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Oktoberfest: Germany vs. Japan

In 2012 I seemed to make an appearance in Munich every couple of months. This is because I was working for a magazine that covered the electronics industry, much of which is apparently based in that area. It got to the point where my Mum and I actually joked that I’d flown over Germany more times than my Granddad did when he was a rear gunner in the RAF.

Just before I quit that job to move to Thailand, my friends from university decided to have an autumn reunion. With my new found love of sauerkraut and beer halls, I insisted we go to Oktoberfest. It just seemed appropriate.

Now, I’m living in Japan where there seems to be an Oktoberfest every couple of months, regardless of the season. Recently I went to the Yokohama version of the famous beer festival for the fourth time in a year and a half so I thought I would show you, dear reader, how it stacks up against the original.

So here it is: Which former Axis Power holds the best piss up?

I think we all know which one it’s going to be but there may be a few surprises.

History-fest:

Oktoberfest is the world’s biggest beer festival and is held annually in Munich over about two weeks from mid to late September until the first weekend in October. It has been going since 1810 and now sees almost seven million visitors and around 8 million litres of beer consumed each year, although I assume it was closer to 9 million the year we were there.

Locally, the festival is known as Weisn and is an important part of Bavarian culture as well as a magnificent opportunity to get absolutely shit-faced wearing leather shorts.

Meanwhile, Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan by population and lies just outside of Tokyo. The local Oktoberfest is held at the Red Brick Warehouse in Minato Mirai, a place described by my students as ‘romantic’ because of the waterfront, beautiful nighttime skyline, and theme park. In my opinion it's the second best place in Japan to take a date.

Minato Mirai, as seen nocturnally.

Buxom beer girls vs. kawaii beer girls

My university friends and I arrived in Munich after an overnight coach journey for the opening weekend of the Festival. We’d booked the trip through a backpacker tour company who promised to get us there for the tapping of the keg and the very first beer. However all they did was dump us at the festival ground without a clue where to go, so we ended up standing in the rain outside of one of the tents for hours while we waited for the first beer to be served.

Therefore, while the party raged inside and beautiful, busty women presumably fell out of their dirndls (see above), we sat outside drenched and talking only to random middle-aged men, all of whom sort of looked like they could be internet buddies with Armin Meiwes.


Darren (left) and Ted (right) make friends but decline their offer of a bite to eat.

Therefore I’m giving the first point to Japan, even though most of the girls there were probably my students.

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Cosplay is a big thing in Japan, as is being cute, or Kawaii. A lot of beer festival attendees in Yokohama really do make the effort.

Expensive German beer vs. very expensive German beer

At Oktoberfest in Munich the beer is presumably known as liquid gold not only because it’s delicious but because it’s 10 Euros a stein. On the plus side, those steins are a full litre. In Yokohama however, the same amount of cash will get you about 330ml. And that’s excluding the deposit you have to leave for the glassware.

This is for good reason. Not to make this personal or anything, but ze Germans are much more accustomed to consuming large quantities of strong beer than the Japanese and they handle it much better. There were steins for every member of the family and it seemed there was no level of intoxication that couldn't be cured by a pleasant nap in the sun.

In Yokohama, there were security guards on standby not because people got aggressive, but because every now and then someone would just drop to the floor where they were sitting, and have to be politely carried away.

We also met some young Japanese guys with a large two litre beer boot that would be quite normal in Munich but they proudly showed it off like they had the holy grail, each alternately taking tiny sips and passing it to girls who seemed impressed by its volume and size. They offered it to me so I thought I'd show them how it was done and take a proper chug. Two days later I got a cold sore.

One point to Germany.

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Ein Prosit vs. Let it Go!

The quintessential Oktoberfest experience is linking arms at a table and swaying to German drinking music. Thankfully both festivals have an oompah band and plenty of opportunities to sing Ein Prosit, a song which translates as ‘A Toast!’. In Munich the atmosphere inside the tents is truly amazing.

Yokohama does a pretty good job replicating it on a smaller scale and the band (who are presumably authentic) get a decent reaction from the crowd. However, the traditional music they play doesn't get as good a reception as when they burst into pop songs. Watching hundreds of Japanese men sing their drunken hearts out to a blonde-haired girl butchering the theme from Frozen was a surreal highlight of the day.

Definitely another point to Germany.

2-1

Too many Australians vs. not enough Australians

Darren and I welcome passers-by to tent number 69.

We did the Munich Oktoberfest with a travel company called Topdeck that we later found out is popular with people doing working holidays in the UK. It was cheap and everything was organised for us, but it also meant that we stayed in a muddy campsite populated almost exclusively by drunk Australians in lederhosen.

Now I’m not saying there was anything wrong with that. Quite the opposite. Honestly, Yokohama’s Oktoberfest is a bit too civilized and could certainly be livened up by some ‘Straya-style carnage.

One point to Australia Germany.

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Metaphysical hangover vs. regular hangover

Part of our beer-soaked Topdeck package was a free trip to Dachau. Yes, that's right. The concentration camp.

Quite why that was part of what was seemingly a binge drinking excursion was initially beyond me, but I’ve since concluded that it was probably a way to sober up the Aussies before they got back on the bus. A stroll around the gas chambers ought to quieten any rambunctious urges to cause trouble on the way home.


Dachau vs. our campsite - Dachau had better showers.

My university friends and I thought it would be appropriate to go as a counterpoint to the revelry and an ever important history lesson. Unfortunately, Darren had drunk 10 litres (seriously) of beer the night before and was an absolute mess that morning. As we boarded the coach in a solemn mood, the tour rep took one look at him and said, “If he doesn’t want to kill himself now, he will soon.”

The Yokohama Oktoberfest finishes early and the beer is too expensive to reach Darren levels of hangover. But if you’re looking for a history lesson to sober you up the day after, I guess Hiroshima is only a few hours away by bullet train.

No points this round.

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Final scores:

Munich is a beautiful city, with or without beer-goggles.

I have every intention of going to Oktoberfest in Munich again but when I do, I’ll definitely organise my own travel earlier and book accommodation at a hotel or hostel. As much fun as the after-party at the campsite was each day, I’d trade sleeping in a tent for some proper lebensraum.

Heading down to Yokohama after an intense week of teaching was much more pleasurable than waking up in a field, but even with all the additional novelty factor, the Japanese version just can’t quite compare to the atmosphere of the original Oktoberfest. Obviously.

Germany - 3
Japan - 2

My friends and I enjoy a sober break from the festival, by visiting the Hofbrauhaus beer hall in the town centre. From left: Me, Darren, Rick, Ted.

Kampai / Prost / cheers!

What you need to know:

Photo credit: Me, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr (Gakuto Ichi, Simon Cummings, Vali Birzoi)