A commonly used expression in Japanese is futsukayoi, or second day drunk which means having a hangover. Drinking is an important part of the cultural fabric of Japan. It is done to socialize with friends and family, to forge bonds between co-workers, to seal business deals and to determine the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. Some Japanese love to drink, others might enjoy the occasional drink, while others simply cannot tolerate a drop of alcohol. Yet, there comes a time when all need to partake in this traditional aspect of Japanese life. In fact, people who choose not to drink at all may be looked down upon with mild suspicion. Drinking might be be felt as a social obligation but is also one of the rare moments when these same social rules can be broken.
Japan has a long historical relationship with alcohol that goes back to mythical times. Ever since, hangover cures have been an important part of Japanese culture. For example, umeboshi, extremely salty and tart pickled young apricots, are purported to have many health benefits. They are used to treat digestion problems, colds, slow down the ailments of aging and of course, hangovers. Another remedy, miso with shijimi (tiny fresh water clams) are said to contain the right amount of micronutrients to bring balance back to ones indisposed body although any type of hot broth will help by rehydrating and providing salt back into the body. Persimmons that have been traditionally used in Chinese medicine for centuries are also a popular hangover cure. In Japan, it is said that they contain active ingredients that help metabolize the main culprit, acetaldehyde, which is a byproduct of alcohol consumption.
These little clams can work miracles (photo by Snowy*******)
My personal favorite is called Ukon no Chikara or the power of turmeric. The remedy is sold in tiny screw top aluminum cans available in all konbini and most large izakaya. The main ingredient, turmeric, comes from a South Asian root in the ginger family. The root is dried and ground yielding a powder that is a deep yellow color. It has been used for centuries in India to treat eczema, chicken pox and shingles. It also has many culinary applications providing the characteristic taste and color of curry dishes. Ukon no Chikara is purported to detoxify the liver, helps metabolize toxins, and stimulate gastric juices. In short, it acts as very much needed crutch for your liver but should be drunk before any alcohol consumption. Professional drinkers, aka bar hosts and hostesses, swear by it. In some cases, the recovery results seem to be marginal. Perhaps more research is needed on the effects of placebo on veisalgia.
When the damage is already done, other miracle hangover drinks are also available for purchase in Japan. For tough mornings, you might want to consider Lipovitan D. Lipovitan D is a cross between an energy drink and a vitamin supplement. It is guaranteed to make you feel genki after a night of drinking. Beware that you are only delaying the unavoidable crash a few hours later. Solmac, a bad translation of stomach, is probably a healthier alternative. The bitter concoction is supposed to settle your stomach and clear you nausea in minutes. That is if you can muster the courage to down it in one gulp. According to their website, the different formulas of Solmac can contain up to 11 herbal ingredients. Fear not, if you can down a whole bottle of it without gagging, you probably will make it through the day without vomiting.
The best way to fight a hangover is prevention with water, food and sleep. Now, you don’t need to be in Japan to follow this rule, however, Japanese people have a habit of doing things differently. Instead of drinking water to rehydrate have you thought about drinking sweat? Pocari sweat is a drink that will rehydrate your body and restore the essential salts that one loses while drinking. Don’t worry, it does not taste like sweat but rather like a mildly sweet and salty grapefruit. As for food, California has late night burritos, France has late night kebabs, and Japan has late night ramen. Experts might disagree, but ramen is succulent after a night of drinking. Finally, sleeping might be the best way to recover from alcohol overindulgence. In Japan, one will notice that intoxicated people do not hesitate to sleep on the train, at bars, in karaoke rooms and even on the street. Falling asleep when drunk might actually be the most effective and the most perilous remedy of them all. Maybe some day I will give it a shot.