After late additions and cancellations, 8 guys and yours truly descended on Ichibangai's Zawatami for a couple of hours of ale and cheer, punctuated by food. I arrived at Gerard's apartment for a pre-beer, and after a chat about the origins of Irish names, we headed into town. Not realising that bikes were the order of the day, I had been dropped off by Yoko, so we had to make it a brisk march. On the way we met two more of the partygoers, Ben and Solomon, whose bikes were made a little redundant by our walking, and we arrived 10 minutes late.
Partygoer number 5, Jon, was standing outside the place, and had been there for some time due to inaccurate intelligence regarding times. Everyone was a little cold, so we headed it. Partygoer number 6, Dunstan, was waiting for us, enjoying a comfortable wall seat. So far so good. We had just sat down and asked the staff to commence the 2 hours of fixed price drinking when Aaron, partygoer 8, arrived with characteristic good timing, and almost took a beer straight from the waitress' hands.
The food started arriving in fits and starts, and the sashimi and prawn crackers in particular were quaffed with the eagerness that befits a bunch of ex-pats on a stag night. Despite a few false starts, the nabe was fired up and it was left to Jon to orchestrate things. After a few minutes, the final two guests arrived, Andrew and Pat, and more beer was ordered. By this time, the staff were taking a little longer to reappear with our ale, so we adopted the tried and tested method of ordering at least 3 beers more than we required to balance things out. At one stage our main waitress appeared holding 5 mugs of beer in one hand (an impressive feat for anyone, but she had quite a small hand too), and there was a general consensus that she could probably manage 6, if not 7.
Casually glancing to the table behind us, we were mildly amused to see a young man completely comatose on his back. Solomon ventured an "is he ok?" and the man's friends nodded. Then, bizarrely, they tried to push the guy under the table, with no regard for his head or spinal column. With impressive agility despite the beer and red wine, Solomon grabbed him just before he slid under, and we both inquired as to whether he was ok, what he had been drinking, for how long and was he breathing. These were answered "yes!", "shochu!", "Since 8pm!" and "I don't know, I'll check... yes, he is!" respectively.
When they all got up to leave, the comotose man remained just that, so incredibly one of his friends grabbed his feet and started dragging him along the wooden floor. Everyone at our table rushed to take a quick photo of this, but the results were generally poor, as my own attests. The photo of Ben's reinactment was infinitely clearer.
It was about the time that the topic of conversation inevitably turned to Solomon's cooked-egg phobia, and variations on the usual questions were asked and patiently answered (if you ate an egg that was half cooked, would that make any difference?, if you see eggs cooking on TV do you feel sick?, what's the worst egg-thing you could imagine eating?), that Ben revealed a carrier bag with a gift for me.
Opening it, I was delighted to find a rubber "barcode" salaryman wig, and duly put it on. As this was happening, a waiter appeared carrying a large keg of ale and 9 glasses. It seems that we were drinking far too much for the staff to keep up with, so we had been invited to see to ourselves.
With Pat having prime position next to the keg, he selflessly took it upon himself to be the pourer-in-chief, and expertly navigated the keg and two more just like it. Kurume bar owners will eventually cotton on to the fact that foreigners at nomihodai put away far more beer than the average, and that they are probably losing money. Hopefully that won't be for a long time, as all you can drink accompanied by a smorgasbord of snackage for 15 quid has become something we have all become attached to.
Despite starting around 9.45, the two hour deal was kindly allowed to continue until after 12, when major inroads were made into the final keg of ale. Jokes had been made, amusing news stories recounted and Herculean amounts of beer put away. Now came the task of couting out the money. There's a funny thing that happens when inebriation and money meet. Everyone becomes certain that despite the blurred vision and wobbling, this money-count is the finest they have ever done, and that this is the task for which they were put on the earth.
As it happened, it was my duty to collect the various cash and coins, and in a gallant and very gentlemanly mass move, the guys refused to let me contribute, each putting in something to cover my share. It was a proud moment, though the sight of me in my wig did nothing to suggest as much.
There had been talk of karaoke as early as 11pm, and certain quarters were already planning their set lists. Having assembled outside, we then bade farewell to Andrew and Pat, who had an early start in the morning, as well as Solomon, who parted a little later along the road as we approached the karaoke bar. It was here that we gained another partgoer, Paul, who was in the area. Once again, set-price drinks were the order of the day, and despite at least 2 testimonies that the in-house beer was "fucking awful", a deal of it was polished off.
The singing began in earnest, and there was soon a burgeoning waiting list. As is always the case, favourite songs were chosen and belted out - Jump (Ben), Supersonic (Gerard), Metallica (Aaron and me), The Monster Mash (me), Something-that-only-Aussies-have-ever-heard-of (Jon). The days when, faced with the novelty of karaoke, we would frown and complain about not knowing what to sing were well and truly behind us. We are now karaoke veterans. Yet, that doesn't stop the occasional song being halted when someone (ok, me) presses the stop button instead of the enter button. An easy mistake to make when inebriated and carrying around a night of beer.
When karaoke ended around 3ish, someone had the bright idea of heading into the bunkagai (basically the soho-esque bar and entertainment district) to find a bar, or even some form of "entertainment". Having walked around for what seemed like hours, the consensus was reached that we should find a quiet bar and decide what to do from there (someone's insistence that if we did end up in a hostess place, we could expect to pay upwards of 10,000 yen just to get it had some bearing on the decision, I'm sure).
So at 4am we rolled up to habitual haunt Lowdash, and groggily nursed pints and whiskeys. There was some considerable flagging at this point, headed by Jon, who was doing his best impression of a pile of washing.
With 5am a distinct threat, a couple more partygoers left, Dunsan, Aaron, Paul and not surprisingly Jon. Finding some kind of second wind, Gerard, Ben and myself decided to grab some food from one of the portable ramen stalls on the street, but to our chagrin they were all closing up. A trip to the usually reliable Gusto proved unsuccessful, so Mos Burger was the only alternative.
Seated next to a table of Japanese partygoers, Gerard leaned in towards me and we had a conversation that seemed very profound at the time:
Gerard: I think... you should ask yer man there to wear your wig. That's something you should think about doing.
Luke: Man, you go ahead. Gift of the gab and all that.
So he did, and the Japanese guy obliged. I must admit that before Gerard made the suggestion, I had forgotten that I was even wearing the wig, so snug was the fit. What a sight I must have been, a tottering giant (in Japan at least) wearing a salaryman's pate through the streets of Kurume.
The not so rosy fingers of dawn were starting to creep into view, so we called it a night there. Ben, who was working at 10am, cheerfully cycled home, with 2 and a half hours of kip ahead of him. Gerard and me, propelled in part by an in-depth but cohension-lacking debate on ALT teaching, stopped by his apartment so that I could pick up Round Ireland with a Fridge and then I stumbled home. A shade before 7am, worn and weary but all the better for it. Just enough time to don the jimmyjams and read a paragraph or two before sleep took me.
Waking up at 1am and realising I'd left the big light on, I didn't have a hangover or a splitting headache. Only a superb night out under my belt. And a clown's hand horn in my pocket, but heaven knows where that came from...