Going to Alcoholics Anonymous in Japan

There’s only two things you need to know about being an alcoholic in Japan. The first is why you’ll become one, and the second is how to cure your pickled ass. Fortunately for you, Ken Seeroi has already been there and back, so you’re covered in both departments.

So I recently quit drinking. This was a good idea, why? I’m still trying to figure that out. But okay, I mostly did it because I wanted to get into shape for bikini season. That’s where you as a hot girl wear a bikini while I lounge on the beach with a tallboy on my stomach ogling you. But since my board shorts were getting a bit tight in the old waistal region, I figured maybe I’d better knock off the cans for a bit.

Other good reasons I came up with for quitting booze were saving an amazing ton of money and uh, not dying. Now I know some people say, “well you know, a glass of red wine a day is actually good for you.” And yeah, that’s great if you’re the kind of person who can drink one glass, but I tried that and it just incited me to drink six delicious beers afterward. Not that I’m complaining; I just wouldn’t exactly call it a health program.

Anyway, since I’m a pretty proactive dude, at least for an alcoholic, I went online and found my local chapter of Japanese AA, then sent an email to some nameless person. That’s the anonymous part, I guess.

“Meet at the church on Tuesday, 8 p.m.,” was the mysterious reply.

Now to be fair, I’d already cured my own self a week before, by going to Reddit. I can heartily recommend the r/stopdrinking/ thread as a place to immediately rid anyone of alcoholism, since once you read the stories of those folks, holy crap, you’ll realize you don’t have any drinking problem at all. Man, those people are a bunch of drunks.

Anyway, since I didn’t have anything going on Tuesday night, I figured I’d go check out the whole AA gig. That’s one thing about not drinking, Christ, you’ve got a lot of free time.

I got out of the train station at 7:30, because I always get places early. I’m just responsible like that. It was a warm, muggy evening, and I started slowly walking toward the church. Okay, let’s review why Japan makes you an alcoholic. Because as I was plodding to The Holy Trinity of Immaculate Jesus, I passed approximately eighty bars, all with colorful neon, brightly lit paper lanterns, and delicious chicken smoke billowing into the night air.

Girls were standing in front laughing, guys were touching them on the elbows, and suddenly I felt like I was walking through a Heineken commercial. Frankly, if you’re not drinking in Japan, you’re cutting yourself off from about one hundred percent of all social opportunities. I mean, I came here because I wanted to meet interesting people, touch them on the elbows, and hopefully wake up beside them with crushing regrets. I certainly didn’t fly to the other side of the earth to sit alone in a tiny apartment sipping green tea and reading internet anecdotes about how great being sober is.

But since I would’ve felt bad breaking my appointment with Anonymous Person, I persevered to the address I’d received, where a bearded white guy was learning in a doorway. I looked at him, and he looked at me. Now, that’s either a guy with Alcoholics Anonymous or some perv who picks up men in front of churches. Either way, I figured it was a win-win, so I went up and said hi.

“Welcome,” he replied. “I’m Mike.”

“I thought this was supposed to be anonymous.”

“Come on in, the others are already there,” he said.

The others were two Japanese salarymen. We sat at a small brown table. Four guys, in the back room of a church. We looked at each other. There was a small cross with Jesus Christ hanging on the wall. “Let’s pray,” said Mike. Suddenly, that sounded like a great idea.

Okay, I know I only went one time, but here’s what would improve Alcoholics Anonymous a great deal: a ping pong table. Or maybe a basketball and a hoop. Or some freaking dominoes or something. Because we just sat there, for an hour. Four random dudes sitting around a table looking at hanging Jesus for an hour, talking. How is that possibly good? If that doesn’t drive you to rush and slam a bottle of vodka, I don’t know what will.

So first we did this little prayer thing where we all joined hands and asked God to take away our drunkenness. Now I’m not a big homophobe kind of guy, but I’m just saying, that’s a pretty gay way to start a meeting. Men have surprisingly rough fingers, is mostly what I took away from the meeting. There’s supposed to be one girl in the mix and then it’s okay to touch hands; that’s just how it works.

Then we read through The Twelve Steps. I don’t know how familiar you are with these, but they’re the steps you take to stop being a drunk. Again, not trying to be overly critical or anything, but half the steps just say the same thing as the other half, only in different words, so I can’t understand how there’s twelve. Like, here’s 6 and 7:

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

How are those two independent actions and not just one poorly-constructed sentence missing a conjunction? Not to mention that they sound suspiciously like steps 1, 2, 3,  4, and possibly 11. So I pretty much knocked out fifty percent of the 12 steps in about five minutes. God and I were making great progress against my disease.

