been working in Japan for over a year and had gained a reputation as a bit
of a drinker. After growing up in New Zealand where leglessness was next to
godliness it was comparatively easy to reduce your Japanese companions to
meek shuffling inebriated shells while you yourself felt the night just beginning.
I would often feign sleepiness and we would all go back to our hotel rooms
before I snuck out and went back to the bar.
To drink alone in Japan implies that you are shunned by your peers, a social leper, a blight on the rosy collective harmonic Japan sells itself and others.
I don’t know, I just like drinking by myself in bars.
Sometimes the bar manager would see me return and quietly get on the phone and ring the rooms of my Japanese workmates. Sound techs and roadys and drivers would dutifully haul themselves out of bed to rejoin me. Sad tired newly woken drunks would descend on me to somehow make my life all that much more worthwhile.
I was working for Mitsubishi, being farmed out across the country at a different city each weekend, performing my stilt dance piece at -lets not quibble-car sales yards.
They would have activities for the kids and slot car racing for the adults with prizes and free nibbles and performances at set times.
Now one of these places I was told was staffed by members of the Mitsubishi Rugby team, corporate rugby being big in Japan incorporating as it does, sacrifice of the individual and an astounding pain threshold.
I turned up , did my first of two days worth of performances and noticed, these chaps did seem a little larger than the ordinary chain smoking salaryman and yes there were prominent cauliflower ears associated with
tight forwards,and their faces,while not lacking the usual features, still resembled some blunt object used to beat others into submission. There were admiring rumbles, voiced for I thought my benefit, containing effusive praise for the kiwi all blacks who had put a third of their national team in intensive care in a game a month previously.
I suspected nothing as they invited me to a bar after work that night, I had no foreknowledge whatsoever that I was walking into an ambush at the Kita- kushu corral.
As I say I was a serious drinker so after work I went back to my hotel to prepare. Before a night of serious drinking it is always best to prime your body so to best cope with the strength of poison you will shortly be
subjecting it to in the name of a social life. I began by ingesting a good quantity of milk to coat the stomach lining then focused on carbohydrates to inhibit the speed at which the initial wave of alcohol is absorbed.
Its pointless in the long term but cosmetically it can give you the edge as its only the initial stages of competitive drinking that are remembered by most. Remaining unaffected by the first salvo is what unsettles your opposition and is the fickle foundations on which legends are made.
I was picked up at my hotel by a van and driven to a bar owned in part by one of the workers at Mitsubishi, I was assured that the same van would be available to drive me home. I thought little of that at the time.
The bar had what a great many Japanese interiors shared which was a sense that for all the rustic charm they tried to evoke they may well have been put up the week before, deep oak charm that still smelt of the veneer glue and mementos dulled by chemicals not time.
There were about five Mitsubishi employees there when I arrived and one of them was behind the bar and I found out further that he actually owned it and just worked for Mitsubishi to get on the rugby team.
We started off politically enough with a NZ beer they had behind the bar to break the ice and lull me into a false sense of security.
The barman asked me what the strongest alcohol I had experienced had been and I launched into a description of the Icelandic home brew white spirit which smells like aviation fuel ,tastes like impending doom, and kicks like a Clydesdale trapped in a burning barn.
He nodded sagely and asked whether I had ever heard of Sho-choo.
He explained that Sho-choo was originally a Korean rice Vodka that had been bought to Japan a few hundred years ago and was the strongest drink available and asked whether I might wish to try some, I said I would look forward to it. He produced a bottle of clear liquid and poured himself a measure and poured everyone but me a measure and topped the glasses up with orange juice.
He gave me a sniff of the bottle and sure enough it had that massively distilled airplane fuel whiff to it. He then poured me out two glasses and into one he topped off with orange and into the other pineapple, he explained that he didn’t know my tastes so would give me the opportunity to choose my favorite flavor. So I had two drinks of unknown strength to my opponents one, Once mixed a drink of this purity disguises itself totally in its host so that what I tasted before me was no more than a glass of orange and a glass of pineapple. I knew better however so I watched and took it slowly but still by the time the others had finished their first glasses I was just finishing my second and maintaining a preference for the orange mix, I felt as yet unaffected.
And so it went, me on my third drink and they on their second.
What they had not told me was that Sho-Choo is famous for sneaking up on people and that many had been taken to hospital with under three drinks in them to be pumped out and otherwise treated for alcohol poisoning.
I finished my third drink with the slightest warm familiar glow of impending intoxication as my companions were two thirds through their second.
I had no idea how strong the drinks I were given were as I could not taste how strong they might be and I never did get to actually see them being poured but it was two sips into the fourth that I knew I was in serious trouble, everything went into slow motion, neanderthal memories of being far too far out on the prairie by yourself resurfaced and the homing instinct that had saved me on many occasions kicked in, sadly far too late at this stage.
Within about two minutes I went from someone fairly much in control of his position in society to someone whose main function was to stay conscious, stay upright and get to a bed.
They obliged grinning as I staggered to the van and slumped inside, my head against the window, sweat breaking out as I struggled to remain conscious until I got to the room of my hotel. They let me off outside and watched as I ploughed through the lobby.
I made the elevator, I somehow put key to lock and that was it, lights out.
I woke the next morning and all was well for about the first 5 seconds or so until I was struck by an overpowering nausea,(not that unusual in itself).
I made it to the bathroom where the bilious contents of my stomach exploded into the commode.
