I recently went to my school's Bon Enkai to celebrate the end of the fall term! It was amaaaaaaaazing!
A brief preface: The definition of “enkai” is merely “party; banquet” but it is also what greases the wheels of social communication in Japanese culture. The enkai is usually a work party with a lot of drinking.
My school's enkai was held at a major shrine in the city of Kashihara. Kashihara is the 2nd largest city in Nara, with Nara City being it's largest.
Given the terrible weather conditions, Storm and I received a ride from S-Sensei to the enkai. After we arrived, we were told to pick a table number out of a box to determine where we would sit for the dinner. I thought I was being funny when I did the ol' "reach my hand into the mysterious box and pretend like something grabbed it" routine, but apparently my humor doesn't reach across borders sometimes. Storm and I pulled different table numbers, so we wouldn't be sitting together. After we pulled our number we were given scratch lottery tickets. We were also told not to scratch them until the enkai starts.
The time had finally come for the enkai to begin, so all the teachers and staff shuffled into the event hall. The event hall was gorgeous. It was decked out with fancy table trimmings and Christmas decorations. I eventually found my table. Of course, with awesome luck on my side, I was seated at a table with NO ENGLISH SPEAKERS. There are 15 English teachers at my school and somehow I managed to choose the only table they weren't sitting at. Storm faired much better, with about 4 English teachers at her table.
The enkai began as all Japanese events begin...with a ceremony. I had to listen to a couple teachers talk about [insert thank you's and other platitudes] before the principal took the stage. My god, our principal LOVES to hear himself speak. I even noticed some of the teachers starting to bow their heads in boredom as he droned on and on and on and on...and on.
When the meal finally began, I searched for an open seat at another table. I found one easily, then quietly moved to another table trying to go unnoticed. Yes, the big, white foreigner tried to go unnoticed. To be honest, no one cared.
I should have learned my lesson about fine Japanese cuisine 2 years when I ate at a fancy restaurant with my brother. That night, I revisited my nightmares about Japanese cuisine. Sashimi, tofu, nabe [mostly cabbage] were eagerly waiting on my plate. Did I mention the shrimp and fish eggs? Ugh. Enough about the food. Typing this part of the blog is making me feel ill...
The festivities of the enkai were a lot of fun! Everyone scratched their lottery ticket at the same. Storm and I didn't win anything. Duh. The next event was Bingo! There 50 gifts in Christmas tote bags lined up on stage. We all watched a giant screen with the Bingo randomizer. It chose the letter and number. Up until this point, I had wondered why this enkai cost me $100. Then I saw the prizes in the bags, and became fully aware. Some the prizes were AMAZING. Some were LAME. I was 31st to win [YATA!] and in my bag was a digital photo frame. It was nice. Another teacher won a Nintendo Wii. Lucky!
My favorite part of the night were the conversations I had with teachers. I learned that night that there are 2 really cool teachers [not English teachers, mind you] who speak a little bit of English! I don't know why we had never talked before [they probably weren't drunk enough]. They were really nice and now I have a few more friends in the office. I toured all the tables, filled people's drinks [as is the custom], and was generally sociable.
After the enkai, I went with about a dozen other male staff to the nijikai [after party!}. We went to an izakaya to drink and eat more. The head of the English dept told me, "Joshua, you cannot speak English here. Only Nihongo!" I sighed, and agreed to his terms. I was surprised how much Japanese I actually knew. A lot of the basic phrases I learned came in handy. The teachers ordered food that I didn't like JUST to watch my reactions as I ate it. I told my spider joke again. I was challenged to a chugging contest [I won, easily]. Truly, it was boys being boys. I had a blast. A blasty blast.
Conclusion: I can't wait for the next enkai!