Now, I’m not exactly an expert on alcohol-recovery, but I’ve gotten over my share of hangovers, and those don’t sound much like “steps” at all—-more like something the guy on the next bar stool would mumble. Steps—-as in actual shit you could do—-would be more like

1. Pour out your booze
2. Stop hanging around in bars
3. Start exercising regularly
4. Take down the Budweiser and Corona girl posters
5. Make some friends who aren’t all drunks

And actually, if you think about it, twelve’s a bit much, isn’t it? You’re just trying to lay off the sauce, not launch a Space Shuttle. If you’ve got more than six steps on your checklist, you don’t need God, you need an editor.

So we spent an hour looking at each other, holding hands, and relating our histories.

“I struggle with alcohol,” said one salaryman.

“Like how?” I asked.

“Every weekend I want to drink beer.”

“Boy, me too,” I said. “Until now, I thought it was a good thing”.

“God’s helping you.”

“Can he help me in Japanese?”

“I think English is better.”

Okay, call me cynical, but I started to suspect the two Japanese guys weren’t so much concerned with their alcohol consumption as with getting a free hour of conversation practice. I had a vague sense that I should be charging 4000 yen for my time. But you know, the handicapped and all, gotta give ’em a pass.

And in the end, I quit drinking for 71 days. Avoiding Alcoholics Anonymous helped a great deal, as did ginger ale. Thanks, Canada Dry.

I can absolutely recommend not drinking, since I did in fact save a ton of money and regained my formerly svelte form. Apparently, cutting out a thousand calories of booze a day has a positive effect—who knew? On the other hand, it was insanely boring. I did all my dishes and folded my laundry twice. That took like half an hour. Then I spent the rest of every evening turning down invitations from friends imploring me to “just have one.”

Which, on the 72nd day, I did, followed by a small bottle of sake and a stop at the convenience store for a couple tallboys and a bag of popcorn. That’s probably the best thing about quitting drinking—-how good beer tastes when you finally start again. Think I’ll make that Step 6.

45 Replies to “Going to Alcoholics Anonymous in Japan”

  1. Well, I wish I’d read this before I visited my local liquor mountain and splashed out on a single malt for the weekend. Not that I regret the purchase though, this is pretty good stuff. Great to have you back Ken!

    1. Nah, that little experiment is over. The liquor cabinet’s fully stocked again and the bar’s open for business. Not that I don’t think abstinence is a healthier lifestyle. The world would live a lot longer by giving up booze. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to.

  2. I am sorry, but I couldn’t help laughing when I read the title on my twitter feed. On the other hand it explained why you were so silent lately. There is not much to tell if you are not going out drinking.

    So, congratulations on getting sober, or I guess not? Seems like you are done with that. Well at least you can now tell people that you have been sober and it is boring as hell.

    1. Being sober pretty effectively killed my writing. I was like, Let’s see…today I came home from work, ate a healthy dinner, then went to bed at a sensible hour. Better hurry up and blog that. I honestly don’t understand how sober people stand themselves.

  3. I Guess You Did Some sort of fasting and now you are getting the reward from God! I did something similar to loose weight for my wedding I felt great with energy , money and time, I’m so glad that is over. Great article as always and so happy you are back to your old ways

  4. I don’t suppose you’ve ever considered moderation? There is a middle road…and if you can’t do that…then maybe you really do have a problem and should probably reconsider the whole AA thing…just saying.

    1. Moderation seems like a fun hobby too. Yet based upon what I’ve observed of human behavior, and particularly things people stuff down their pie-holes, I’m not the only one who finds it challenging.

      This balancing of current happiness against potential future benefit, while knowing that life might end at any moment—seems like the human condition. We’re on a tiny rock floating through space, one asteroid away from being blasted into eternity, all the while juggling nuclear weapons. Might as well move to Japan and live it up, is my working premise.

  5. Hey man

    was there any kind of AA in Japanese? that might be more interesting … ive been a handful of times and the bigger the better. I went to one place over here in Sydney right in the middle of the university area. There were people there with serious control problems – listening to them had a sobering effect.

    But in the end I found it a bit to church-ie, and I didnt like the whole “youre flawed only God can save you” bit. Like really, would God create sentient beings with flaws only to have them return to get fixed??? I mean this isnt Samsung were talking about

  6. Hi Ken,

    Gotta hand it to you Seeroi Sensei, you really know how to make someone regret being sober. I just started drinking again after a twenty year hiatus and though its gonna take me a while to level up to Seeroi status, I already had my first hangover and it brought back so many fond memories; like finding a double bagger next to me in bed once and the time I found myself naked in the Arlington National Cemetery as a funeral procession was coming down the path… yeah those were the days!! I’ll have to bang that drum real quiet like for a while, till I get over this damn headache. Best wishes Ken. BTW, that Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey sneaks up on ya!!

