It’s the end of the school year in Japan, which means there are a whole load of work parties to slog through. The Japanese love office parties, for a few reasons. They give the lower level employees a chance to voice concerns with their bosses, they let people from different departments mingle (important, since Japan’s birth rate is collapsing), and they have all you can drink alcohol…
We had the end of year party for retiring teachers and the English department had a separate one for the departing English teacher. Next weekend, after the new term has officially started (but thankfully, before any classes) we’ll have another big party to welcome the new teachers, then the English department will have YET ANOTHER party to welcome the new teacher.
In a short couple of months, I will be leaving Japan for the cloudy skies of Ireland, and
If you were an alcoholic in Japan, it would be very easy to hide it, what with all the unlimited booze parties.
1- They are expensive
All that beer and food has to come from somewhere, and the average enkai will cost upwards of ￥5,000, ($50). Enkais up to ￥10,000, are not unheard of, and usually the big parties clock in at around that price tag.
For all that money, you could be forgiven for wondering where it all went, after all, it didn’t go on the food. Hotels and restaurants serve up the tiniest portions of food that they can get away with. Undoubtedly, it’s tasty, and of a decent quality, we just wish there were… more of it.
2- All you can drink, means all you can drink (to an extent)
Yes, what I said earlier is true, these parties are all you can drink, except you’re limited in two ways.
– you cannot fill your own drink. It’s a weird custom that since everybody is friends at an enkai you should never have to fill up your own glass. So, if you run out of beer, wine, whiskey or sake, you need to fill up somebody else’s glass to give them a gentle reminder that your throat’s as dry as the Sahara.
-the glasses are tiny. In keeping with the control of the food portions, the beer glasses hold (at most) 100ml of beer. Thankfully, there are large bottles of beer on every table, now all you have to do is remind a co-worker that you’re running empty, and try to avoid the temptation to take two of the bottles and attempt to recreate the ‘Edward 40-hands’ scene from ‘How I Met your Mother’.
3- Even though you are drinking, you must still be polite
Yup, this is Japan, and even while drunk, you have to follow the rules. At some stage during the party, you will have to stumble your way over to the boss’s table, make some polite conversation, fill up his drink and get out of there as smoothly as possible.
4- The nijikai (second party) is all but compulsory
Every enkai is followed by a nijikai, usually this happens when the ‘all you can drink’ time at the first place expires. The most hardcore of drinkers will stay for the sanjikai (third party), but you don’t need to concern yourself with that. After all, if you’re not completely polluted after four hours of non-stop drinking, what will two more do?
The nijikai is even more focused on the drinking than the first one (if that’s possible), and it’s where all the office gossip, promotions, assignments and schedules are arranged. Make sure you attend, or you’ll find yourself out of the loop when your co-workers are getting all the choice jobs.
5- You will make new friends (for an evening)
In my school, there is a teacher who only talks to me at enkais, seriously. This guy’s English, combined with my Japanese means that we can have a grand old chat together. At the last party, he got… a little tipsy, and started comparing the female teachers’ breasts to fruit, from grapes to melons.
Did you know that there was a size difference between apples an oranges? Or that kiwi is an acceptable measurement for cup size? Me neither, but this guy did…
But the point is, this guy won’t talk to me if he doesn’t have a glass full of Dutch courage in his hand. Apparently, he’s shy… (I’ll never be able to look at pears the same way again.)
(How I think I look)
6- If you’re foreign everything you do will be remembered
Seriously, I don’t need to say much. This picture summarizes it perfectly.
‘Remember when the foreigner (and everybody else) couldn’t handle their drink? Great times!’
It might seem like I’m coming down on enkais, and I suppose that I am, a bit. I still love them, they’re a great way to let your hair down with your co-workers, as well as have some fun, interesting, and downright terrifying conversations.
But hey, if Japan is anything, it’s fun, interesting, and a little terrifying!