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Japan Gives the Worst Head

In Japanese Food, Japanese Manners, Rants, Travel in Japan on June 10, 2010 at 11:37 am

Living in a foreign country means you’ll always come across things that are done differently.  But generally speaking, any place you go on Earth an ice cold beer is always an ice cold beer.

I haven’t written in depth about Japanese beer before — because, while I am definitely a beer lover, I’m by no means an expert.  But Japan has some great beers!  All the Japanese brands of real beer are very delicious, smooth and drinkable.  And Japanese bartenders pride themselves on pouring a proper pint of Guinness too!  Most restaurants that serve Guinness actually have notices posted somewhere near the bar to show that the bartenders are certified to pour Guinness properly.  They even put a shamrock design into the head.

japanese guinness beer

a “perfect pint” complete with shamrock design poured into the head

On a Guinness, a nice head is always appreciated.  That head doesn’t dissipate quickly and tingles your lips and gives a creamy goodness to each sip.

But the Japanese bar owners obsess on pouring a beautiful looking head on each and every beer no matter what the brand or style.  Granted, it looks lovely if you receive your beer in a timely fashion.  But soon it dissipates and you’re left with a very sad empty space — often two or three fingers deep — of air.  And by “air” I mean “NOT BEER.”  And by “not beer” I mean “seriously, it’s not beer, even though you paid for it.”

3 styles of ebisu beer

they look delicious! they taste delicious! but are you getting your money’s worth?

In America, if you served a beer with a head 3 fingers deep you’d probably get it sent right back asking to tip it off properly with, um, you know, beer.  In NYC and parts of the UK or Australia, you’re likely to get the beer thrown back in your face — pint glass and all.

japanese bar fight

yeah, that’s right. hide under the bar, you little shit! your bad pouring technique is what got us into this mess in the first place!

When I first visited Japan in winter 2003, I took the head with a grain of salt.  I’m in another country.  I couldn’t speak a word of Japanese.  I felt some social pressure to just go along and not cause any problems.  But towards the end of my almost 2 month stay, I was DJing at a party as a personal favor to a friend.  It wasn’t a club gig.  There was no money involved.  Not even free beer.  It was for her university circle (like a social club) and I didn’t know anybody except my friend.

I kept ordering beer to loosen up, and kept getting tiny plastic cups full of Asahi Super Dry or something.  But each tiny cup had a massive head on it.  After my second beer, I was fed up.  I asked how to say “without head” and decided to make my first attempt at complaining in Japanese.

When I got next beer, I pointed at the white froth on top and said 「泡なしで」 and waited for the guy to go “sorry about that, let me fix this for you.”  But instead I got a blank stare that said “without head?  what’s that???”

My friend explained to him my request and the bartender, seeming to understand, took the cup of beer and proceeded to dump it out.  All of it.

I was shocked.  Just pour out the head and pour in beer, you don’t have to waste it! Isn’t that one of the seven mortal sins? Oh yeah, he’s probably a Buddhist…  Anyways…  He didn’t have to pour the whole thing out and start over again.  Sheeeesh!

Then he poured a new one and handed me what looked like a carbon copy of the first.

泡なしで、お願いします」 (no bubbles… please!)

Again, with the same confused stare back at me, he took the cup of beer, dumped it out and re-poured it — capping it off again with a lovely head.  A lovely head that I had just asked him twice to not pour.

My friend again tried to explain the situation to this bozo and he listened attentively, seemingly understanding everything.  He then poured out the beer, re-poured it and capped it off with the same perfect head.

don't waste beer

every time you waste a beer, god kills a kitten

He explained to my friend that it’s a policy to pour beer like that and he could get in trouble for pouring headless beers.  (I was thinking, you’d be in much more trouble with some of my British mates if they saw you dumping out beer after beer like a bloody wanker).

I didn’t know the word しょうがない at that time, but looking back, this was just one of those しょうがない moments.  I just had to let it go and move on with my life.  Getting worked up about this issue wasn’t going to help the situation.

A few years later I told the story to a colleague of mine who told me that he’d heard about a lawsuit a few years ago in which a man tried to sue a bar for refusing to pour him beers without a head.  In court, the defense showed that the alcohol content of the bubbles was the same as or higher than (I forget which) that of the actual beer.  The court then ruled that he was not being ripped off, but actually getting his money’s worth.

need i say more? (why yes, i need say more… please continue reading…)

At the time, I accepted the story as plausible.  But now that I think about it, it’s gotta be an urban legend told by ex-pats trying to rationalize the ubiquitous refusal by bar staff to pour “a proper pint.”  And by “proper” I mean “one with actual beer instead of 3 fingers of quickly dissipating bubbles.”  It’s gotta be bullshit.  I mean, the Japanese are not particularly litigious, like Americans.  The costs involved to start a lawsuits are extremely high and the cash payouts are extremely low.  All the guy would probably win would be the right to get a headless beer anywhere in Japan.  This would be a great hit to take for the benefit of all beer lovers across the country, but who the fuck is that selfless? Furthermore, I’m no chemist, but I’m very skeptical that the alcohol content in the bubbles would be higher than regular beer, or that such a bizarre demonstration of scientific-legal acrobatics would be convincing.

