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Asian Flush

No, the term is not associated with the ubiquitous game we all know called Poker – straight flush.  Instead, it is more of a euphemism associated with Asians who cannot break down alcohol for lack of a certain enzyme or gene that their body doesn’t produce.   As a result of this inability for the body to break down alcohol the drinker’s face turns red, and then afterwards a slew of other bizarre  symptoms manifest.

One of the biggest misconceptions I had upon arriving in Japan was that most Japanese would be able to drink alcohol, namely nihonshu, and that it was natural for a Japanese to love the national beverage without question.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   A far cry from my heydays  when I used to attend the sake tasting events held at the New Otani Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.   I was almost convinced then that all Japanese had a special place in their hearts for this rice brew we epicures call saké.

Aside from this gene condition called Asian Flush, which by the way effects more than 50% of all Asians, Japanese in general are not all that interested in the beverage itself.  Most colleagues and associates I’ve met have very little to no interest in it and would rather drink a Western concoction mixed with something strange and unnatural.  

A few years ago I was invited out for some drinks with a few female friends in Tsurumi and to my dismay none of them touched nihonshu, not even the men.  I had to question my reasoning for even being there and wasting money with a group of gourmet philistines who had no appreciation for the unique and refined character of their own national drink….?  Most situations like this I usually either call in early or politely decline the invite.    I can binge off of cheap alcohol with narrow minds  back in my own country.

So, this Asian Flush is a real phenomenon and like I said it affects 50% of Asians according to popular research.  Some researchers contribute this phenomenon to low incidences of alcoholism in Asia, which to me sounds a bit pseudo.    Asians have been drinking alcohol in different forms for thousands of years, even longer than the Europeans in some instances.

I didn’t start drinking alcohol until  college.   The first time I downed a whole bottle of Coors I threw up nonstop for what seemed like hours.   I remember this happening to my brother too.  He too was a late bloomer and didn’t start drinking until he was in his thirties, even now he still struggles with it.   After that experience I fell in love with the taste.  I acquired a taste for something that was strange and I fell in love with it as time went on.  Could I have easily said back in the beginning that I too had a condition similar to Asian Flush…?  Purple face, shakes, queasiness.   That is obviously not the case now!  You could run a sake I.V. in me with no problem.

I think a lot of Japanese lack experience with alcohol in general.   They drink something once; turn red, feel sick, and then claim afterwards that they have Asian Flush when it could just be a temporary adjustment phase the body is going through.   I’m sure that for some people who do try to drink more often would know for sure whether or not they really have the Flush. 

I’m not all that convinced yet.  I think it’s an excuse to avoid trying something new. 


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