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Liquor

I wasn’t much of a drinker before I came to Japan. Or rather, I wasn’t a drinker at all. From age 14 to 20 I was a Mormon and Mormon’s don’t drink as it’s considered not healthy. Even though I stopped being a Mormon around 20 the influence from those years kept me from ever getting into drinking. Except for a about 3 months when I was 25 and my new girlfriend at the time wanted me to drink with her I never go into it. That is, until I came to Japan.

I’m still not much of a drinker but unlike before I won’t go out of my way to not drink. For one, I don’t drive in Japan so there is no need to worry about that. For another, if you are asked to go out with your co-workers they will basically expect you to drink and unlike the USA it’s not quite socially exceptable to say you don’t drink. Of course you can say it but it will be considered like not participating where as in the states I never got that vibe for not drinking.

Anyway, since I’ve been here I’ve started drinking a little more. I still have not gotten a taste for anything non-sweet. Beer (yuck!), Wine (blech!), Whiskey, Vodka, Tequila, Gin, Scotch, (plech). I can put up with a glass of beer if I have to. Wine is harder. The rest are pretty much impossible so far. I don’t know if I just don’t like them period or if this is one of those things you have to get used to and as I don’t have years of drinking exprience behind me so I just haven’t gotten there yet.

Basically I still go for the sweet stuff. I like the break from tea and soda sometimes although I don’t like *getting a buzz*. What I find most interesting is how different the drinks are.

For example, a couple of years before I came Japan and related my experience with liquor to date with a friend and he recommended I try an Amaretto Sour or a Midori Sour. Both I actually enjoyed. Well, … Midori is a melon based liquor MADE IN JAPAN and yet you’d be hard pressed to find it at most drinking places in Japan. It’s not common here at all.

The most common sweet liquor in Japan is Cassis or as it says on the bottle, “Creme de Cassis de Dijon” which is made from Black Currant (a small berry like a blueberry). It’s similar to Grenadine (pompgranet liquor). The most common drink made with it is Cassis Orange or as it’s pronounced in Japanese “Caw She Sue Or en jee” (mix it with orange juice). Other common mixes are Cassis Soda and Cassis Oolong (mix it with Oolong tea) in which case it takes pretty much like a fruit punch.

Cassis appears to be from France. It’s strange to me that it’s the #1 cocktail drink here in Japan and yet I’ve never heard of it in the USA. I know it exists there it’s just not been made popular. It would be interesting to know the histories of why certain drinks are popular in different areas. It seems like it would be very popular anywhere because it’s pretty tasty, very easy to drink.

Japan itself has Umeshu or plum liquor. It’s generally clear and it tastes awesome. Maybe it just needs a little more time to spread but it seems like it would do great anywhere in the world. In fact if you have a bar or restaurant in the west maybe you should get some and promote it to set your restaurant apart :-p. If you drink Umeshu straight it would be a little strong but mixed with like soda it basically tastes like plum soda. You can’t tell there’s an alcohol except after a couple when you fall over. I know you can get it in LA at many Korean markets in Koreantown.

Anzushu or Apricot liquor is also pretty common and another one I’ve never seen evidence of in the USA. As far as I can tell this is a Chinese liquor. I’m basing that only on the fact the the most common brand is Chinese. They sell it everywhere including many convenience stores. (Umeshu as well)

It’s in the same category as cassis and umeshu in that it’s a tangy fruit flavored liquor. It’s great stuff and I’m sure it would also be great as an additive to lots of desserts.

Since I started drinking sometimes I like to try something new. This usually happens when I’m needed to waste some time in Shibuya and I’ll remember the a certain liquor store and decide to go see what thye have. In the last few years I haven’t had a whole lot of amazing finds but there have been a couple.

