An enkai is basically just a work drinking party. I've been excited about the prospect of going to one ever since I arrived, because I'd love to see what the other teachers are like outside of school. Basically everyone else has had two or at least one enkai since I arrived in August (one after Sports Day, the other after Culture Festival), but my school has either had none or hasn't invited me along. I joked to my fellow JETs that I was simply being secretly excluded, and while that was an actual theory of mine for a day or so, I don't think it's the case. We had this typhoon back in August, like three days after I arrived, and that was the reason Sports Day enkai didn't happen (I asked Mikan-sensei). By Culture Festival, I'd given up.
But a few weeks ago, I heard the teacher who sits next to me on the phone. I heard the word enkai, and a number of people, and December 11th. I heard a price. And I filed away that little bit of information by promptly sharing it on gchat with a fellow JET. If they didn't invite me to this one, I would certainly know about it!
I talked to my fellow ALTs about it, and they speculated that it was maybe the "Bonenkai" or 'the big one' which happens at the end of the year (as in, even if they skipped the Sports Day and CultureFest enkais, they would still definitely have Bonenkai).
Then on Monday as I was frantically downloading Christmas songs and trying to get a CD burned for elementary classes, one earbud in my ear, the other dangling into my lap, totally not paying attention to anything going on around me, the teacher next to me (who is actually pretty cool.. he's an older-ish guy, a math teacher, and an artist) was having a conversation with some of the others in our desk cluster.. he said "[Ah, Emily-sensei too]!" and I looked up like "Wah?"
They try to speak English to me. I forget this every time. But it still seems sort of sweet when random teachers with whom I've had very little interaction go out of their normal habits to say "Good morning," or "Have a good weekend."
So he said, "[December eleventh!] Big year end festival party!" and I just blinked and said "Bonenkai?" and everyone laughed and I was invited.
Now to me, who is a disciple of Latin and Latinate language, "bon" means 'good' quite literally. Not that I actually believed the Japanese have a party called "good party" every December, but it was hard for me to divorce the image of the year-end party from Christmas parties and the word "good." I found out while I was on the Dino-Weekend trip from another JET that Bonenkai literally comes out to "Forget-the-year-gathering." I laughed when I learned this, since it's a drinking party, and forgetting is fairly likely.
But the more I thought about it, the more I really liked that idea. First of all, I like when parties have themes; it gives me something to focus on. If it's a birthday, I can focus on a person, and other times and places, I can focus on an idea. Also, what better way to prepare to welcome a new year than to have a party dedicated to forgetting all the "unfortunate events" of the last? Because all that shit is gone now. The good too, when you get down to it... so whether this year was good or not, you still don't get to keep it. I personally can always do with a little more letting-go. And I can really get behind a culture wherein this concept is a yearly phenomenon.
Tonight is bounenaki, and I've toted some PJs and a toothbrush to work with me. I really don't know what to expect. I don't even know if I need to pay, or if the coffee-and-other-stuff-fund I've been paying into all semester takes care of it. It would be far easier to enumerate the things I do know rather than those I don't, so:
1. It will be in Haga, just northwest of where I work (which is just north of where I live).
2. It will be a spend-the-night, though there will be the option of going back early, I think.
3. There will be beer.
4. Everyone else will be Japanese.
I've been excited about enkai for so long, but now I'm kind of meh with it hanging right over me. It's a rainy, chilly day, and I am a bit tired. I had four classes today, but didn't actually do anything almost at all in any of them. Some days, it feels easy to try speaking Japanese, and some days it's a lot of work. Some days, you feel really "on." Some days, you don't. And today is a better curl-up-with-Harry-Potter-5 day than a let's-getting-drunk-with-non-English-speaking-coworkers day. I may be asked to make a speech. I was going to prepare something.. crap. My back is a bit sore still from kendo. Despite my hesitation to get naked with coworkers, I'll do it in a second if there's a hot spring where we're going.
Maybe my speech can be something silly like, "I had a great speech but.. I forgot."