My First Enkai

Before I tell you about the enkai, let me tell you a story.

I’ve talked about driving before, but not much. It’s very strange to drive on the other side of the road, but not as strange as I expected. The only problem is, sometimes I still have minor freak-outs when I’m driving. Suddenly, I doubt whether I’m driving on the correct side of the road.

I’m driving along, going slightly over the speed limit like everyone else on the road does, smoothly making that turn—perhaps I’m even whistling a jaunty tune. Then, all of a sudden:

Me: “OH MY GOD AM I DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD?”

It’s easy to say, “Just remember that the driver’s side is on the inside of the road.”

Yeah, that doesn’t help. That’s like telling me “turn right”—yeah, like I know which side is right and left. I still have to do the trick with my hands, where the left hand makes an “L” with the thumb and forefinger. And even then:

Me: “OH MY GOD WHAT DOES AN ‘L’ LOOK LIKE?”

Anyway, I’ve gotten used to driving a little. (I still hate driving, same as I did in the U.S.) I have not been very adventurous about it—I only stick to places that I’ve been before, and even then it’s a little scary. (What if I miss my turn and get lost?) But last week, I decided that I needed to give Enoguchi and Yoshimura their omiyage. That meant that I needed to drive to the Board of Education building (I still don’t know what it’s called in Japanese).

I searched for directions on the elPhone (which is officially a character in this blog, as of last entry), and it said that the BOE was a 35 minute drive away. Ew.

Before I went, though, I needed to make sure that they would both be there, since they were going around with the Belgium students that week. I called Enoguchi’s work phone, and someone else picked up, so I clumsily asked when Enoguchi would be back in. He said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, I messaged Enoguchi on Facebook to ask what time would be okay for me to come in, and he said between 4:00 and 5:00 was best.

I get off work at 4:00, but last week was still summer vacation, so I left at around 3:30 and then drove to the BOE.

It was a long drive, on a lot of very narrow roads, and I kept getting nervous and checking my phone. I don’t know how people can stand to use their phones when driving. It sucks.

A few friends of mine use their phones for navigating everywhere—and it’s kind of annoying. When I was walking/driving around with them, they checked their phones for every goddamn turn. It bothered me, and I sort of figured out why—people are very dependent on technology these days, and as much as I like technology (for the most part; we have a complicated relationship), I think it’s probably better if we don’t become completely dependent on it. Instead of depending on Google Maps, for example, which is often wrong*, we should look at real maps and use our eyes.

EYES? PEOPLE HAVE THOSE? WHAT ARE THEY FOR?

For seeing. The better to see you with, my dear.

Actually, the friends I was with kept missing turns, because they were too busy looking at what Google Maps was doing instead of looking with their eyes and seeing the signs that told them when to turn. It was frustrating.

While I was driving to the BOE, I tried not to look at my phone too often. I would look every once in a while and say, “Okay, I’ve got a bit longer on this road.” There aren’t many landmarks around here, so I wasn’t sure if I would know when I needed to turn onto the road the BOE was on.

After I found the road, I only had a little bit longer until I reached the BOE. The road became very confusing and rural-looking, so I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place. I kept driving until I reached a very large building, and then I stopped and checked Google Maps.

It said I went too far.

I looked back at the building. It seemed somewhat familiar, but it also looked like a high school. I couldn’t read the sign—too many kanji!—but I recognized “Minamiboso.” So I thought, this has to be it.

But just to check, I went back the way I came to see what Google Maps thought.

GOOGLE MAPS WAS WRONG.

Surprise, surprise. It wanted me to turn down a weird non-road to some abandoned warehouse. I SEE WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO GOOGLE MAPS. YOU ARE TRYING TO KILL ME.

Like it did with Michael Scott!

Well, luckily, I have eyes.

I went back to the big orange building with the unreadable sign and walked in. The downstairs office people were very helpful. Like I said, I still don’t know how to say “Board of Education” in Japanese, so I just said “Enoguchi-san” and “Yoshimura-san,” and they knew what I was talking about. A woman walked me upstairs, and I started to recognize where I was. We signed paperwork here. I had been here before.