One is called Dooley’s. I was in some store and saw it on the shelf. It’s toffee liquor. Similar to Baileys. It’s great with milk or on ice cream. My impression is it’s not gotten great distribution yet. In fact since I found it 3~4 years ago it’s no longer available in Japan. I’ve asked both the places I found it before and they both said it was no longer distrubuted here. I guess that’s good for my waist line because it’s really delicious.

Another I had seen on the shelf for a while but it looked pretty strange and I couldn’t talk myself into buying it. I mean, come on, the bottle looks like a fried egg and the contents is cream yellow, not a color I usually associate with liquor. I don’t even know what to call it. There is no name on the bottle and no name even on the company’s website.

It’s listed as Egg Liquor in Japan and it can best be described in one of two ways. #1. Take some vanilla ice cream, poor some scotch in it, stir it up, let it melt, put it back in the bottle and sell it. #2 take the custard cream from a cream donut or pastry, mix in some scotch, put it back in the bottle, sell it. It’s actually a little scary because you can basically drink it straight out of the bottle even though it’s 26% alcohol.

As for Sake and Shochu, they basically fit the same category as Whiskey, Vodka etc for me in that I still don’t have a taste for them.

  • http://www.chipple.net/ Patrick

    Interesting recommendations! I’m not a drinker either, only since coming to Japan a few years ago I’ve started drinking some of the sweeter drinks like you have, most of the time cassis soda or kahlua milk. I’ll try out some of those you like sometime.

    I guess many Japanese cocktails have yet to leave Japan, as I had a slightly bad experience at a café in Paris when I asked if they had cassis and the waiter said something like “sure, cassis gin? cassis vodka?” (I can’t recall exactly what he offered, but it was all on my no-no-list), when asking for cassis soda he had a good laugh but gave in and brought me cassis with Perrier.

    I never got what was so funny, but it seemed to me like standards aren’t quite the same.

  • http://karavshin.org/blogs/black-coffee michaelslater
    Liquor in japan

    Creme De Cassis is best served as a drink called a ‘Kir’ — basically a glass of acidic white wine with a fraction of Creme De Cassis added. I had no idea CdC was popular in Japan. (Oh silly me, of course wikipedia has a complete explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kir)

    Sake is good. If in doubt, serve cold and request a ‘dry’ sake — it tastes smoother and less harsh. Sake is great for getting drunk at lunch, as its effects go away without leaving a hangover.

    I must say you are nuts about beer. Japanese beer is the my favorite in the world, particularly Kirin. No beer pairs better with food than a crisp, dry Kirin. Asahi and Sapporo are also good. And the Japanese know how to serve it — in tiny little 6oz glasses. Why? preserves the carbonation, keeps it cooler longer (you’re not swilling around a giant bladder of beer)

    Japanese businessmen I deal with most seem to like whiskies and scotches and that sort of thing. I can live without.

  • alexr

    My tastes are similar to yours. My immediate taste reaction to beer and wine is “yuck, this food is spoiled.” I tend to enjoy fruity ram drinks as favored at tiki bars.

    Some Sweet Potato shochus are sweet enough to sip.

  • Leo

    Given what I’ve heard about social drinking, I’ve always wondered what the reaction would be if a recovering alcoholic (not me) came to Japan. How would people react to that person not drinking? I’m guessing not very well.

    Its funny, the older I get, the less I like the taste of most alcohol. When I do drink, I tend to stick with beer or wine.

  • http://blog.greggman.com greggman

    I haven’t verified this but anecdotally I’ve heard the Japanese have no word for even concept of alcoholic. Assuming that’s true I don’t know if it’s just a cultural thing (ie, they don’t believe in the concept?) or if it’s a genetic thing (they are not prone to becoming alcoholics) or if it’s a not a problem thing (culturally Japanese behave differently when drunk so getting drunk often doesn’t have the negative connotation it does in the west. You’re not driving so you’re not going to cause someone’s death and I’ve never seen a Japanese person get drunk and become violent, something that seems to happen in other cultures)

    Anyway, I’m talking out of my ass. Someone that knows this topic in Japan better than me speak up.

