Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hoppy-Japanese Beer Flavored Beer?

Hoppy. What the hell is Hoppy? Is hoppy beer? Is hoppy a beer alternative? Is Hoppy really beer flavored beer? The answer would be a little bit of all the above.

Hoppy is a beer that is not a beer. If that makes any sense. Introduced in 1948 in Japan by the Kokuka Beverage Company as a beer alternative. At the time when was first released the common person in Japan could not afford to buy beer.

Hoppy is a combination of two beverages. The hoppy itself is mixed with shochu(Japanese distilled alcoholic beverage) to create a mild and refreshing beer like drink. It looks like beer but the taste is totally different. It lacks the bit of actual beer. If a person wants to have more of that bite that only beer can offer Hoppy comes on a black version providing a more bitter flavor.

Shochu has been around in Japan for about as long as there has been a Japan. It is made everywhere in Japan but Kyushu is the center of production. It is 25 percent alcohol which makes it slightly stronger than sake. When mixed with hoppy it becomes much weaker; although many bars but more shochu than hoppy to make the drink stronger.

So how does it REALLY taste?

I have tried hoppy and it really tasted like bland water. I could not even tell that there was any alcohol in it at all. I drank four of the hoppy/shochu mix and did not feel anything. I was tuned off by it but I would not ordered it if I wanted to get really drunk. It was almost like drinking stale tea.

Hoppy is not extremely popular anymore but many people still drink it in Tokyo. There days you are much more likely to see Japanese going for a Budweiser before choosing hoppy. Although due to the hardcore work schedule that many people in Tokyo have Hoppy is a nice drink to have when you cannot get hammered because work starts early the next morning.

Monday, June 9, 2008

From Wave Street to Nameless Street

It all started with a simple invite, `meet me in Shibuya to have drinks with some friends.` An invite to have some drinks sound harmless enough, but as I have learned over and over again in Tokyo that no invite is harmless and no night of drinking is boring.

My nameless friend, who is no longer nameless, Achio invited me and my main squeeze Makiko to meet up with him in Shibuya for drinks with a few friends of his. The original plan was to have a house party at Achio`s place but those plans did not work out; I don`t know why and I decided it best not to ask why. None the less Achio wanted to hang and considering my past experiences hanging with him I knew the night would be interesting. All week long he sent e-mail via cell phone to my girl giving updates on the plans and directions on where to meet. In total I think he ended up sending ten e-mails. He proved beyond any doubt that he likes to keep his peeps up to date on his plans for them.

When this past Saturday finally rolled around Makiko was very excited about meeting new people. She has plenty of friends but oddly enough they do not make plans to hang out very often. The chance to go out and meet new people was a joyful idea in her mind. Although, she did express her nervousness to me several times. She spent around two hours getting ready to go out. She usually only needs around 45 minutes to doll herself up. I wrote off her extra care in attending to herself to the fact she wanted to look her best for people she is meeting for the first time. Most guys would grow sick of waiting around for a gal to get ready but it did not brother me much because she ended up looking stunning. It is always cool to have a great looking gal on your arm.

After Makiko was finally all dolled up and ready to go we left our apartment in Adachi-Ku to venture into central Tokyo. There are two ways to get to central Tokyo from Aoi. You can get on Tsukuba Express and go to Kita-Senju. From Kita-Senju you get on the subway and travel all the way to central and get off at one of the main districts. The other, and much more simple, way is to get on Tsukuba Express and ride it all the way to Akiba. From Akiba you get on the central JR line which stops at all the districts on central Tokyo. Wanting to keep things simple we decided to ride Tsukuba into Akiba and then get on the central JR line to Shibuya. Tsukuba Express was dead. Almost no one on the train. The central JR line was a different matter all together. Saturday is a big night out for most people in Tokyo. The JR line was packed with people all looking for some cheap thrills. I felt the usual sensation of feeling like a can of sardines about to burst open on the JR line.

When we arrived in Shibuya the place was already teaming with people. Shibuya usually turns into chaos on a Saturday night. There was so many people that there is no point to look at anyones face. All the people seem to blend into a mass of crazed humanity. At times it feels like some strange acid trip from hell. All the noise and people mix into a haze of maddness that only Tokyo can create. We fight our way though the crowd and make it to a side street known as Wave Street. Wave street is actually one of the places in Shibuya that pleases a person like myself. While the hordes of masses flock to the three main streets which spring out from Shibuya station, Wave street offers a nice diversion from the madness. I first came to know Wave Street when my friend since college, Fumika, invited Makiko and I to meet her at a bar known as the Hobglobbin. Wave street has plenty of bars and restaurants which cater to people looking for a good time without all the madness which goes along with a night in Shibuya. As luck would have it the place Achio choose to meet up at was in the same building as the Hobglobbin.

