The night started with the distribution of Santa hats and a run down of the basic rules for the night.
There were 6 of us huddled round the greasy wooden table in the Fushimi Hub, and it was with a little trepidation that I whipped out the A3 sheet of handwritten guidelines, which included a run down of the 9 watering holes we were planning to hit, a little on gentlemanly behavior, a coupon redeemable for one free hug with Evan, the cutest of the attendees (and boy did those coupons get some mileage!) as well as an odd little game called “Oh My God I’m going to Barf Bingo” which had a blank bingo sheet, that needed to be filled in by a fellow drinker with 9 different drinks, one of which we deemed could be alcohol free (unfortunately mine was a pint of soda water that was a bitch to down!). The catch was that one Santa could choose the 9 drinks for the person on their right, and their cruelty and kindness was the only deciding factor into how terrible your hangover was likely to be the next morning.
The Hub being one of the cheapest chains in Japan and us being in the midst of happy hour, we all ticked three or four drinks off our list (a gin and tonic, White Russian and half Guinness for me) and we left a little on the wrong side of tipsy. As we were leaving, another friend joined the fray, a fellow Essex boy, who’s a good 2 inches taller than me and as many stone lighter.
Stop number two was the awesome Critical Hit, a small bar laden with retro computer games and televisions. We had a bash at Goldeneye whilst supping the bar-keep’s homemade Lemoncello. We stayed for a beer we didn’t need as nobody really fancied moving on, so although we had gotten off to a fun start, the moronic box-ticker in me was itching to set off again, so I dragged the begrudging gang away before they could start a game of Mario Party.
We stopped at the convenience store for a cheeky street drink and some much needed snacks, then headed off into the cold night for our longest scheduled walk on our list. We were aiming for Oxo, a Nagoya brand of British pubs with plastic chandeliers and cheap stained glass windows. We couldn’t believe our luck on finding out that foreigners get their first drink half price…so we bought one huge pitcher of beers each and settled in. A New Zealander joined us at this point, my senpai here in Japan, he’d been out drinking with workmates since the late afternoon, but it’s fair to say we had him licked! He didn’t waste any time catching up and by the end of the hour and the bottom of our glasses, we stumbled outside, our steaming breath hanging in the cold night air, but our beer jackets were nice and snug at this point so we set on our way.
Our next two stops were both rammed packed and refused us entry, the next had shut up shop and moved to a place that we couldn’t place, as the 8 of us each had a phone in our hand, swearing that our way was the right way…in our confusion someone spotted the bright lights of a 7-11 and we all bundled inside for rice balls and a much needed pee break. With empty bladders and full bellies we felt revitalised and ready for more action…unfortunately yet another bar was too busy to let in a gang of drunken Santas, so they too turned us away, the last stop on the list, an Irish bar with overpriced but perfectly poured Guinness, was closed for a private function. Of the 9 pubs mapped out, we had gotten a drink in 3, not a great ratio by anyone’s standards. The group looked at me with wanting (and slightly wonky) eyes, where were we to go?!
It was at this point we were down a Canadian who was sprinting for a last train home, and we decided upon a Japanese Izakaya, with a cheap menu and a crazy all-you-can-drink deal (980 yen for an hour). The walls are stacked with different Shochu, some laced with fruits or floral flavorings, others made from brown sugar, sweet potato and even shiso (the green leaf that comes with sashimi). With prices that cheap, it is obviously a popular spot, so whilst waiting for our table to be hosed down, I rummaged into my back-pack for the secret Santa (not much of a secret as I bought all of the gifts). The presents ranged from British tea bags to playdough, paperback books to DVDs, all seemed happy with their new toys, and before we knew it, we were being called to our dank little corner table, wedged between a noisy wedding party and a smelly toilet.
We chowed down on your typical drunken snacks, edamame, grilled fish, pork dumplings, fried everything and a seemingly endless bowl of chips (or fries). We outdid the neighbouring party when it came to decibels, and the aforementioned playdough was lovingly crafted into a scarily lifelike phallus that was regally presented to the merry groom.
Our group slowly thinned out as last trains beckoned, and the hardcore amongst us stayed until 1am to get our money’s worth out of the free drinks. As we stumbled outside and hugged one last time for a photo, I thanked everyone for being such good sports…sure 3 pubs and a restaurant may not technically constitute a pub-crawl, but we’d gotten through the night with nothing but smiles, sans broken bones or property damage, so a success by anybody’s standards.