Anyways, I couldn’t find anything on the web to corroborate this story.

So I’ve totally made peace with the fact that I can’t get a “proper pint” in Tokyo — no matter how much it irks me . And it really does irk me if I’m drinking 大ジョッキ, the extra-large sized beers in some izakaya.  As you can imagine, those beers come with proportionally extra-large sized heads.

I can see the rationale behind wanting to save money by charging full price for a beer then skimming a bit of beer off the top.  I can see management justifying in their own minds the aesthetic beauty of a cold mug of beer with a creamy head at the top.  It does look good!!


it really does look good… on a poster.

But when a customer calls you out on it, I can’t see any manager actually justifying a policy that states that you can’t get a beer without a head because…  well, you just can’t justify that kind of heinous sin.

And this in the country where the saying “the customer is king” is rendered as “the customer is god.”

After 5 years of living in Japan, the only reason I bring this up now is because the other day I was at T.G.I.Friday’s in Shibuya enjoying a full rack of baby-back ribs with a frosty glass of Premium Malts or whatever beer they serve there.  As I was pointing out the extra-large sized head on the extra-large sized beer to my girlfriend, something caught my attention on the menu.  You know how fine print jumps out at you while you’re eating ribs, right?

I know the picture isn’t very good, so if you can’t make out what it says, I’ll include the transcription at the bottom.

japanese beer no head

now that i think about it, is the “no head” option only for pitchers?

(I would include a transcription of the Japanese, but I can’t actually make it out due to the crappy resolution of the camera on the iPhone 3G)

We are serving No Head Draft Beer as these prices: (sic)

(M)  +¥150        (L) +¥200
(M)  +¥100        (L) +¥150

Oh, and just for comparison…
Here’s an (L) sized beer.  I didn’t touch it.  I just let the head settle on it’s own and then took this picture.    That’s how much beer THEY DON’T SERVE YOU.  And if you want it, you have to pay for them to fill that “extra space.”


you call that beer? (say with crocodile dundee accent)

Makes me wanna beat somebody over the head with that heavy-ass glass!!!

If you think I’ve been to heavy handed in this rant, or have your own “bad head” story, leave a comment and let’s discuss.

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mαrκy( -_-)凸


Need a Cheap Place to Stay in Tokyo?

In Travel in Japan on December 27, 2009 at 5:06 am

If you or any of your friends are thinking of coming to Tōkyō on a budget, I can recommend a new, clean, super cheap guesthouse! At about $30 a night, it beats any regular hotel in the Tōkyō area. This is the same price as a “capsule hotel” which is no way to travel.  Plus, you’ll be staying in one of the coolest, most historical areas still left in the city where you can get in touch with “Old Japan.”

this how shinagawa looked in the edo period

How the place looked during it's first week open!

when a new business opens in japan, other local businesses and supporters send signs and gifts like this

My friend Taka asked me to come down and stay one night to give him an outsider’s opinion of the place.  Since I love Japanese History, I was already pretty familiar with the area.  Guesthouse Shinagawa-shuku is located in historical Shinagawa.
These days, most of Shinagawa is ultra-modern, but the Shinagawa-shuku area is still a very traditional, old school Japanese neighborhood dating back to late 1500’s. It’s one of my favorite areas in

guest house shinagawa shuku

a cute painting hanging in the hallway which borrows from the original famous painting of shinagawa-shuku (shown above).

But First,
About This Guesthouse

The rooms are Japanese Style (traditional tatami floor and a futon with Japanese bedding).
If you want a yukata (a light summertime kimono also used as pajamas), you can get one – which, of course, I did.
I stayed alone, so I chose one of the private singles (the smallest room type). But it was more than enough for me.
All the rooms have free wi-fi so i was good to go with my laptop.

i played yo-ville in my room.

There is a traditional Japanese style public bath (one for men and one for women).
This was awesome cuz real Japanese bathtubs are bigger and deeper than mine at
my apartment.
The japanese looooove taking long relaxing baths and I’ve learned to enjoy them too.  So I drew up a piping hot bath, opened a frosty can o’ beer and just chilled for an hour in the bath. Awwwwww yeah.

taking a bath in japan, yukata, kimono

after i took a bath i took a cheeseball pic of myself. oh the things i'll do help friends save money in japan. lol.