Shortly afterwards I experienced a strange buildup of pressure from an orifice situated at the other end of my body mass and so spent the next hour vomiting various fluids from either end of my body. I hovered above the toilet spinning like a top. (Or like that funny revolving thing dogs do before they settle)
Finally, having expelled all available fluids it was time to go to work, I called a taxi after ringing the venue to let them know I was coming in and
not in my usual ruddy good health.
The taxi ride was an exercise in sphincter management, Japanese taxis are particularly pristine, their drivers even wear white cotton gloves, they obviously take pride in their upholstery. I made gargantuan efforts to leave my lower bowel in its garage and my gullet in its upstairs apartment.
All the taxi driver saw was a pale, seemingly preoccupied westerner who was sweating in spite of frigid air conditioning.
He was not to know that inside said westerner a mighty battle raged.
It was with a certain measure of pride and a rare psychotic relief that I eventually staggered from the taxi 15 minutes later and bolted past a bemused line of rugby playing car salesmen to converse once more with my porcelain mistress.
They were not to know but my revenge that day would be total, devastating and beyond any of their capacities to imagine.
After an initial evacuation that left me once again devoid of anything internal except my various organs and a poisoned blood stream circulating amongst them I returned to the staff room to lie prone on a large leather couch.
I explained that after being left at the hotel the night before I had ventured out and eaten a bowl of noodles at a street stall nearby. My delicate western constitution had obviously succumbed to some sort of bug contained in the meal and the sad pitiful sack they saw before them was a result of a foolish hungry impulse.
They took my cover story in a spirit of fake concern and barely masked triumph and left me to rest allowing me to cancel my first couple of performances and advised that they would see how I felt later on about doing the final show which had been promoted quite heavily and was three or four hours distant. They then filed victorious from the staff room to mingle with their clients, leaving me to my own somewhat restricted devices.
I experimented with my condition, finding for example that if I lay very still, very little happened. I also discovered that anything ingested, be it water, milk or a biscuit, would be ejected by my body through one or more outlets about five minutes later.
With this knowledge I settled for neither moving or ingesting anything.
From time to time I would be checked on to see if I were suffering sufficiently.As the day progressed the initial cosmetic sympathy slowly evolved through disdain to authentic yet understated anger at my inability to dance on stilts as was my function. Anger is not an explicit emotion in the Japanese vocabulary, instead I was treated to a brooding escalating frustration mixed with a sort of parental disgust as the day progressed.
Finally pressure was bought to bear on my personal assistant who had remained diplomatically scarce most of the day to convince me to honor the terms of my employment and to perform in front of the tiered seating at the appointed time.
Initially I point blank refused, no amount of trying to invoke sympathy for the organizers would work, no measure of guilt and implied irresponsibility could penetrate my poisoned pallor, still the pressure mounted, my personal assistant at last played his trump, “look at the position you’ve put me in’ he pleaded, ‘please be brave and just try, just try your best-thats all I ask.’
I had had enough, I agreed that I would do my best and unpeeled myself from the couch.
My performance was a four minute dance piece on stilts, My character was a white faced clown wearing a flying helmet and the dance consisted of different styles of music with associated dance styles, starting with ballet (Mozart) moving on through light pop, heavy rock, back to ballet and finishing with Fred Astair with big band accompinyment singing “Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week”
It was a high skill level, high energy movement piece and I was in no mood for it.
I had applied my make-up, donned my stilts and had 5 minutes or so to go before I went on when I asked my assistant to kindly please fetch me a large orange juice. He returned with a liter carton which I immediately consumed, then waited.
Shortly afterwards a little porcelain doll of a Japanese MC got on the microphone and in squeaky awed tones began introducing this superb performer all the way from New Zealand performing his fabulous comic stilt dance piece so please make him feel welcome and put your hands together for etc.
The polite applause began, I stood up backstage and waited for my music cue.
The Mozart began and the choreography called for me to take a great many short steps sideways, giving the impression of gliding gracefully into the middle of the stage my arms undulating in a well recognized balletic cliche.
Thus I made my way to center stage to increasing applause.
Then the almost unexpected happened.
I froze momentarily, then from my panto-white face issued approx 1 liter of recently ingested, truly reconstituted orange juice in a bright orange fan splaying out over and onto the heads of my seated and up till then, applauding audience.I had a brief glimpse of stunned, speckled, naked revulsion before squeezing shut my eyes to escape the image.
After projectile vomiting the entire contents of my stomach in one strenuous gut clenching effort I doubled over, still standing, as I was wracked by a further exhausting series of dry retching.
Focused as I was on keeping my balance as I tottered round a strange country making strange noises I peripherally noticed an eerie hush had descended. A complete silence, a peculiar shocked absence of sound.
My assistant, bless him, was the first to move, coming forward to take my hand and lead me, blind as I was through my tears of heaving exertion, away, away from that strange silent scene I had produced, round a corner to where there was a wall I could lean on while my spasms continued.
After discarding my costume and make-up I was led back to my couch of comfort as outside my mess both physical and psychological was cleaned up as best could be by others. I no longer cared, if in fact I ever had. My assistant was sympathetic and bravely shouldered much of the shame that I’m sure blanketed the event and my conduct.
No-one else said a word to me, no-one was prepared to even meet my eye, I became a non person which quite suited me and it wasn’t long before the sound system was packed up and we were on our way to the airport.
I was given the whole back row to lie down in on our short trip back to Tokyo.
Some part of me marvelled at what I had done, at the sheer disfunctional enormity and I can remember thinking,
“Serves you all right. Take me on and you’ll end up with more than egg on your face.”
I had recovered fully by the next morning and word never got back to the Tokyo office regarding that unique piece of theatre.