The Friday night that followed my caving and book-shelf-building adventures was the night of my welcome party. In Japan, these are called “Enkai” and they can get a little crazy. In my case, a little crazy is probably the understatement of the year, perhaps even century but I’m working on being humble so we’ll stick with year.
In Japan the legal limit for alcohol when driving is 0.00% which means that no matter how iron one’s liver may be, you cannot have a single drink and drive. Thus, at five o’clock the party bus arrived at the office. That's right; I said PARTY BUS! This falls right after the epic Neko bus (studio Ghibli's cat bus) on the list of epic buses produced via Japan (so epic it has a list).
At the venue, everyone was given hiragana name tags (I will forever love the people I work with for printing these in hiragana rather than Kanji, because they are the only reason I got several people’s names right [for those that don't know, hiragana is a phonetic alphabet like our ABC's whereas Kanji are indiscriminate shapes like the crop circles found in the farmer's corn field. We're told they all mean something but they all kind of just look like squiggles and circles.]).
After the name tags were handed out, we were seated. I sat down with the village mayor, the Junior High school Principal, the head supervisor of the BoE (henceforth referred to as BOSS-san [funnily enough this is what all my co-workers refer to him as when he is not in the room. I use his real name but think this is hilarious]). About thirty or forty of us were seated at two different long tables. In the center was a third table that was capsizing under titanic proportions of food. There was every kind of sushi and sashimi imaginable, lots of curry (which is very popular in this region of Japan), and lots, lots more. I briefly contemplated sumo as a new career path.
The night began with an opening speech made by Mr. Genki (I don’t feel comfortable using people’s real names online so I have assigned everyone specific nicknames). Mr. Genki likes to run marathons and hike and climb mountains. He giggles a lot. The speech was in Japanese, and a very quick form of Japanese, but from what I gathered he said that: I (Mollee sensei) was from Texas, that I spoke Japanese fairly well, that I worked very hard, and that I smiled all the dang time. The last one made me laugh. The smiling thing is something that everyone and their mother and their mother’s mother’s mother feel the need to point out. If I’m every beamed up into space, I could tell you that the aliens would discuss where/how they caught me, whatever organ they intended on harvesting, and the fact that I smile all the dang time. Also, maybe they'd tell me what the crop circles mean - who knows?![And that ye whipper snappers is how I learned me kanji.]
After he spoke, the mayor got up and stated that he was happy to have a new ALT in town and looked forward to me working with the children. BOSS-san then stood up and introduced me. Then, I got up and introduced myself. I said I was from Texas and thus I also love Yuu Darvish (yeaaaah Rangers!). I said that I studied English in college and that I was very excited to be the new English teacher. I explained that I love sports and that I was looking forward to teaching and playing with all the kids.
After my speech, Mr. Genki got back up and re-introduced me in greater detail. This consisted of a very long list of my hobbies and a joke about how everyone seems to see me jogging (in a village of 4000 people this isn’t really a surprise) everywhere. Then, we Konpai’d (toasted) and began our feast.
Oh, and during my speech, the playboy bunny (one of my co-workers tried to explain to me in English that a fellow co-worker had a reputation as a player, but he definitely called him a playboy bunny instead of a player. Thus, playboy bunny) presented me with flowers that were a gift from the office. Here are my flowers:
After the initial toast, Playboy bunny and Silly-san (When I first talked to him he explained that his likes were beer and alcohol, his hobby was drinking, and he disliked not being able to drink at work. He’s also very goofy and has the cutest daughter ever!) presented to me a platter with six different shooters (alcohol + mixer) that they wanted me to try. I looked at the mayor and Boss-san, who then explained that the previous ALT did not drink and they were all VERY excited that I did. This made me realize that explaining the Aggie Ring tradition at work may have been a bad choice (Also kids, peer pressure is bad-wrong.). As I ate, I slowly finished these (all but one actually).
In addition, there is a tradition very specific to my village where you take a sip from a giant glass of souchu, bow to the person who handed it to you, and pass it to the next person (in most of Japan this is viewed as a kiss – but everyone and their mother was doing it here and they made a point of saying that it was okay in my village but not anywhere in Japan). So, in addition to my shot platter, I also drank a mystery amount of Souchu (maybe the aliens can fill me in on that too after they marvel at my iron liver...).
After this has all hit (and I have a poker face when I’ve been drinking!), the mayor realized that there was a piano in the room (go figure) and asked me to play for everyone. So I did. Let’s just say that while everyone loved it and while I got a standing ovation (woo hoo!) I’m pretty glad that there isn’t a recording of what happened there.
After the first Enkai stopped, we got back in the party bus and dropped some of my co-workers off. Five of us, however, continued to the ni-kai (the second party). We went to a Karaoke bar that had a set fee for all you could drink for two hours. Japan is a wonderful country.
I slowly sipped on Ginger Highballs (which if you ever find yourself in Japan you absolutely must try) and watched my co-workers sing. Then they asked me to sing, so I did my own rendition of Michael Jackson’s Beat it. This got me a lot of applause and I was immediately asked to sing a Lady Gaga song. I chose Bad Romance. I got a standing ovation throughout the bar. (I don’t know if I was just that good or they were just that drunk. I have a feeling that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.)
After this, I pawned off the microphone so that I could sit and drink a little more. Then, an older man in a business suit approached and asked if I would sing a song for his friends. I said yes. They started playing Whitney Houston’s “I’ll Always Love You,” and I belted out those high notes like a pro. - or at least it felt like I was a pro. Afterwards, Happy-san’s (nickname assigned because this guy is HAPPY all the time) wife picked us up and dropped me off at home.
I had felt like I had kept myself very under control but was still a little nervous walking into work the following Monday. However, everyone told me they had tons of fun and that they would like to party with me again. In fact, the following week Mr. Genki invited me on an office hiking trip, my supervisor took me out with her friend, and I was invited to a fancy pantsy teachers party. I guess I did something right. ‘MERICA.