Little House In Ise

差しつ差されつ – Sashitsu Sasaretsu
November 29, 2007, 10:22
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Yakuza drinking custom or hepatitis vector? I’ll report, you decide. Grrr!!! Just typing that evil tagline makes my gorge rise. Either that or I just had a gentle reminder of a forgotten fact: hanging out with Japanese men tends to include drinking to ridiculous excess.

Last weekend was the long scheduled Mieken Aikidokai road trip up north to the Awara onsen (温泉 — hotspring) in Fukui. We boarded the Powertard enabled charter bus at 7:25 am and drinking began promptly at 7:30. Including rest stops (lots of bathroom breaks for beer drinkers), lunch (a nice soba set) and the obligatory visits to every omiyage-ya-san (おみやげやさん == tourist trap) in Fukui prefecture, the trip lasted about nine hours. In other words, there was sufficient time for several severely embarrassing incidents and time for even relative innocents to become blasted out of our (again, relatively) innocent skulls.

Someone had chosen quantity over quality and so several cases of a foul beer-like-product called happoshu (はっぽしゅ) were brought along. I am a beer fan with a taste for what I consider the better Japanese macro-brews — Kirin’s Yebisu and Ichiban Shibori. Happoshu, however, is reminiscent of generic label 3.2 beer (used by some US states to punish people between the ages of 18 and 21 — contains 3.2% alcohol) and has a horrible beer-burp-like finish. This stuff was apparently created to get past Japanese alcohol related tax laws by not being beer-like enough to be taxed as beer. This effort was wildly successful…

So, with a bellyful, we arrived at the resort and promptly began hot-tubing. The water in the indoor tub was very hot (42ish). That said, it was a typical onsen with an outdoor boulder field forming a pool and individual tubs under a small thatched roof. The light sulfur vapors were atmospheric rather than miasmic and the light salt of the water left a nice feeling.

The main meal was set out enkai (宴会) style in a 56 mat room. Mini tables were laid out to form a “U” with the open mouth facing a stage and karaoke machine. Even with the threat of karaoke hanging over my head, the meal was excellent.

The theme of the main meal was “Crab vs. Blowfish”. Though the fugu was excellent, the crab won a solid victory with two out of three falls. Whole crab, crab sashimi, ami-yaki-crab, and crab cooked into rice (awesome stuff) went up against fugu sashimi, deep-fried karaage fugu and fugu soup. The sweet meat of the crab leg sashimi was my favorite but the homey flavor of the taki kome gohan (the crab and rice dish) was a close second.

Enkai Dinner at Awara Onsen

Drinking was also an important part of all this. Ume-shu was set as aperitif, hot sake and beer bottles were liberally lined up beside each table. One very nice element was the rowdy nature of the crowd. Nobody waited for the kampai — they just started to dig in. As usual, we poured each-others’ drinks and, after eating enough, people began to mingle. This meant plopping down in front of someone else’s table, pouring them a drink and having them pour for you in turn.

This is where it gets yakuza. Actually, I have no idea of the origin of the custom but all the old men knew about and one insisted it was common among the tattooed class. None of the women were aware of it. At any rate, Sashitsu Sasaretsu is about bonding by sharing a cup. One side pours, the other side drinks the cup to the bottom and dumps out the dregs (often into their own palm). The drinker then refills the cup for their friend who drains it in turn. In a group, the cup is passed around until the first pourer is the last to drink. There are customs surrounding how to hold the cup and how to pour. There are ways of doing both that are considered “correct” while other ways are considered insulting. Given that, I can understand how a whole episode of Japanese Sopranos might turn on the angle of a beer bottle.


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