Gambling and alcohol often go hand-in-hand. Even though logic would dictate that you should stop betting (or you shouldn’t even be betting at all), a little bit of alcohol may give you a false sense of invincibility and good fortune. The strings on your wallet may loosen. Indeed, many casinos serve free cocktails, beer and/or wine to keep its patrons happy and to keep the money flowing. So, what about boat racing? Does boat racing have its version of the mint julep — the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby? Does it serve free or discounted alcohol? Does boat racing have dives surrounding the race track for people to drown their sorrows after losing?
The answer to all of the above questions, at least at the Heiwajima Boat Race track, is “no.” Several blogs recommend that visitors go to the the Don Quijote discount store a two-minute walk away to stock up on booze before entering the race track. That is exactly what one of the writers did with two of his friends when he visited the boat races on a recent Saturday.
The boat races are called kyotei in Japanese. The first kyotei was held in 1952. The initial purpose of the boat races was to raise funds to rebuild the shipbuilding industry after World War II. The patrons on the Saturday that we visited were mostly elderly and, quite surprisingly, most of them were not eating or drinking anything at all! We finished our bottled beer, and then I started on my sake-in-a-cup. By the time I opened my sake, the sun was directly overhead, and the sun’s rays were surprisingly strong. The sake was good, but went directly to my head due to the sweltering sun and the mask, which we were reminded by staff to wear between sips and bites.
The three of us bet on a total of four races. We tried various ways of predicting winners – we listened to the engine noise to try to pick the best boat; we looked at the statistics for each racer; we chose the racer wearing our favorite color, etc. The end result? We lost on every single race.
As the day progressed, the number of people watching and betting increased. Still the vast majority of them were elderly, who were drinking water or nothing at all. By 1:30 there was a sprinkling of younger visitors, who were enjoying a beer or two. We visited one of the two or three food establishments on site and ordered stewed beef offal (牛モツ煮込み). The offal had been stewed for a very long time. It was soft and chewy and there were small chunks of konjac jelly, carrot and tofu that accompanied the intestines and other beef bits. The stew was sticky and sweet. The entire dish was very good and went well with the generous portion of scallions and my sake-in-a-cup.
After losing every single race, we had hoped to visit some dingy dive bars to drown the our sorrows, but there were none to speak of. We decided to call it a day, a little disillusioned that the Heiwajima kyotei race course did not have a strong drinking culture associated with it.
Recommendation level (out of five stars):
I had a great time learning how to bet on motorboats with friends. However, there was no drinking culture to speak of. From a drinking perspective, go elsewhere.
We have written a book. For more information on Japanese beverages, please check it out. You can get it at fine offline and online booksellers in Japan, including Amazon.
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