  • DZ
    Aruchuu

    Hi Gregg. I agree the attitude towards drunkenness is different here in Japan; but they certainly have a word and concept for alcoholism. Look up “aruchuu” (アル中), short for “arukoruchuudoku.” (アルコール中毒)

  • WizMaster

    I’ve been kind of drinking lately and I agree with most of this. I believe it really is an aquired taste. I’m getting into trying different things now and I would like to try some of your recommendations. I don’t live in Japan though. Although I agree with you on beer, I like Black Label scotch whiskey and various wines. Good luck on finding your own favorites.

  • gramurai
    A clinic take on Alcoholism

    As it turns out, my wife was a clinical psychologist in Japan, and she worked at a psychiatric hospital. When I asked her about alcoholism in Japan, she told me that in fact psychiatric hospitals are where they treat alcoholism in Japan. From what I can tell, they don’t treat it there unless the alcoholism is really, really bad by gaijin standards. Here is her take on it, mixed with my gaijin sensibilities and experiences:

    She said that alcoholism is considered really ugly and shameful, so families will try as hard as they can to hide it. This is the Japanese attitude about all social or physical disorders, problem, and anomalies. You have undoubted noticed, for example, that you don’t see people in wheelchairs anywhere ever. It’s the same with alcoholics. They exist. They and everyone close to them just try their damnedest to hide it.

    Since the societal standard requires men to drink massively, it is easy to hide alcoholism. You can easily satisfy the drinking urge by simply going out and getting plastered after work every evening. It is only recognized as alcoholism if the person gets physically abusive or otherwise destructive in some unhideable way.

    Yes, they do get physically abusive, just like they do in every other country on the planet. They just hide that, too. From what I can tell, the whole Japanese attitude towards abuse is quite different from my gaijin standards. I’m sure I’m going to catch flak for saying this, but not too many years ago, I have heard that they used to subtly encourage bullies to be abusive in schools, and though teachers are not permitted to be physically abusive any more, they can still be quite verbally and mentally abusive.

    It has only been recently that there has been any kind of national awareness of the fact that physical abuse is bad enough that the country as a whole should try to prevent it. So they have only lately started to create protective systems to prevent such abusive people from battering their family members. Of course, there are still plenty of abusive Japanese men. They just aren’t seen being abusive in public.

    My wife also mentioned that they have just recently introduced Alcoholics Anonymous into Japan, though I’m guessing that it is not very strongly endorsed or accepted.

  • http://blog.greggman.com greggman

    Thanks for that post.

    I can see how it could be the case that families hide the problem.

    My own uninformed comments

    It seems like AA would never work on Japan (whether it works in the USA is another topic). The reason seems like it would never work in Japan is it’s Christian religion based. 6 of the 12 steps have to do with believeing in an turning yourself over to God, something few if any Japanese believe in in the same way many people in a largly Christian influenced society like the USA.

    As for the violence for drunks. My point was, I was never a drinker in the states so I never went to bars and I rarely went to clubs. And yet, with my next to zero involvement with liquor and related places I’ve seen violent fights in front of bars 3 or 4 times in my life. I guess I assumed they were liquor related.

    Now I live in Japan were there are zillions of bars, people get drunk every night and you can see them stumbling around the train stations. I walk in front of 10 times the bars per day than I passed in front of in the states in a year. And yet, I’ve never once seen a single fight. Of course I know that’s just anecdotal evidence. Maybe there are violent fights at bars all over Japan but I get the impression there are not. I get the impression that’s a cultural difference.