When I walked into the office, Enoguchi wasn’t there. I was so confused. One of the men there asked me what I needed, and I tried to explain. We tried English, too, which was only a little better. I told him I had something for Enoguchi and Yoshimura, and I handed him a CD with pictures from the very first day in Chiba (Laura gave them to me at Chiba Orientation) to give to Yoshimura. I wanted to give them the omiyage myself, though, because I wasn’t sure if it was okay to just leave it on their desks. (It probably was, but I wanted to make sure.)

I tried to go on Facebook on my phone to check the message from Enoguchi, but Facebook is hard to use on a phone. I couldn’t find the messages section. (I’m using Facebook on the web browser, not the Facebook app.) But eventually, I found it, and I read Enoguchi’s message again.

Apparently, I need to learn to read.

He said that I should come in tomorrow between 4 and 5. Not today. Oops.

I told the man that was helping me that I had made a mistake, and I left. It was embarrassing, but not the worst mistake ever. At first, I thought, “Well, that was a waste of time,” but then I realized that this was probably just good practice for driving. And at least now I know where the BOE is.

So the next day, Thursday, I drove back to the BOE again and delivered the omiyage to Enoguchi. I explained about the pictures on the CD (which I think he was confused about, like they were mine), and then he said, “I have something for you.”

If you’re my friend on Facebook, you may remember that a few weeks ago, I posted that I was craving chocolate. Enoguchi commented on that post, and there in his office, he handed me some chocolate bars from Belgium. It was so sweet!

Me: “I have something for you, too!”

I gave him the box of See’s candy that I bought for omiyage in California. He didn’t know what it was—the box must have been strange—so I told him it was also chocolate.

Enoguchi: “Ah! It’s the Chocolate Exchange Program!”

XD

Yoshimura wasn’t in the office—Enoguchi said he was “sleeping,” but I think he meant that he went home for the day (or maybe he really was sleeping)—so I decided I would just bring Yoshimura’s omiyage to the dinner on Friday.

*For an example of Google Maps being wrong, look at xkcd #461: http://xkcd.com/461/

Enkai—Friday, August 31st

Because school was about to start and we had not had dinner with our supervisors yet, the Minamiboso ALTs were invited to an enkai, which just means “dinner party.” I don’t know much about enkais, except that they are expensive and apparently you go to a lot of them. (This week, Kim has two enkais!)

People drink a lot at enkais, and the drunk driving laws are very strict in Japan. It is illegal to drive if you’ve had any alcohol at all. There is no BAC—if you’ve had alcohol, you cannot drive.

Because of this, Kim and I took the train to Tateyama, and while we were on the train, we ran into Melissa. We were all a little early (obviously train schedules aren’t going to match up with our lives; I’m used to that from busing it in Santa Cruz), so we waited outside of the station for a little while and talked about anime and Japanese dramas.

I didn’t know this—and maybe I should have—but apparently there are a lot of dramas made after anime. There is an Ouran High School Host Club drama!

(courtesy of Google images)

I have to watch it. This cannot be ignored.

After a while, we figured it was time to head in. The restaurant was right across the street, and when we entered, we took our shoes off and put them in some lockers. Mike and Victor showed up just as we were ascending the stairs, but Ebony and Jeff did not arrive until a little later. Enoguchi and Yoshimura, our supervisors, were already there waiting for us.

I sat at a table with Enoguchi, Mike, Kim, and Yoshimura. I gave Yoshimura his omiyage, and he said that his wife and children really love chocolate, so it was great. Yay! That went over well.

Everyone decided that they were going to get trashed—not something that I usually think about at all—but in the end, instead of ordering nomihodai (all you can drink), we ordered enkai-style, which came with all-you-can-drink anyway. The enkai-style was a set meal, so we didn’t have to choose anything; they just brought us plates of food one by one.

When Jeff arrived, he said that he wasn’t going to drink because he had to drive home at the end of the night. (Unfortunately for Jeff and Ebony, neither of them live anywhere near a train station, so they always have to drive everywhere.)

Victor and Mike weren’t having that, though.