  7. If you are drinking 1,000 kcal of alcohol per day, that”s about 14 standard drinks per day (140 g at 10 g of ethanol per drink). You can probably do it while you’re young and function quite well, but it does catch up eventually. Try to get it down to a maximum of 50 g of ethanol a day maximum (about 60 ml ethanol by percentage volume).

    1. Hmmm. I figured 3 tall cans of beer at 218 calories apiece, plus the requisite bag of chips. But I guess if you just powered down vodka, you could do better. Or is that worse? Hard to tell sometimes.

      1. Beer has calories in addition to alcohol, but three tall cans (500 ml each) at 5% alcohol comes to 75 ml alcohol, which is probably at a high but not problematic level in terms of health. The really serious drinkers start at two to three times that level daily and go upwards from there.

        1. To be honest, I was never that worried about my total alcohol consumption. Granted, the less you drink, probably the better, but it was really the calories. If anything, the potato chips probably have a greater health impact. They sure are delicious though.

          1. I dont think (alcohol) calories ‘burn’ the same way in animals as opposed in the lab. ( where calories are measured ). Perhaps alcohol stimulates the appetite or lessen inhibitions if one were dieting…

  8. In the words of U.S. House Rep. Ben Jones (aka the guy who played Cooter Davenport), “There was a time in my life when I spent 90 percent of my money on booze and broads, and the rest of it I just wasted.”

  9. Maybe you’re actually handling alcohol pretty well. It might not be such a problem. Those calories i your waistal area may be from elsewhere. They could be the wrong kind of calories.
    I read a couple of books (if you’re American, ‘couple books’) recently with the fascinating titles: ‘Wheat Belly’ and ‘Grain Brain’ that convinced me to stay clear of bread, pasta, pizza etc. Hey, there’s enough rice over here to survive on right? Washed down by a drop of the good stuff . . . Cheers

    1. Pretty much. AA has a weirdly religious focus that basically treats drinking alcohol as a sin. The focus on God distracts attendees from the fact that there are practical steps to deal with physical problems, just as there are for overeating, smoking, and too much time on Facebook.

      There are other groups that seem to do similar things with less God-stuff, but nobody’s really got it down to a science. There’s a great, untapped market.

  10. Ken Seeroi quit drinking? What has the world come to? At least you now have free time for your hobbies, like… Writing about drinking.

    But seriously, I hope you enjoy being alcohol free. You must feel great now.

  11. Ken: it sounds like you have found a new balance and I sincerely hope it works for you. Your writing reminds me of the work of Hunter S.Thompson – very funny at times, well written, and offering a very interesting look into what you are most passionate about. Yours is one of the most interesting blogs I have read on the topic of living in Japan.

  12. Another great post mate.
    Love your stories.

    Do people actually pay 4000 yen per class? If that’s the case, I should quit my job and start teaching English.

  13. Hey Ken,

    I’m sure I won’t be telling you anything new, but seeing how useless the majority of your commenters are in supporting you I’d like to write a few things down.

    I don’t know if this was your first time when you tried to stop drinking. If it was, I wouldn’t worry, almost everyone relapses the first time. What’s important is that you use what you learned the next time you stop drinking, whenever that might be (it will happen).

    I would steer away from AA if higher powers aren’t your thing. I don’t know what the situation is in Japan, but it’s a large country and I’m sure there are non-religious support groups. You should also make sure they’re led by an experienced therapist, not just a random person who’s been sober for X years.

    Secondly, you’ll have to do something about all your friends inviting you for a drink. Harsh measures may be needed here, if they can’t accept that drinking is a slow suicide for you they’ll have to go. It’s amazing how hard some people will fight for their drinks while claiming they don’t have a drinking problem.

    As for your general lifestyle, I don’t know. Environment change can be helpful, ultimately perhaps even a relocation to another part of the world.

    PS: To all the people suggesting “moderation” – would you tell a heroin addict to “just take it down a notch” as well?

  14. Luckily for me, my alcohol is usually paid for 🙂

    This was an amusing endeavour to hear about mate. Hahahaha.

    So… Did their English improve, do you think? XD

  15. Hello Ken,

    I came across your blog and I find it very interesting. My name is Joris and I’m reaching out to you on behalf of https://healthytokyo.com HealthyTokyo is striving to make Japan a more foreigner-friendly place by giving easy access to English-speaking health specialists such as doctors, dentists, wellness coaches, but also lifestyle specialists with our healthy partners.