  • gramurai
    A more personal take on Japanese alcoholism

    That is an interesting observation about the lack of aggressiveness of drunken Japanese. I agree. I, too, have never seen two drunk Japanese people fight in Japan. The only alcohol-related fight that I ever did see was between a couple of gaijin. Two Iranians in a gaijin bar in the Japanese boonies were playing backgammon when suddenly one of them grabbed his beer bottle and bashed the other one over the head with it, busting the bottle and putting a huge gash in the recipient’s face. Then they started picking up the chairs to bash each other the head with them, too. Afterwards, the one who bashed the other over the head was shouting he did it because he thought the other was trying to cheat. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen a drunken fight in Japan.

    I knew quite a few Japanese alcoholics, too. At least, in the States, we would have called them alcoholics. They would get totally hammered every single night, drinking from the minute that they left work to the hour that their favorite bars and snacks closed. No one ever actually used the term “alcoholic” for them there in the town in which I worked. For that matter, no one ever put the fact that they drank excessively into words. In all cases, these guys did all that society asked of them. They always showed up for work on time every morning. They did the jobs that they were asked to do. They had wives, and they had children who were doing well in school. I went out drinking with them on a number of occasions. Never did I see them get aggressive or mean or angry when they were totally plastered. I agree. It has to be something cultural. Drunk people in other countries aren’t nearly as nice.

    I know of evidence, though, that there were some who did get abusive. The psychiatric hospital that my wife worked at had a few of them. One woman I worked with used to come to work with bruises all over her rather frequently. She would say that she slipped on the stairs or that she was clumsy or something of that nature. But one day, we figured it out and she admitted that her boyfriend had been beating her up. So clearly there are some. Maybe it is that in Japan, men feel that they only have the privilege of getting aggressive with their women, and then, only in private. I know of instances, too, where Japanese men harassed gaijin in bars. None of the cases I know of ever actually turned into full-fledged fights, but the Japanese men were clearly getting out of hand.

    Whatever abusiveness there is in drunken Japan, it certainly does show up differently in Japan than elsewhere. It is interesting how much power culture has to shape people.

  • http://www.nakedsushi.net/ nakedsushi
    A intro to hard liquor

    I think all the non-sweet liquors do take some getting used to. I used to hate the taste of them when I first started drinking (especially of beer) but eventually, I grew to tolerate them. I think I got used to beer by forcing myself to drink it even when I didn’t like it. Now I actually prefer the taste of some beers over others.

    Now, onto plum wine. Plum wine by itself is too sweet and thick for me, but this restaurant I went to had ‘slum wine’ which is sake + plum wine. It was perfect.

  • gav

    I have had a couple of Japanese friends quiz me on the whole “violence with alcohol” thing.  They were intrigued by the association.  Outside Japan I have been aware of a couple of people who just have an agressive response to alcohol.  I am not sure if it is the alcohol CAUSING the agression or if it just removes the controls that keep a lid on latent violent intent (don’t know which is scarier!).  I have never seen a violent drunk in Japan.  This is more than an anecdote, it is a constant observation over time.

    I have pretty much always enjoyed a wine or a beer and sometimes quite a few.  Since I came to Japan I have had to constantly monitor my intake because it is pretty obvious that it is a place where it would be easy to drink too much, too regularly.

    Nealrly all places to eat serve ice cold mugs of draft beer.  So many social activities revolve around drinking.  Pretty much the easiest way to make and keep in touch with friends here is to become a regular at a bar.  Enjoy – but watch it!

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    Ooh! Japan

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  • Jason
    mmm… Dooleys…

    I had found a local liquor shop back in Oregon (I live in Saitama right now) that had Dooleys. One of my favorite liqeurs ever. They told me it was a short run and eventually dissapeared from the shelves. If you see it, do let me know.

    Two things I’ve found about alcohol in my recent stay in japan:

    First, as I was roaming the country before starting work, I found a few instances of drunkn men, usually older, just coming up to talk to me. Generally, in the states, this would only happen if they were a lonely crazed bum and then they would exrpess their crazy ideas to you–usually leaving you feel at best creeped out. In Japan they mostly seem to just want to talk to you because you’re a foregner and want some company–and are on the whole jovial.