Victor & Mike: “DAIKO.”

Jeff: “But—”

Victor & Mike & everyone else: “DAIKO.”

Daiko is a taxi service that you can call when you are drunk and thus unable to drive your car home. Two people drive to your location. One drives you home in their taxi, and the other drives your car to your house at the same time. It’s convenient, but it’s expensive, so that’s why Jeff was a little hesitant to do it.

He drank with us anyway. :) And he definitely opened up a little more and actually seemed like he was having fun. I’m sure he has a lot of fun anyway, but I think we’re all a little worried that he doesn’t.

The food was—interesting. I feel like Japanese restaurants have this weird fusion thing going on all the time, and none of it makes sense. Maybe it’s only Western meals that have complementary flavors, but so far, I’ve just had clashing flavors. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.

Here’s what we were served (in no particular order): edamame, French fries, sashimi (raw fish), breaded cheese sticks, generic salad, noodles and broth, these weird fish that were fried whole, and some peppered chicken.

What. How does any of that go together? I’ll tell you: I don’t have a clue.

As dinner and drinking continued, everyone’s tongues inevitably began to loosen. Enoguchi is not very confident in his English, but he’s actually very good at it. Jeff caught him once—Enoguchi came over to Jeff’s house to help him set up something (internet maybe), and Jeff says he talked a lot in English. So he knows it well enough.

So at dinner, with confidence-enhancing alcohol, he used more English. Yoshimura was a little less confident, I think, so he did not talk much in English, as far as I remember.

The same thing happened with me and Jeff—we’re both less confident about our Japanese.

In college, I went to a few parties that my Japanese class held at someone’s house. As the night wore on and everyone got drunker, everyone spoke more and more Japanese (somewhat badly sometimes, and often in other accents—Indian, Southern drawl, etc.).

I didn’t use a Southern drawl, but I did start to speak more Japanese. At one point, I was sitting at a table with Enoguchi and Jeff, and we were all talking about something in a mix of Japanese and English. Japanglish!

After dinner, we decided to go to karaoke.

Karaoke

I have now gone to karaoke three times. The first time was in Tokyo, and this was the third time. But wait! I didn’t talk about the second time!

I mentioned it in the last entry. I went with Ebony, Jeff, Victor, and Mike on Saturday, August 25th. This was after all the orientations—that was quite a long weekend—and I was meeting a lot of new people.

After the Belgium orientation, Melissa and I went shopping at Aeon Town (a shopping center in Tateyama). We were in the grocery store when someone approached us.

Man: “Um… Hi. You speak English.”

Melissa: “Er… Yes.”

Man: “Oh thank God.”

Turns out, he used to be an ALT through the JET Program, and now he’s working with another program so he can stay in Japan longer than the JET contract allows. He said that he is new to the area, so he doesn’t know anyone, and he’s been really lonely. Aww! He gave us his name—Masato—and told us to contact him.

Masato: “I’m lucky that I ran into you guys. Now I’m really glad that I suddenly wanted pudding!”

So on Saturday, karaoke day, I asked everyone if it was okay if I invited him. Everyone gave the okay, so I texted Masato and invited him to karaoke! He was a little late, but he made it. I had to leave earlier than everyone—because of the trains—and he didn’t talk much while I was there, but Ebony said that he talked a lot eventually and “he’s friends with everyone now.” I haven’t seen him since then, but he hasn’t contacted me either, so… I don’t know. If something else comes up, I’m going to invite him, but so far, nothing has. (Nothing I can invite him to, anyway.)

So during this third karaoke experience, after the enkai, I was a little more comfortable with doing karaoke. I’ve never been a fan of singing in front of people, but the attitude about karaoke is completely different in Japan, compared to America.

Yoshimura did not come to karaoke with us, but he walked with us as far as the karaoke place, which is called “Shidax.” (“Yes please!” is the slogan. I don’t know. I just don’t know.) We ordered a room—I think without all-you-can-drink this time (like we got last time)—and when I walked in, it was the same room as last time. (Ebony said last time that this room’s air conditioner did not work very well.)

