Wednesday, 3 October 2007

PostHeaderIcon The enkai week

The last week has mainly consisted of me going out and drinking. Before you think I am some raging alcoholic or party animal, the majority of them were work related. Yes, that’s correct. In Japan socialising at enkais is a very important part of the work environment. Although it translates as party the word enaki defines them better. An enkai usually consists of a large group people in a traditional Japanese room sat at long tables drinking beer and eating raw/fried fish. The cover price is usually 5000 yen which is about £20. This is actually quite good value for money as it is an all you eat and drink buffet for a set number of hours. There is usually a seating hierarchy were all the big chiefs sit at one end and all the new folk at the end. At my welcoming party I got to sit at the top but my position has gradually fallen to the other end. If you arrive first then you are greeted with a nice cold beer… that you can’t drink until the KANPAI is done. This is basically a large ‘Cheers’ that happens after a small opening speech. So after a long day at work you need to stare at this beer and then sit through a speech. However, my prefecture are crafty chaps and introduced their own ‘Renshuu’ which means practice and depending on the enkai allows them to have a good few sips (i.e. a whole glass).

After that the women start serving food and pouring more drinks for the men. This is because males are the dominant sex and should be treated like the kings we truly are. Haha I’m making myself laugh. Not wishing to generalise too much but women in Japan are still subservient to men even if it is sometimes just in a traditional sense. It is certainly strange to have the principal of my junior high school scurry about to fetch me some food and beer. Everyone gets pretty drunk early on and the formal barriers fall away to be replaced with lots of laughter and slaps on the back. I’ve become accustomed to not understanding 90% of what is said during the course of the evening but it is a good way to practice my Japanese. It’s amazing how much communication can be achieved by each partner knowing basic questions and words in English and Japanese respectively. Of course this is aided by many gestures and the occasional consultation from Noah who is the only one present who can speak both. Continuing my theme of explaining an enkai there is also something specific to Kochi called ‘Hempai’. This consists of a number of people drinking sake from lovely ceramic shot glasses. A bottle is placed on the table and one person pours for the other. After they drink it the same glass is returned to the pourer who then becomes the drinker. This is repeated until the sake is finished only to be replaced by a new bottle two minutes later. There is usually a second party that basically consists of more drinking and karaoke.

So… that is an enkai. Last Thursday I went into Nahari for one as it was Chika’s leaving party (my old supervisor). She gave a speech and all the women cried along with her. I’ve read in numerous books that it is a very Japanese thing to cry when the occasion calls for it regardless of your true emotions. Apparently all the teachers cry their eyes out at graduation even if they dislike half the children. Anyway, with all this taken into account I think she was genuinely upset about having to leave the office and the others were sad to see her go. I think this was her first major job (she just turned 22) and she took it very seriously and did a good job. I’ve also been told nobody really wanted her to go but the town hall next door used its weight to get her to move because they want more women there. It kind of sucks that she has left and although I’ve settled in now the first few weeks took some getting used to but she was always there to make me feel welcome. Even at the airport where I was so jetlagged I forgot my entire introduction speech and could only remember the phrase “Atsui desu ne” which she laughed at. Ah well, our new supervisor seems quite cool too and I was talking to him a bit that evening. When I was talking to her later that night I didn’t know the word for crying so because I’m such a genius I referred to it as ‘me ame’ (meh ameh). They are the words for eyes and rain!

I forgot to mention that there some B-list Japanese celebrity with us that night. This woman called Umi sang on the ‘Spirited Away’ soundtrack and apparently lived in Tano for a few years. She was back in town to give Noah some proper CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) work. Her sister or something is putting on an English stage show in Osaka for children and Noah was checking over the dialogue. A personal highlight amongst the 1930s American slang was the line “Oh man, I can’t bullfight a duck, can I?”

On Friday night everyone from the office met up for a barbeque up at a community centre. This was because students from Kochi University were in town to help with the elementary school sports days on Sunday. It was pretty cool to meet some Japanese people the same age as me and just joke around. The guys were upset that there were no American women present whilst the girls were thrust upon us when someone let slip Noah and I were single men. That ended around 10:30pm so we both got a taxi up to Aki City to attend the Marika’s birthday party. We caught the end of some karaoke before heading to a local bar and crashing at Andrew’s apartment once again.

The following morning we travelled into Kochi City to attend a dodgeball tournament organised by Nick in Kitagawa. We slept in and missed the start but got a few games in. I was pretty average but once found myself as the last player on my team facing five people ready to throw balls off my face. I won the award for best costume woohoo. This mainly consisted of my tartan bunnet and the fact nobody else brought anything to wear. That night we went up to Nick’s massive ex-dormitory for a party. We told some ghost stories in the abandoned bit of the house and then played some poker.

I had to get up early that morning and drive back down to Tano because it was the elementary school sports day. All the kids seemed to enjoy it but I’ve watched so many practices and rehearsals the past few weeks that I’m glad to see the back of it now. I was exceptionally tired that night but Noah and I went to the sports day enkai that night. We walked into a room of 40-50 student parents staring at us. It was the longest and most awkward walk that I can remember and I had avoid kneeing the back of the principal’s head when I sat down. After a few drinks all the parents got drunk and had fun picking my gaijin brain. A few asked if their children were good at English but forgot to mention their name. I hardly know any of the names yet anyway so I just nodded and said they were excellent.

Monday morning was really tiring and it took me until the middle of second period to fully wake up. The best girl at English in my 2nd grade class laughs at everything I say with a slightly Scottish accent. I don’t think she is doing it maliciously but instead can’t help but laugh whenever I say something. One day at school lunch she made me talk some Glaswegian (Glasgow-ben) and had a fit of the giggles. I waited until she calmed down and drank some milk before I said something again and she sprayed it everywhere. My evil plan worked perfectly. After lunch that day I went to Aki City to have a meeting with the prefectural advisor (a high up JET). It was a confidential talk to see if everyone was okay. I didn’t really have any complaints so I just talked with her about some stuff and when culture shock might kick in. The only concern I did express was I teach a lot less classes than other ALTs and it can make me feel a bit guilty. Whilst I don’t teach as much I do have quite a good relationship with the community and pupils. This is because I have some base schools and interact a lot more with everyone than a busy ALT who visits lots of schools randomly. This situation also allows me to put a lot of effort into the lesson planning for the classes I do teach as well as extra time to study Japanese. Also, this free time allows to plan some other things I want to pursue. Namely establishing a link between my old school (Mossneuk primary school) in East Kilbride and the elementary here in Tano.

Where was I again?

This is the problem with trying to catch up with a week’s worth of events and thoughts. I’m always writing these entries late at night when I’m already too tired… it makes me English ungood.

Right right right

Last night I had a welcoming party held in my honour by adult class. I was really tired and just had enough time to take a shower after work at 6pm. Everyone was being so nice that I had to wake myself and turn on my sociable charms; not that I have any. Most of my students turned up along with some other JETs. After that we went to a karaoke room in one of my student’s houses. It was quite peculiar but fun at the same time.

Right, that’s yer lot for tonight.


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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.