We went up to the seventh floor using a small elevator. I long ago lost confidence in the elevators in Tokyo after the incident with the elevator closing too fast killing some kid on a bike over two years ago. I try my best to avoid using elevators in Tokyo when I can. In this situation I did not have much choice. When we made it to the seventh floor we were greeted by a bright faced gal all too happy to inform us that we must take off our shoes. The only reason this brothered me was because I was wearing a pair of white leather shoes which were hard to get on and off. No one likes to wait around on the one person who cannot get their damn shoes on and off quickly. I managed to get my white leather shoes off faster than normal due to not wanting to look like a total fool. The bright face gal took my shoes, put them in a shoe locker and handed me a wooden card with a number on it. Only in Japan have I been given a wooden card as a key for a shoe locker. Although I call Tokyo my home the oddness of it all still gives me a little culture shock sometimes.

We were taken to the area in which Achio was seated. I like the seating style the place was using. There are tables for group seating, which is always a plus. You sit on little cushions which are surprising comfortable. Sitting low to the floor is common in Japan although in America it is often not enjoyed by most people. I remember when I picked up the habit of setting on the floor in college from the many Japanese students I was friends with. They loved the idea of bring able to come to my place and being able to sit in the floor and be comfortable but when my American friends came over they hated having to sit on the floor; and having to take their shoes off. Anyway, Achio was more than happy see us. A few of his friends had already shown up. They had drank a few drinks but put off ordering any food until I had arrived. We ordered some food; including my favorite Japanese dumplings. Also, it was Achio who suggested that I try something called hoppy.

I had never heard of Hoppy, but everyone seem to enjoy it. What is Hoppy? Well, apparently it is a mild beer alternative. The stuff comes in two parts, a bottle of Hoppy and a mug of something called shochu. The Hoppy itself has non-alcoholic, yet when mixed with the shochu is can have a five percent alcoholic content. It was actually not too bad. It had a mild bitter taste but still very smooth compared to normal beer. It is also very cheap. We were ordering it for 400 yen(4.00USD) a bottle when normal mug of beer can cost between 500-1,000 yen(5.00-10.00USD). To our credit we did not stick to just the hoppy. There was also a few rounds of sake thrown in the mix. By the time it became time to move on into the more deeper parts of Tokyo the table was full of happy and some what drunk people.

A table full of fun loving drunks!

After leaving the drinking restaurant it was decided a quick stop at an oyaji bar was in order. Along the way another friend of Achio joined us. She was a crazy fun loving working girl. I did not get her name but she had just gotten off work, as evidence by her freshmen all black dress, and her genki(energy) was very high. Like the rest of us she was a punk. She had a anything goes attitude and enough bite on her personality to scare away most Japanese business men, but she fit right in with us. You might be asking yourself what the hell is a oyaji bar? An oyaji bar is a drinking bar for old men and usually run by old men. They are small little places for old men go to unwind. The old men working the place really did not want us there and they tried, and failed, to turn us away. There was about ten of us at that point all half drunk, loud, and full of piss and fire. We also had money to burn so the guys at the Oyaji bar let sit down with the understanding that we would behave ourselves. We sat and ate for a little while. The great thing about an Oyaji bar is they always have the best chicken on a stick. You can get almost any part of the chicken served up tasty and on a stick for your eating pleasure. As we eat and chat and old men running the place just kind of stare at us with watchful eyes. We were a motely bunch for sure and one hell of a sight for a bunch of old guys running a little bar.

After the oyaji bar looses it charm it is time to head out into the deeper reaches of Tokyo for some after hours fun. Several of the people decide to catch the last train home; including Makiko. Her stomach was feeling a little funny which is code for `I just want to go home but I do not want to offend anybody.` I say a few kind words to her give her a kiss and off she goes back to our apartment in Adachi-ku. At this point there are only three of us left Achio, a guy wearing a Tibet t-shit, and me. I have no idea where we were going but I was sure it was going to be interesting. Achio says `come with me` and off we go. We get on the subway off to god knows where. On the Subway train there was this cute gal laughing at me goofing off a little bit in a very passive manner. She got a cheap laugh and I got a little meaningless attention.

We arrived at a section of Tokyo I do not know; which happens often to me seeing that Tokyo is a very big place. The area has that run down underground feel to it which leans perfectly to my personality. The area was much like Aoi (the section of Adachi-ku in which I live). Lots of after hours bars, small dance halls, and live houses lined the streets. I felt very comfortable in our surroundings. About half way down the street of Achio`s choosing we meet up with Mini and her friend Nobu. I met Mini once before. She hung out with Achio and I during an all night drinking binge recently. She is from North Korea of all places. Mini is tough yet a very nice person. Her friend Nobu is a very open and friendly fun loving gal. Nobu took up with me very quickly which I had no problem with at all.