    Secondly, I was at a party with co-workers from the school this last weekend and noticed that almost all the men were drinking at the table and only one or two (out of about 10) women were having any. I don’t think it had much to do with the driving thing as people who were and were not drinking had carpooled alike. Not sure why.

  • maya
    egg liqueur!

    Hi Greggman.
    I must say it wasn’t hard for me to understand why you couldn’t talk yourself into buying that fried egg bottle of yellow cream. After all, it’s just a bottle of egg liqueur without any words! Well, after clicking on the link you provided, it seemed like the company’s way of marketing the premium eggliqueur without words.

    In case you haven’t tried anything with egg liqueur, you might want to do so by ordering a glass of Snowball the next time you visit a bar. Not sure if the watering holes in Japan have it but, in Singapore, it’s a cocktail which appears often enough on drinks lists. It’s a concoction of Advocaat(egg liqueur with a name) and lemonade served in brandy sniffers. I first tried it some years ago and to my surprise, it was actually quite nice – sweet and smooth. It didn’t remind me of eggs, by the way. Left the glass very oily though.

    I’m curious to know how Advocaat-filled chocolates and Advocaat torte taste as I only get to see them online. Can’t seem to find them on the shelves of supermarkets in Singapore. I suppose I’m lucky since I get my hands on Dooley’s easily from the Isetan here =b 

  • Scott

    You can still live and work in Japan, go out with your co-workers, be Mormon, and not drink. Most RMs or Mormons that go to Japan and turn away from the church get caught up in not only drinking, but the sex and promiscuity that also goes along with living in Japan and being single. It’s like a world they never knew existed and the feeling is that “I’m now free”. Good luck with that – I feel there is so much more respect for those who hold onto their beliefs instead of caving in.

  • Bernhard
    @Scott

    Not everyone who changes his or hers behaviour is “caving in”. It might just be a sound decision. Shame on you for picking on people you don’t even know!

  • ben
    acquired tastes

    I think it is fairly standard for people to prefer sweeter drinks when they first start out.  Over time I noticed my tastes have drifted away from the sweetness in drink as well as food.  It’s kind of like toothpaste: try switching from colgate to tom’s and it tastes really strange.  But once you get used to tom’s (takes a couple of days), switch back to colgate and it will taste like a mouthful of sugar. 

    Also remember that for a given amount of alcohol consumed, if you remove the sugars you will reduce both calories consumed and the resulting hangover.  Shochu with fresh squeezed grapefruit and aloe juice are very pleasant and fairly “clean’ too.

    Last, I wanted to comment on the drinking and violence.  I agree with most posts that the violence tends to happen in private.  Domestic abuse is a very real problem, especially for previous generations where divorce was extremely difficult and the nature of the codependency between husband and wife (making money vs raising kids, cooking, etc).  The prospects for a divorced woman were not very good even if they could manage to get one.  Off the cuff though, I would suspect that drinking may not have that much to do with the violent aspects.  I imagine that they would still occur if there was no drinking at all, and that they could even increase.  Japan is a very stressful place to live: the onsen, the social drinking, and the exceptional standard of living all help to diffuse some of this stress.  For some it maybe enough; others maybe not.

  • ChefSanji
    The Egg Drink

    When i look at the Egg drink it tricks my brain into making me smell a donut shop Freshly making creamy donuts.  Odd but hey smells good :D

  • http://Myspace.com/BrenanHrometz BrenanH
    Midori~!

    Hello , well i drink alot and have no problem with taste but something sweet you might like if not tried before , is Midori , which is a drink by suntory . If u like apples , honeydew melon , i think u would enjoy it . Also i would like to say that i have been reading your website the past couple of years and have enjoyed it , u made me commit to learning more and have a dream of doing something great ,i hope that some day i get to teach in japan and see all that you have seen and much more . Brenan age 21 ~