Article first published in March 2005's edition of JETFuel

 

At his retirement party, Taniguchi-sensei preparing to

bash some rice to smithereens (or rather, to bash some 

rice into mochi...)

A Different Kind of Enkai1

By “Sherry Rhodes”

 

Enkai.  Apart from the money, it’s the only reason to go to work.  Well, it’s definitely one of the perks at any rate. 

 

I’ve made it my principle to go to every enkai that’s offered, and it has definitely paid off.  Not only do you get to see your colleagues in a different setting, relaxing and spreading gossip, but it means more people say “ohayougozaimasu2” in the morning (and if your school is anything like mine you’ll understand when I say most days that’s the most contact I have with anyone, so it makes a difference).

 

Over the last 18 months I’ve been lucky enough to experience what I thought was the full range of enkai – silver service with about 10 sets of knives and forks per person, relaxed yaki-niku3 at a Korean place, formal Japanese on tatami mats4, at some dive in Katamachi5, at the top hotel in the city, even once at work.  In fact, the only one I haven’t been to is the Bon Enkai6 at an onsen7.  Call me prudish, but there is no way my colleagues are going to see me naked.

 

This enkai, however, was a whole new kettle of fish.  The reason for the party was the pending retirement of the tennis coach, Taniguchi-sensei8, who (I discovered at the party) is extremely popular. 

 

It started off normal enough.  Posh hotel, speeches, pouring beer for each other – you know the drill9.  And then the entertainment started.  Now, that was something new, for a start. 

 

First in line were the taiko10 drummers:  an all-female group, with two young kids.  And they were incredible!  It was some of the best taiko I’ve heard since being in Japan. 

 

After the taiko, Taniguchi-sensei was invited on stage to make mochi11 – he had the hapi12, the mallet…the full works.

 

Next up, one of the engineering teachers sang a song, while the librarian (in traditional Japanese dress) did a fan dance around the little stage.  The song was about the school and Taniguchi-sensei.

 

The third performer was the guy in charge of the office, who sang an enka13 song about the retiring teacher, and he was swiftly followed by one of the female teachers who read a letter from his daughter. 

 

It was a really touching affair, and it made me realise with regret that I see these people every day, but I know precious little about any of them.    

   

 

1. Enkai - a party, where people typically get very very very drunk

2. ohayougosaimasu - good morning

3. yaki-niku - Best described as "barbequed meat".  Usually thin strips of meat, or skewered meat, cooked over an open flame.  In a restaurant, you tend to do this yourself at a specially designed table with a little gas BBQ in the middle of it.  At a festival it's done for you over coals.

4. Tatami mats - the traditional (and expensive-to-replace) Japanese woven mat flooring.  Many JETs have this type of floor in their homes. 

5. Katamachi - the night-life/red light district in Fukui City

6. Bon Enkai - end of year party

7. Onsen - traditional Japanese hot spring bath, to be enjoyed completely naked.  Incidentally, I do enjoy the odd onsen, but alone or with friends - never with colleagues!

8. Sensei - teacher (honorific, also used when addressing doctors)

9. Well, I guess if you're reading these notes, you don't know the usual drill.  Well, I'm not going to get bogged down into explaining the ins-and-outs of enkai etiquette here, but suffice to say, one of the important aspects is that party-goers never fill their own glasses.  If you want your glass to be filled, you fill another persons, and then they offer to fill yours.  It is also customary to grab a large bottle of beer and wonder round the room filling up peoples glasses and stopping for a chat.  I'm getting a bit better at this, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

10. taiko - lit. drums.  Usually used to refer to the traditional Japanese drums

11. mochi - very hard to explain... Usually described as a "rice cake"...basically, cooked, sticky rice is pounded and pounded until it makes a very sticky pounded substance.  Mochi comes in many forms, from light and fluffy to very, very heavy and chewy.  This was the heavy, chewy stuff that has to be toasted before eaten.  Caution re. choking when eating mochi.  

12. hapi - short yukata (summer kimono), looks like a light, baggy coat-thing with long sleeves.  Often worn by taiko drummers, yosakoi performers, street vendors at festivals, or by people who want to associate themselves as part of a particular group at important events...hard to explain!

13. enka -one of the traditional forms of singing in Japan

 

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