When I booked my recent trip to Japan, I assumed my brightest highlight would be Tokyo’s cheap eats and nightlife. Don’t get me wrong: Both blew my mind. But the best party I encountered was, weirdly, in the middle of nowhere.
Tired out of my mind from the pace of urban Japan, I retreated to Hakone, a village of onsens (natural hot springs) that cuddles Mount Fuji. I didn't waste much time once I arrived. I tied on my yukata, the traditional robes worn around the resort, and headed down to the baths, where I took off said robe and slipped into the waters, which were surrounded by towering trees that put even those of the Pacific Northwest to shame.
Most scenes in Japan, even subways, are completely quiet. The dead silence of the onsen verged on eerie—up until a group of Japanese men got in. An unusually chatty guy leaned over: Where are you from?
Over the course of the next half hour, I heard a constant stream of Japanese that was interrupted every minute or so by a jarring “San Francisco”. As if it wasn’t obvious they were talking about me, they often pointed now and then at the naked, by-himself foreigner 3,000 miles away from home, too.
Later on, I ran into a group of the same men and their colleagues in a hallway. Hideki, the loud one, walked up behind me. You! He grabbed my arm and gestured to his friends as if I was the one he had mentioned. You will come. You will sing with us.
Not that he gave me many options, but it was a no-brainer RSVP. He walked me down, by the arm, to the resort's basement level where the karaoke rooms were. Some rooms were open to general guests. The room we went into was reserved for their private corporate party. I found 20 or so men lounging on couches. Hideki shouted something. Every one stood up and clapped. One by one, they—engineers from Osaka, I learned—each shook my hand and told me their name and age.
I lucked out but if you want a similar experience, just book a resort with a karaoke level, which many have. After dinner, there's a drunken beeline for the mic. Here, some things I wish I'd known before my up-all-night rager.
Japanese Business Men Can Drink an Absurd Amount of Sake
One man got so blitzed he stripped down to a thong-like contraption and sang a duet with one of the hostesses.
They Really Love the Beatles
Yes, you’ve probably heard that but it’s not fully realized until you’ve been pushed onto a stage to sing “Let It Be." The room fell silent except for the sound of every chair tilting in my direction. I’ll probably never feel more like a celebrity than those three minutes and fifty seconds. One guy even asked after if I was a “famous American singer.” As an American, you can request literally any song from the band's ouevre and draw a crowd.
Japan is Gay Friendly-ish
Definitely the oddest moment of the night: the incessant inquiries about my dating life. Married? . . . Girlfriend? . . . . . . Gay? If my sample of 12 or so is accurate, men from Osaka are both shocked and unphased by a dude who likes other dudes. I even heard one guy translate to a confused coworker: something something LGBT, which, y’know, is not a term people who plan on doing bad things to you often say. That said, one of them also asked me if I liked young boys, specifically ones with small shoulders (which is, to be clear, not the case, and, to be clearer, a terrible thing to ask a gay person!). He also clarified that no one I had met that night, even the guy who drunkenly grabbed my ass, was in any way, shape, or form homosexual. Work to be done everywhere, folks!
How To Make Friends
If you really want to kill it as a party crasher, like provoke ground-slapping laughter, pack any of those cheap pranks from Party City—invisible ink, a fake snake, a fart machine. Basically anything that would slay a group of five-year-olds is going to impress drunk Japanese folks if my experience or any of the thousands of Japanese game shows are an indicator. At one point in the night, I was handed a pen by a group of five giddy men and asked to write down my favorite memory of Japan. The tip hit the paper and a jolt flew up my arm. I subjected myself to this at least 15 times that night because the laughs only climbed to more deafening heights each time.
I laughed too because it all really was very funny.