Gullible girls like drunken whales

In  a recent game report I mentioned that I have a singular talent for convincing people of the truth of outrageous lies, and gave the example there in a footnote of the time I convinced a friend that a hawk had carried off a baby at Matsue castle. This got me to thinking that I should start a new irregular series on this blog, in which I catalogue some of my more ridiculous lies. I manage to pull off a doozy on Wednesday, which is particularly admirable for having been conducted in Japanese, with a friend who already knows my reputation for outrageous fibs. So, without further ado, here is the lie of the Drunken Whale.

The Drunken Whale

So I was at a cute little izakaya with my friend Yumiko, and decided to have a single glass of sake (Japanese rice wine, that the Japanese call nihonshu). Perusing the menu I found they were selling suigei, 酔鯨, which happens to be a favourite of mine[1]. So I said to her, all innocent-like, “ooo, I’ll have the Drunken Whale!” Yumiko is an expert on sho-chu (Japanese vodka-like drinks) not nihonshu, so for some reason I can’t fathom she asked me “Is it special?”

Well … and that was all the encouragement I needed. I could have said “no, but I like it.” Instead I told her the story of how it is made, and she, silly sho-chu drinker, listened attentively and believed the lot…

Basically, when nihonshu is made it gets to a half-way point where the original rice ingredients have been reduced to a kind of mash[2]. It is at this point that suigei becomes special. Instead of simply pressing the juice from this mash into the next stage of the fermentation process, the suigei brewer does a special thing. Sheets of whale baleen[3] are laid over the barrels that the mash is to be filtered into, and then the mash is spooned on top and allowed to drip through the baleen into the barrels. As it passes through the hairs of the baleen it acquires a slight salty taste, and thus when you drink the final product you feel you can actually taste the sea.

The Response

Yumiko was amazed by the production process and said to me “Really! Can you taste the sea?!” When I began laughing at her gullibility, she threw her hand towel at me. The joy of this lie is that there is no such thing as a salty or sea-flavoured nihonshu (they’re classified in terms of sweet or dryness, like wine). So even a rudimentary objective assessment would have been suffiicent to show I was lying (not to mention – how valuable must baleen be??!!)

My Assessment

The main trick I used here was to weave together things we both know are true – the mash stage of the nihonshu process, the baleen of whales – to form a stupid, unbelievable whole. I further impressed Yumiko with my honesty by going off briefly on a tangent while we tried to work out what the word for baleen is – these sorts of tangents convince the listener of your honest intentions, since if you were just trying to tell a bald-faced lie you wouldn’t spend several minutes arguing over a word, would you? Then of course I finished it off with a credible but completely wrong culinary trick (“you can taste the sea”) which on one level adds to the believability (there was a reason for all this baleen-filtering) but on another completely undermines the story. So there are multiple tips that the story is false, but told earnestly on the spur of the moment, in connection with a drink I appear to know about, the lie comes together naturally and powerfully.

Degree of difficulty: I’d give it a 4.2 out of 5, because Yumiko was sober, she knows a bit about alcohol, she knows I’m a liar, and I was doing the whole thing in Japanese. But Yumiko is not naturally suspicious, so it wasn’t impossible.

Degree of preposterousness: I’d say it’s a 3.8 out of 5. Sure it’s stupid, but who knows what goes on in the making of craft beers and the like? If people can eat moldy cheese as a delicacy, than filtering wine through baleen isn’t completely beyond the pale.

Degree of success: Thoroughly believed, so 4 out 5. This rating gets a 4.5 if the victim is able to leave the scene of the lie still believing the story, and a 5 if next time you see them they still believe it.

Overall rating[4]: 16 out of 25

fn1: Yes, I’ve become the kind of wanker who is beginning to understand differences in taste between brands of nihonshu, and has favourites, and calls it nihonshu rather than sake. You’ll find me at the end of the bar, without a girl.

fn2: I learnt this from reading a wall at the town of Hita when I visited there for a lantern festival.

fn3: Neither Yumiko nor I know the Japanese for this, and for good reason – the characters for it are very weird, but I think it basically means “whale beard.” And baleen whales are classed as “beard whales.”

fn4: Calculated as the average of difficulty and preposterousness, multiplied by outcome. Scores over 20 are going to be extremely hard to achieve.

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