Different work groups will generally go out together for a dinner and drinking party a few times a year. I had already gone with my middle school for the year end party, but this one was to celebrate the end of the school year. I opted to join one of my elementary schools for the night out.
I tend to concern myself with budgeting and money matters, so I’ll start by just saying how stupid expensive these parties are. Think of the nicest dinner you have ever had. Think of the most expensive bar tab you have ever run up. Was it worth it? Well, now consider the option of small portions of nicely presented, mediocre tasting food, and all you can drink (Sorry, you’ll need to chose from our very limited selection of basic drinks) for 120 dollars. The drinking aspect of it could be worth it, but you only have 2 hours. So, drinking to a degree that would ‘justify’ the price would essentially be drinking with the end goal of death. What baffles me most is that people don’t care, and are more than happy to buy into the highway robbery that these parties are. I honestly don’t even know where I could spend 120 dollars on one person in America. I also can’t wrap my mind around why someone doesn’t just say, “Hey guys, lets not order a course meal somewhere, but instead just go to a restaurant where can order as much of whatever we want, both food and drinks, and have it come up costing half as much!” This is Japan, and that sort of logic will always lose out to what is the norm. Ah well, what’s a month of groceries…
Financial woes aside, these shindigs are still a good time, and can be justified as a great opportunity to speak Japanese and relax with my peers in a way that doesn’t really happen at school. It’s still a formal event, but there is a lot of laughing and good times that goes with it. Although, with this particular one, it had to start a bit watery-eyed, since attention was brought to the teacher that had to leave to new schools. They gave some speeches and such at first, before we could dig into the food. After they were done, we all had to get these shot glass size glasses of beer so that we could kanpai. Kanpai is essentially the same as saying cheers, though its important not drink prematurely. I get the feeling that it is more about wishing the best to each other and the gathering, rather than just a cue to start drinking, as in the case of Cheers.
An interesting cultural aspect of drinking in Japan has to do with the pouring of alcohol, as well as the receiving of it. Generally, if someone notices that your glass is empty (or even if its not, thus prompting you to finish some or all to make room for more to be poured) they will tend to it. Pouring and receiving is always done with two hands on the glass or bottle. And when done, its polite to offer the same service to whomever you are with. This is especially initiated by the women, though there isn’t some sort stringent set of rules, so the men do this as well.
I really did enjoy myself though, I was really impressing myself with the Japanese I was speaking. And the teachers too, though I take that with a grain of salt. Complimenting one’s ability to speak Japanese and use chop sticks are their go-to compliments (both of which came out…) I mean, sure, I had some extra confidence on my side, but it really was coming out well enough to question and respond with relevance. My ability to compose sentences that employ proper grammar and appropriate word usage is far from a passing grade though, but if measured on functionality, its coming. I had some nice chats about things like living in Japan, American education, and good times with my friends.
Rather unfortunate placement of the bottles.
The course meal started with some thin meat, veggies, a little sashimi (raw fish), and an enormous shrimp. Later came an entire fish that had been pared and fried artfully, a plate of hairy crab and some sushi. Last came around of hot sake and ice cream. The sake was one of the nicest ones I’d yet had, and for some reason it was impressive to them that I enjoyed it. Despite what I said above, the food was pretty good, but the portions definitely don’t satiate an American appetite. After we left, a few of us went to do karaoke, which was fun too (especially since we were all treated to it by the vice principal. They really appreciated my Piano Man gusto to close out the event.
These sorts of outings are something I really enjoy about Japanese culture. America has going out for drinks with coworkers whenever, and Christmas parties at the office. But in Japan, these parties only happen a few times a year, and always with solid attendance, its just a bit more special. Also, participating in them makes me feel like I’m really getting a good exposure to Japanese culture that the average tourist will never see. Its these exposure that helps enforce in me that this is my life. For now, my life is living in Japan.