Me: “Nani kore?” [“What is this?” rather derisively; I was trying to say it like a yakuza, with the “r” rolled]

Mike: “Since when did you start speaking Japanese, Megan?”

Me: :D

Kim and I were determined to get Jeff to sing a song. He said he wasn’t good at singing, that he hadn’t sung since elementary school (which I find hard to believe, but maybe I’m the only one that sings when she’s doing homework), but Kim and I argued him down. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing—it really doesn’t. The worse you are, the more applause you get. And no one gives a shit whether you can sing or not. It’s a weird phenomenon.

Kim: “Well, what kind of music do you like?”

Jeff: “I dunno… Red Hot Chili Peppers…”

Me: “Oh man, they’re awesome.”

Jeff: “And Linkin Park, I guess.”

Kim: “I like them too! Okay, I’m going to put a song on for you, and you have to sing it.”

Jeff never agreed to this, but when the Linkin Park song came on and someone handed Jeff a microphone, he sang the song.

Along with everyone else. Luckily for Jeff, I suppose, everyone sang the song, so no one could even hear him. I think that probably helped to make him more comfortable, because he sang another song later in the night—a ‘Chili Peppers song.

I actually sang a few songs, surprising myself. No one listened to me at all, which was great—I just got to sing (poorly) whatever songs I wanted to. I sang “Make a Man Out of You” (from Mulan) with everyone, though I was the only one on the microphone and actually holding the song together. Then I sang Lady Gaga’s “Electric Chapel” and “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted (2007). I sang a few songs with Kim and Ebony, too, but the night ran out before we could sing too many together. XD

Usually I think I’m pretty okay at singing. I can at least hold a tune, and I’m not tone deaf. Let me tell you something: When I’m drunk, I cannot sing a gorram thing. It was really depressing. XD But I kept doing it anyway. At least no one was really listening. Enoguchi seemed impressed, but probably just because I was really belting it out.

Mike sang his signature song—Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback”—and we all sang a few Japanese songs, including the theme song from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (naturally) and this song that really cracks me up:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1492643207334201402

…It’s a very, very silly song. Here are some of the lyrics, translated into English:

I’m a bear, bear, bear, bear
Not a car, a bear, bear, bear
I can’t walk, but I can dance
I can’t talk, but I can sing
I’m a bear, bear, bear, bear

I’m a bear, bear, bear, bear
I hate fighting, bear, bear, bear
My rivals are fried shrimps
I bet I was chocolate in my past life
I’m a bear, bear, bear, bear

There’s more, but that’s just a sample. It’s… a very silly song. And I think we’ve sung it every time.

When we began karaoke, it was 9:30. For Kim and me, our last train to Tomiura was at 9:57, but we decided that we didn’t care. After karaoke, Jeff took Daiko, but everyone else—including Enoguchi—slept over at Mike’s house.

We had to run to meet the last train to Mike’s station, but we made it just in time. When we arrived in Chikura, Mike dragged us all over to look at his car, which he just got last week. He’s been excited about this car for a very long time—ever since we arrived in Minamiboso, actually, which is when he first laid eyes on a picture of it.

(courtesy of Mike’s facebook :D)

It was expensive, but Mike wanted a fancy car, and he said that it is a present to himself. He saved money all summer just for this purpose.

It’s only a two-seater, so he can only have one friend. At dinner, Mike apparently said something really hilarious about how many friends he wants or has. I missed it, but apparently it was just a mess of a sentence. He can’t speak English anymore. XD

Mike: “I’d rather have three close friends than one good friend.”

It was something like that. It didn’t really make any sense. XD

Anyway, we dropped some stuff off at his house and then walked to the beach and Seven Eleven to get snacks. Enoguchi bought a lot of stuff and more booze, but we ended up not drinking anymore that night.

When we finally got back to Mike’s house, we watched some TV. There was this weird reality show on in which people were eating food and… freaking out for some reason. Maybe it was really spicy?

Enoguchi (who at this point was “Eno-chan”) was crashing, so we decided to get some sleep. We had some trouble deciding who would sleep where—there were three beds and six of us. Enoguchi ended up sleeping on the futon with Victor, even though he said he didn’t want to sleep next to Victor because “Victor is big and might fall” on him.

