!) bottle of olive oil and a package of single-serving split crab for just 190 yen.

Oh, yes. The evening’s menu has been decided.

Magic Bus


One of the wondrous things about Japan is that it allows me to put my two most defining characteristics — namely, being a cheap bastard and a raging alcoholic — right out there into the public view with nary a blink of recognition.

Enter the Magic Bus.

What is this enchanted bus, you ask?

Every year, our chonaikai, or neighborhood association, organizes an outing where likeminded folk of our ‘hood can get together, hop on the aforementioned Bus and go farting around a pre-arranged set of touristy locations all day. This may not sound too magical on the surface, but the whole “excursion” thing is just dressing for the chonaikai’s true purpose — to spend 12 hours eating too much, drinking too much, getting free shit, and playing the obnoxious tourist in some areas you probably otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to see.

All for 3,000 yen.

These are my kind of people — both in principle and in deed, as evidenced when the head of the chonaikai started passing beer around the cabin at 9:50 am.

Folks, it is a beautiful thing when you’re used to quietly easing that pull tab open to sneak a couple sips in the morning because you know exactly what your day holds and you cannot bear the sheer weight of its monotony, but instead you find yourself surrounded by a staccato of CRACKs and “Cheers!” as people gleefully celebrate how much fun they will soon be having at someone else’s expense.

So, what exactly did the day’s itinerary hold? Prepare to be whelmed (whether under- or over- is up to you).

First up was a tour of an ice cavern. That was actually pretty cool. The constant litany of Samui! (“It’s cold!”) and Tsukareta! (“I’m tired!”) got old pretty damn fast, but overall it was sort of fun having to duck and crawl and wind our way through frosty tunnels surrounded by huge chunks of natural ice. One branch of the cavern was blocked off with a sign proclaiming that beyond there lay Jigoku Ana, or Hell’s Hole, so named because it was so treacherous that if you lost your footing you’d never find your way back. Apparently, nobody even knows how far it extends.

Fucking Hell’s Hole.

I really had to fight the urge to go in there.

After emerging unscathed from the cavern, we went to some hotel, I don’t remember where. They had an all-you-can eat buffet, which was nice, but they also had all-you-can-drink beer, which was far more to my liking.

Upon gorging ourselves (and “gorging” is no exaggeration: the guy sitting at the table next to mine had the hugest pile of spaghetti on his plate that I have ever seen), we headed off for a bit of follow-up binge eating at a vinery for some all-you-can-eat grapes. I don’t know if you’ve ever clipped grapes off the vine and eaten them right then and there, but they’re pretty damn tasty. We even got a couple bunches as take-home gifts.

Of course, being a vinery… I mean, come on. The guys aren’t idiots — they’d also been making wine for several years, and after head-spinningly working my way through samples of them all, I scored a massive bottle of wine for just 1,800 yen.

Now, the members of my chonaikai, being the rampant drinkers that they are, naturally decided that the only way to follow up some wine drinking was by drinking more wine — namely, by taking a tour of a local winery, at the end of which we were treated to all-you-can-drink samples of the goods. It was really amazing to watch all these middle-aged ladies turn into absolute piranhas, darting from drinking station to drinking station, emptying bottles at light speed while loudly declaring, “This is good!” “This sucks!” and “I’ll drink it, but I ain’t buying it!”

The last stop of the Magic Bus Tour was at an herbatorium, or whatever the hell you call them, a combination herb farm and purveyor of herb-infused goods. That was actually sort of lame, but the fact that our tour guide sounded exactly like Doraemon made pretty much everything she said rather lulzy.

On the way home, the head of the chonaikai, realizing that by far the greatest emptier of the HUGE sake bottle that was going around the Bus was none other than yours truly, finally just told me, “Why don’t you hang on to it?” and let me keep it by my seat. Much damage was done to that bottle on the ride back.

In conclusion: Oh, yes. The Magic Bus shall be visited by my presence next year.

p/s – As much as I hadn’t intended to make this blog about personal matters, they nonetheless seem to have started creeping in (case-in-point, the last two friggin’ blog entries). As long as I’m being all gushy and baring my soul to the internets, I’d like to give another shoutout to Tokyo Cowgirl, who also spent this weekend on the J-Winnebago but had considerably less fun doing so. You may have picked up on this, dear Reader, but TC isn’t simply a neighbor blogger — she is an extremely dear friend.

Hang in there, TC. I brought something back from the Bus for you.