For some reason Achio got it in his head that he wanted to go to a near by super market to get a cheap little bottle of wine to freshen up his buzz. We all follow him to the local super market and wait outside. Achio went inside while Mini, Nobu and I wait outside and smoke some cigs. Mini and I got into a conversation about Free Masons while Nobu hugged on me like I was a new play thing. About 15 minutes go by and we noticed that the super market had closed and Achio was still inside. We look inside and see him and some kid who works at the super market struggling trying to open the wine bottle. Achio motions for us to come inside to help. Once inside I quickly realized their problem. They had been trying to open the bottle with a cork screw and somehow manage to break off the cork midway out of the bottle. Nobu sees what has happened and laughs while Mini just rolls her eyes. I take the cork screw and try to pull the cork out for bottle but only end up making the situation worse. Finally, I suggest that Achio just exchange the bottle for one that has a cap instead of a cork. The the manager agrees and Achio finally gets his bottle of wine. Achio drinks the entire bottle of wine in about two or three drinks. I was surprised at how fast this man can drink when he wants is in a hurry. It was actually kind of funny to see him drink the whole damn bottle so fast. The reason for this hast was that he wanted us to get into the a after hours bar called Dune.

This place called Dune was very different from most bars in Tokyo. It is referred to as a Japanese soul bar. It the kind of place that Gaijin are rarely seen. Nobu puts her arm around me and urges me up the stairs into the bar. As a walk into the place I noticed very quickly that the place carried with it a very underground environment. There was a DJ spinning at the front entrance. He was into this work and seem not to care what was going on around him. There was a few girls dancing around his little work area, but he did not pay any attention to them. Nobu takes me to the bar and I order a beer. The girl at the bar had a very relaxed attitude and did not seem to care what was going on around her. Nobu hung onto to me for a while and finally wondered off to talk to a friend. Finding myself left to my own devices I decided to go and set down at the couch located behind the DJ area.

Several people were setting down on and around the couch. Some of them drunk, a few high, and others(mostly girls) setting around looking for something or someone. Before long Achio came to sit with me. He starts pointing out all the girls and attempting to tell me what kind of personality each one of them had. I knew that most of the girls did not give a shit about anything but themselves. I could look into their eyes and tell almost none of them could not be trusted. For the most part most of them only cared about staring at the DJ, getting drunk, and trying to score some free drugs from one of the guys. The kind of girls who are nothing but trouble. Despite this fact, Achio still tried to point out the different girls to me. He introduced one of the girls to me. She was sitting on front of me and had a kind of `fuck you` expression on her face. I made no effort to try and remember her name. I did try to at least talk to her but she I could tell that she was waiting for some preplanned action to go down soon and had no interest in talking to anyone. Good for me because I was not there to meet girls. Achio and I drank for a while. He likes to talk to me but his English is not good at all. His limited English skills does not stop him from making conversation with me.

Nobu shows up again, sits down on my lap, puts her arms around me, and forces a shot of Jack Daniels on me. After making me drink the Jack she demands that I get up and hang out with her. We end up standing and in a very sloppy manner dance to the music. It was not really dancing so much as it was grooving to the music. She puts herself in my arms and relaxes against me. Nobu is a very open girl by Japanese standards. In a place like Dune the girls are nothing like what is normal Japanese girl`s attitude. The kind of people who go to places like Dune are people with very strong independent personalities who don`t fit in with the rest of the people in Tokyo.

After enjoying the attention that Nobu seemed to love giving me Achio tells me that he wants to go outside for a little bit and get smoke a cig. Nobu follows us outside. While we where outside I see the girl that Achio had introduced me to walk by with several guys. This group walks quickly past without looking at anyone and acting like they are coolest people in the whole world. I know this attitude very well. They just did some drugs. If you have never been around people who think that because they have drugs they are somehow cooler than everybody else then you know how they assholes. I just write them off and an glad I did not get involved with them. Those kind of people are nothing but trouble. Doing some drugs now and again is ok but to act as if you are cool shit just because you do drugs turns people into assholes who will make trouble for you.

Finally at six in the morning it became time to leave Dune. Achio, Mini, Nobu and I left to eat at a noodle house. I usually do not like Japanese noodles but this time was different. I don`t know if was the fact that I was a little drunk or just very hungry but I ate the entire bowl like a starved rat.

After eating it was time to drink a little more. At this point it was 6:30 am and these people still wanted to drink. Well, as usual I just go with the flow. We go into a convenience store and buy some cans of beer; the big cans of course. Instead of finding a decent place to sit down and drink we simply across the street and sit down at a very small parking lot and start drinking. Achio takes a seat on a concrete parking marker while Mini sits on the ground. I lay back and Nobu lay besides me. For some reason she just wanted to be near me all the time and I just met her. I did not mind although I did find it odd. It made the night more enjoyable all the same. The three of us talked while finishing off the beer. After the beer was gone we headed over the to subway to go home. Nobu has a different train from the rest of us so I said good by to her and she left; she gave me her number but I don`t know if I will call her. On the train Achio, Mini and I ended up sleeping on each other. I guess we had finally got tired. Overall, the night was fun but odd at times. Just another night in Tokyo in the books!

The night took me and then left me for dead!