If I moved back to the US and then came back to visit Tōkyō, I’d definitely stay here just for the bath.  But also, a crappy business hotel that smells like an ashtray starts at about $80-$90 a night.
A real hotel is going to be around $120-and up.
I’d rather spend my money on food and shopping and sight seeing and girls.
So, $30 a night seals the deal. Seriously.


And Now,
About The Area

The building next door is a really small, really delicious
yaki tori place that I highly recommend. Next to that is a well stocked convenience store with anything you need 24 hours.

no smoking hotel in tokyo, japan

the entire building is non-smoking. but smokers can kick it on the roof top or mingle with passers by on the streets.

Shinagawa-shuku is a 2 minute walk from Kita-Shinagawa Station.
From the larger Shinagawa Station, it’s a 10 minute walk (which happens to pass by one of the most famous rāmen shops in Tōkyō – and IMO one of the best 3 in the entire country).
As a major hub station, some of the most important train lines stop here.
The Yamanote Line (which makes a loop around all of Tōkyō), the Keihin-Tōhōku Line, the Tōkaidō Line (which gives you access to Yokohama and the beautiful Kamakura).
I forget some of the other lines, but also one of the most important Shinkansen lines (bullet train) originates here.  This train will take you along the Tōkaidō from Tōkyō to Kyōto/Ōsaka in 2 hours.  Woohoo!
Also, you can get Narita and Haneda airports from here.

japanese style room, cheap hotel tokyo japan

here's a view of the entrance. nice calm & quiet japanese style. awwwww yeah♪

What is Shinagawa-shuku?

In the Edo Period (1600-1868), the main road connecting Edo and Kyōto was the Tōkaidō (literally, “eastern sea road”).
Along the way, there were postal towns where travel permits were checked and travelers could stay overnight and get something to eat.
One of the most famous postal towns on the old Tōkaidō was the very first station… which was Shinagawa-shuku (by the way, “shuku” is what that kind of postal town/inn town is called in Japanese, so you can find many towns with “-shuku” in their name to this day).

As a result, the town has a really historical feel which the locals are proud of.  You can find traditional shops making tatami floors, incense shops, rice shops and loads of traditional Japanese sweets!  All the food in this area is really good!
There are tons of small mom and pop restaurants selling traditional Japanese food.  There’s also a sushi shop that was visited by the 3rd shōgun and still bears the shōgunal family crest.

summer festival at shinagawa jinja

The area is teeming with temples and shrines.
The most important of which comprise a pilgrimage that can be walked in about 2 hours called the “shichi fukujin meguri.”
This means “the pilgrimage to the Seven Gods of Good Luck.”
Who can’t use a little good luck? lol.

The Shinagawa-shuku provides a bunch of maps with glossaries and explanations of all the historical spots.
There are WELL OVER 100 clearly marked points of interest in the area, which is too many for me to mention.
You can also see the remains of one of the 3 execution grounds from the Edo Period which is said to be the most haunted place in Tōkyō (Suzugamori Shikeijo).
And Shinagawa Jinja is a beautiful shrine far up on a hill that represents a ritual pilgrimage to the top of Mount Fuji.
Oh, i can’t forget Sengakuji, the temple where the 47 samurai who committed ritual suicide as the result of a heroic catch-22 situation are enshrined – one of the most famous (and complicated) stories of true samurai loyalty.

In Japanese This Kind of Area is Called “Shitamachi.”

It literally translates as “downtown,” but that’s not really what it means.
You should think of it as “Old Style Tōkyō” or even “Edo” (the name of Tōkyō until about 1869).
Many families have lived here since the samurai days, so people have a different culture than mainstream Tōkyō, which is a sprawling megacity and home to people from all over Japan.
Japanese people are by nature a little shy around foreigners because of the language barrier or, in the case of this area, due to limited exposure to them.
But if you can speak Japanese, tho, you’ll find shitamachi people have the biggest hearts in Tōkyō.
They’re talkative, gregarious and love to tell stories — especially the old people! If you know a few words – even “please,” “thank you,” or “delicious,” try them out and you’ll get big smiles and probably lots of questions about where you’re from, what do like about Japan, etc.
Even if they seem indifferent at first, try engaging the locals you’ll be surprised how friendly shitamachi people are after you break the ice!

Anyways, in short, you can pay a lot of money for a hotel in the crowded space age megapolis of Tōkyō or stay on the cheap japanese style in a rare historical district
As for me, I like to kick it local style everywhere I go.
I want to meet local people, learn local stories and try to understand a country’s culture deeply.
If you stay at guesthouse shinagawa-shuku, you can easily do the same♪

awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

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