This, my third enkai, and “Graduation Enkai,” was by far, for me, the best, even though we all had school the next day (and it was Wednesday night—which means the next day? Yeah, was one of those dreaded Thursdays).
The office was so quiet Thursday afternoon when I got back from Big Elementary, though. Everyone was a touch hungover. But I get ahead of myself.
After most big events, school staff groups will have enkai. So graduation could be no exception. Ours happened to be at the same venue where we had Bounenkai, so out in the far mountaintops of EvenMoreRural Japan at a sort of resort up on top of this mountain. I had thought to myself, back in December when I was first there, that when the weather got better (oh you know, maybe in like March or something?) I might go back and explore that area a bit more.
The weather was not better in March. There was in fact more snow.
This time, I also did not go enjoy the hot-bath facilities, which is too bad because it would have been really pretty at the outdoor bath with all that snow still falling like mad.
Anyway. I've learned a few things about enkai by now which help me better enjoy them.
One: shit starts on time. It's not like the kind of party I'm used to, where we say 6, and you get there at like 6:20, and hang around until everyone arrives, and start eating at maybe 7:15. This wasn't a problem because I got a ride directly from school to the venue, but I did really appreciate it, since I (we all did) had work the next day. Anyway, if you aren't there and seated at six, no one is going to wait for you, unless maybe you are the principal and held up by a major earthquake or something. And we don't mess around with 'water now, drinks in a bit,' no sir. Things are properly kicked off with a toast at 6:03, everyone drains their little cute glass of sweet plum wine, and then we start on the rest.
Two: it is your job to fill everyone else's glass. It is also your job to make sure there is space in your glass if someone wants to fill it for you. I decided I needed to get out of my shell a little and make rounds with beer pouring, which I have never done in such capacity. I used to look up, see that everyone had a full glass, and feel silly for not participating in the custom of (especially junior staff members) running around filling glasses. How did everyone else do it? Finally I just got up and started to make rounds. I noticed an awesome thing. Anytime I got to someone whose glass was full, they would notice me, make a sound of surprise, and then drink some of whatever they were drinking so I could give them a tiny refill.
This is excellent because I felt like such a pusher. Here I go, round the table, basically forcing everyone to drink more. Such power. People are generally surprised/delighted when I/any foreigner make an attempt to do something Japanese, also, so there was that extra level of good-job. The English speakers asked me about whether we do that in America and I was like, naw, you help yourself, or the bartender (my brother or mother) helps you, or the waitress is in charge of that mess.
But it's a pretty cool way to socialize, and you can talk to those you really want to, and just sort of be polite to those you don't, as you work your way around the table.
When I got to the principal, he took the lid off his miso-bowl and filled it with sake. And I drank it pretty fast, then filled it ("only a little!") for the VP, and then filled it for the principal, who drank it, and then I drank another one. Basically, I was comfortably drunk by 6:45. Which is good because enkai also end on time, I rightly assumed 9pm, which I appreciated so I could work the next day.
Whenever anyone came across me while doing their rounds, and asked me if I was drinking sake or beer, my reply was always, oh whatever, both are good. Because I am a team player, yes.
Three: there might be drinking games. And not like games where certain things happen and therefore you drink.. more like, you are drinking, so the game is more hilarious/difficult. The games this time were some more "which teacher are the students describing" kind, and a couple of memory games. The teams are always divided by year-level teachers, also desk clusters.. but even though I sit at the 1st-year desk cluster (in the office), I was on the 4th-year (extras) team for games.. so it was me, the principal, and VP, and we lost every game, but had a lot of fun. At some point, the non-English-speaking principal took up my habit of yelling "Waitwaitwaitwaitwait!" when we needed another moment to write our answer down.
Four: the food will be really good, and it will probably never stop coming. This was good, considering how terrible I'd been about dinner the night before. When I say 'comfortably drunk,' I mean on a full stomach and everything.
Other than these things, there were speeches by all the 3rd-year teacher block, one at a time throughout the night. It was weirdly reminiscent of the spirit of LNF (Last Night Fun.. the party after the kids leave GHP.. when the staff half-celebrates the success of the summer, half mourns and drowns the sorrow of the fact that it's over), in both tone and level of abandon. But, I dunno.. like, with adults instead.
I heard later from Big Brother JET that hardly anyone drank at his enkai, since they had work the next day. So, you know, so for them as for me.. it would have been responsible of me to attend, drink very little, and be ready for my classes the next day. But we laughed, and I really appreciate the "screw that idea" spirit of my school's staff. We were totally going to play as hard as we work. And I was ready for my classes the next day.. it was better to do enkai right than it would have been to do enkai wrong and resent my 5th graders the more for it.
VP and Kermit-sensei burst into song right at the end (I think it was enka music.. there was a karoke machine in the room, so..) and were way more epic singers than anyone predicted.
I caught the bus at 9 and went home to sleep. When I returned to the office Thursday afternoon, the VP asked if I were 'tired.' I thought he meant from dealing with 5th and 6th graders all morning (to which, why yes, I was tired). "You drank a lot of sake last night," he said. I laughed and said it was okay. But I imagined the staff meeting that morning being about as productive as the post-LNF breakfast meeting.