Among the teachers at my schools, I had a bit of a ‘reputation’ for being some kind of professional drinker. And, to be honest, if that was a real job and my body suffered no ill effects from it, I would be the CEO of Alcohol. So I’m not saying that my reputation wasn’t deserved, just that I was not nearly as bad as my co-workers seemed to think.
I guess I should start by explaining that Japan is very much a drinking culture. So many things center around or exist because of alcohol there. I can safely say I drank more in my first year in Japan than I ever did in my entire life in America. Which isn’t saying a lot, to be fair. I didn’t touch alcohol until I went to college, and not until sophomore year. Junior year I moved off campus with some friends, and learned that being an “adult” meant I should probably pay those pesky bills, rent and possibly even buy food. If we had leftover money for alcohol, we would certainly buy it, but only the cheap stuff, and a lot of it(I didn’t learn that alcohol could actually taste GOOD until much later).
I also really wasn’t much of a partier back then. However, looking back at all the parties I was dragged to, I really don’t blame myself. The fact that parties don’t always have to involve stoned hippies, drugs, someone being taken to the hospital or the police showing up was also something I didn’t learn until much later.
Anyway, I guess the point I’m getting at is that I wasn’t much of a drinker before I came to Japan. Even then, unless there was an enkai, I would go months without drinking. Mostly because of my friends lived hours away and I hate drinking alone. However, I knew that if I had friends living closer, I’d probably go out drinking more often. Which turned out to be 100% true.
After my first two years in Japan, I had been to enkais with my BOE enough times to know what I was doing. However, I felt like I was kind of missing out on something. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people at the BOE or that I didn’t have fun when I was out with them, there was just…a bit of a generation gap. They always wanted to go to snack bars for nijikai, or go home to their husbands/wives and children. I found myself wanted to hang out with a slightly younger crowd. As it turned out, many of the teachers at the schools I taught at were around my age. I would hear tales from other ALTs of the enkais they went on with their schools, and I found it a little upsetting that, after working there for two years, I had never once been invited to join their enkais.
I decided to change this.
Sports Day was coming up, which meant the teachers would go out for drinks afterwards. Kind of a little celebratory pat-on-the-back for making the students run a lot. I resolved that I was going to be invited to this party, one way or another.
Realizing my former tactic of sitting at my desk and looking hopeful wasn’t working, I opted to try leaving very subtle and clever hints. Japanese people love subtlety!
Thankfully, it worked. Which is a good thing, considering my next tactic was crying and screaming, then kicking and punching, and then, finally, stalking.
High off my success, I met the other teachers at a local Kirin beer hall, and this is where my troubles began. The night started out pretty normal. The teachers drew cards to see what table they would be sitting at. I ended up sitting next to the tall Japanese teacher, the short, chubby and adorable home-ec teacher and one of the gym teachers. We ate yakiniku, drank beer, and gave speeches. Teachers who had never spoken to me before were suddenly very interested in me. Good times were certainly being had.
Afterwards we left for karaoke. It is here things start to get a little fuzzy. At this point I hadn’t drunk any more than I usually do. I felt fine. Maybe a little buzzed. But apparently the planets aligned, and the gods decided that any and all alcohol tolerance I had was going to completely and utterly disappear.
I remember feeling buzzed and singing Aerosmith and anything after that is a blank. I have never blacked out before and I have not done it since. I’m not sure what happened, but the next thing I knew I woke up at 2 PM in my bed, with only my bra on and my contact lenses still in. I got up to discover my clothes had literally been thrown around my apartment. My pants were on the TV. My shirt was in the sink. My underwear was on the bookcase. My socks were in the shower. Needless to say, I was a little confused.
I could vaguely remember leaving the karaoke building and going to another bar, but anything after that was erased from my memory. I decided not to worry about it too much. I seemed to be OK, nothing was missing nor was there anything new, including a hangover. Bizarrely enough, I felt completely OK. A little tired, but otherwise fine. And, since that night, I rarely ever get hangovers.
It’s the weirdest damn thing.
When I went into work the next day I was greeted with two kinds of responses. Some of the teachers seemed genuinely worried about me and wanted to know if I was OK. Others told me that that was the best enkai they had ever been to, and I was totally invited to the next one. I couldn’t decide which response was worse. Either way, all the teachers just seemed relieved to see I was still alive.
Eventually I finally got the courage to ask one of my JTEs for the details. Unfortunately I decided to ask the one JTE that had been about as drunk as me(the other two English teachers left after the beer hall), and he didn’t remember much, either. He told me not to worry about it, that I hadn’t done anything horrible or illegal, and that he couldn’t wait for next time. Awesome. I did learn that tequila shots were involved at one point, which might have explained a few things. I decided that, in this case, ignorance was probably bliss.
There was one thing that was bothering me, though. How had I got home, I ask him. They didn’t know where I lived, and chances were I had been drunk to tell them. He just shrugged, said they pushed me into a cab and hoped for the best. “I’m so happy to see you made it back!”
Yeah. Me, too.
After that, my reputation as a party animal was firmly in place. I was invited to almost every enkai the schools had, and any time the night didn’t end up being too awesome for me to remember, the teachers were convinced I was simply holding back. Because everything I did or said in comparison was straight up boring.