Bored and thirsty in Japan and fancy something to drink that doesn’t revolve around green tea and milk? Then try Habushu.
Habushu is an awamori-based liqueur and is named after the habu snake, which belongs to the pit viper family. Habu snakes are venomous and native to areas in Southeast Asia and other large island groups, including Japan and its territories. A bite from a habu snake can cause nausea, vomiting, and possibly death. There have been cases where victims report the loss of motor function in hands and legs following treatment.
Yet despite these dangers, habushu is believed by the Japanese to have medicinal properties and health benefits. For example, a habu snake can go without eating for as long as a year and still have immense energy, and they are apparently able to mate for as long as 26 hours, which causes some people to believe that drinking habushu may help sexual dysfunction and increase libido!
Some brands of habushu come with the snake still inside the bottle and there are two methods of inserting it into the alcohol. Firstly, the maker may choose to simply submerge the snake in the alcohol and seal the bottle, thus giving it a fate of drowning. Alternatively, the snake may be put on ice until it passes out, at which point it is gutted, bled, and sewn up. When the viper is thawed and awakens, it will quickly die in an aggressive striking manner.
Even if my shot days weren’t behind me, I don’t think I’d be tempted by this serpent. I have been made aware of the similar kinds of snake products that are sold in Vietnam (oh, they LOVE snake in Vietnam!) and the horrible “whiskey” that is sold in most parts of Laos, which many backpackers infamously fall foul of. Regarding habushu, I know that the awamori liqueur negates the poison of the snake when it is mixed in the bottle to make it safe to drink. So it’s perfectly safe, but WHY do the Japanese drink this?! Just why?!
Habushu is not for everyone, and as even the cheapest bottles cost upwards of 8,000 Yen (£65). Bigger bottles with more impressive habu can set you back upwards of 25,000 Yen (£180). It is, if nothing else though, a great souvenir to scare your guests with when they next pop round for a cuppa!