I was awoken at around 6:45 in the morning, because for whatever reason, everyone else was already up. Enoguchi had left at the crack of dawn, because he wasn’t there anymore, and apparently Kim had slapped my leg when I was asleep to ask me what time it was. Everyone thought that was really funny.

Victor: “SLAP! WHAT TIME IS IT!”

Kim: “Shut up! I wanted to know!”

We all ended up talking for about three hours before Kim, Ebony, and I had to catch our train. We created quite a lot of inside jokes. I can’t remember why, but Mike was doing a sound effect for something, and he came up with the weirdest noise.

Mike: “And then SPAP!”

:D I was bored again.

Victor: “…Spap?”

I have no idea what kind of sound it is supposed to be, but it was the funniest goddamn thing for us that morning, and I’m still laughing when I think of it now. “Spap?” What kind of sound effect is that?!

And now whenever we need a sound effect, we say “spap.” :D Well, Victor, Mike, and I do. Ebony and Kim didn’t find it as entertaining, but whenever I say it, they still laugh.

I laughed so hard all night and in the morning, it was ridiculous. Mike expressed his hope that we all stay friends, except he can only have one friend because his car is a two-seater. :D

I agree, though. :) Everyone is a lot of fun.

Extra!!

Also, I found an article comparing contemporary Japanese culture and the 1960s Mad Men culture!

Link: http://thisjapaneselife.org/2010/12/01/watching-mad-men-japan/

Huh. Interesting.

Cast of Characters

Ebony as… a 2nd year ALT in Maruyama. She is from New York.

elPhone as… an iPhone that helps me when I get lost, or when I need to translate something. Because it is an Apple product, it is hard to navigate or customize, but it works pretty well. I probably don’t use it to its maximum usefulness, but I don’t really care… For me, phones are a communicative device first (though I guess you can hardly say elPhone is a phone because I can’t even make calls with it; calls are expensive).

Enoguchi as… “Eno-chan,” which is a cutesy nickname. He is one of my supervisors. And a friend. :)

Jeff as… “Jeff” or “Jazzy Jeff,” as we’ve taken to calling him. A 1st year ALT in Miyoshi. He is from Minnesota. When we karaoke, we always put his name into the song. XD I think it’s to keep him involved, because we’re all so rowdy and he’s not, so we don’t want him to fade into the background.

Kim as… a 1st year CIR. She was a 1st year ALT last year in Asahi, in northern Chiba. She lives in Tomiura and works are City Hall, which is across the street from my middle school. She is from Ohio.

Masato as… someone Melissa and I ran into at the market after the Belgium orientation. He is a former JET, but now he works with a different program (because he wanted to stay in Japan longer than the JET contract allowed). He is new in the area and doesn’t know anyone, so he was really happy to run into other English speakers.

Melissa as… a 2nd year ALT in Tomiyama. She is from Wisconsin.

Mike as… a 1st year ALT in Chikura. He is from New Jersey.

Victor as… a 2nd year ALT in Shirahama. He is from Alabama.

Yoshimura as… my supervisor for my school. He works at the Board of Education.

Vocabulary

Chan: A Japanese honorific suffix that is usually used for girls or cute things. It can be used with guys’ names, but it sounds silly and intimate, so it’s often said rather jokingly. For more information on honorifics, see Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_honorifics

Enkai: “Dinner party” or “banquet.”

Karaoke: Something you apparently decide to do when you’re drunk. Or… in order to get drunk. I’m beginning to think there are no bars in Japan, but I know that’s not true.

Tateyama: The biggest city near Tomiura.

Omiyage: “Souvenir.” We were instructed to bring some gifts from America for our supervisors and coworkers in Japan. You’re supposed to bring gifts for someone when you enter their house, too, and for business deals. When you go on vacation, you’re supposed to bring things back for everyone. Actually, one of my students went to Universal Studios in Japan and brought me back a Spiderman pen!

Spap!: A comic-book sound effect invented by Mike. For all your sound effect needs.

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