    Whether it is just for travel, business, or to move permanently, our goal is to help our members reduce the usual anxiety that moving to an unknown environment can create. We help sustain a healthy lifestyle by introducing unique places like organic restaurants, yoga studios, gyms, pilates, spas and hot springs among others. We also have our own blog where we regularly write about health and wellness in Japan.

    If you think our services aligns with your reader’s expectations, it would be awesome if you could write a quick article about it on your blog. If that sounds like something you would be interested in, please reach out to me at your convenience.


    Joris Besnier

    1. Hi Joris,

      Thanks for visiting. I probably won’t write an article on it, but your service seems useful, and I’m happy to provide the link.



  16. Hi Ken,

    I am glad to hear that you find our service useful. We truly appreciate that you post a link to HealthyTokyo.com on your blog and we are very grateful for your help.


    Joris Besnier

  17. see that you are still asking people to donate money for your beer fund. time to change that to “buy Ken some freshly pressed juice”.
    PS luckily…you’ll probably lose a few more kilos with all the sweating in the hot humid Japanese summer…unless you can’t resist all the bbqs and drinking parties you get invited to of course. 🙂

  18. I just discovered your blog…pretty funny as well as insightful.

    Your more recent posts include your drinking. Any trouble controlling your intake?!?

  19. Just found your blog today and I must say: exceptional! (I googled “jogging in Japan” and now I’m here). I have the same drinking behavior like you. So from time to time I take an alcohol break for about two months, just to see if I still work without it. But never when I’m in Japan. Visiting my wifes family without it would lead to suicide (and also there is not much to do besides drinking and running in the country side of Japan). Cheers from Switzerland

    1. Switzerland, now there’s a country. Love your cheese.

      Yeah, I lived in the countryside for a year, and never ran or drank so much in my life. You’d think that looking at rice patties all day would never get old, but hey, apparently you’d be wrong.

  20. Ken, I have been curious about the experience of a 12 step program in Japan, something about the Japanese dudes absorbing the free English lessons made me think of Fight Club where the guy who couldn’t sleep visited the different support groups seeking to find relief through crying and was angered to see a ‘faker’ in the groups.

    The journey is within, I’m sure your writing will adapt and even blossom in the context of a life lived without alcohol.

  21. I hope when you really need it, you will have the humility to understand what AA is doing for many people-saving their lives. Maybe you are just a guy who drinks too much and you are not yet addicted. I would have been delighted to have attended the meeting you describe. Good luck with your drinking – I should say your not drinking and stay open minded.

  22. The fact that AA in Japan is tied to the church just kinda confirms my theory that “alcoholism” (at least, the concept of it as a disease) does not exist in Japan. It’s kinda just assumed to be a normal thing for most adult men.

    In the west, we treat it like a full blown disease, and afflicted people spiral further and further out of control. But somehow, no matter how tanked a salaryman gets every evening, he’s competent enough to at least make it to work on time the next day, sit through work hours, and repeat the cycle. Overdrinking is so tolerated here that even after years of immersion, I don’t know how to say “alcoholism” in Japanese. Maybe my dad should have lived here instead.

    1. Your observations are spot on. One of the more interesting things about living here is coming to realize how much American values have been shaped by Christianity. Japan doesn’t generally view sex and alcohol as vices, much less crimes. If it did, half the population would be locked up, myself included.

      I used to work with a Japanese grade-school teacher who introduced herself to the class by saying that she drank beer every night. That was her hobby, and nobody thought a thing about it.

  23. Man, one of the best things in Japan is beer!!! Big big fan of hoppy, malty Japanese beer. Conbini is 100meters away……how can you resist that? In the summer I like to sit on my balcony and look out over my Osaka skyline view and sip a cold one. Now, I box, competitively and I need to make weight 2 or 3 times a year
    My coach tells me six weeks out ‘ no beer’….. I nod faithfully……fuck that…there is nothing more satisfying after senselessly beating someone up in the name of sport than sitting on the balcony and sipping a Sapporo black label. In winter, do it in the bath…. It is easy to drink too much so I limit my beers to days that contain the letter ‘a ‘ in them and I always resist the urge to ‘ go down and check the postbox’ after emptying a ton as I know where my feet will drag me.


    1. Mike, I’m right there with you. I love Japanese beer, and there’s nothing better after a workout. Heh, I know what you mean about “checking the postbox.” I need a time-lock on my front door to prevent me from venturing out after 10 for “just one more.”

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