One of the first phrases you should learn when you set foot in Japan, before all the trivial stuff like "excuse me" and "where's the hospital?," is "nomihōdai." The holy grail of budget boozing, it's an all-you-can-drink offer, provided in many Japanese clubs and bars, for a fixed price and period of time. It is also regarded by a certain sort as an opportunity to get seriously sozzled while trying not to die or spend the evening sleeping in a ditch.

Back when I set out to experience this phenomenon for the first time I was, well, a little confused. Coming from Britain, where all-you-can-drink isn't so much a good offer, but rather a direct challenge to see how many gin & tonics you can consume without your liver exploding, I couldn't quite believe it was true. In my mind, the results would be catastrophic. Surely every Friday night Tokyo must be full of blokes with bloody noses and women flashing their knickers while vomiting in bus shelters?

Eager to see a famously reserved population descend into a night of booze-fueled debauchery, I grabbed a couple of fellow newbies and headed out to a little place in Tokyo's Koenji district named Captain Bacchus, where for a mere ¥980, customers are given night-long access to an endless barrel of wine. And though I was slightly afraid that some of the less-experienced drinkers might meet an untimely death, the prospect of discovering such a Dionysian wonderland was just too good an opportunity to pass up.