Archive for December, 2005
That’s right folks. After nearly 5 years in Japan, I’m pulling up stumps and heading back for Australia.
There’ll be a few more stories based on Japan in the next few weeks, but after that, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the site. After all, I’m not really sure whether anyone wants to read “The Cynical Traveller… sits around the house in his underpants, ocassionally scratching himself.”
Anyhow, thanks to all my readers and commenters. It’s been a fun ride.
Like I said, stay tuned for at least a few more updates…
Well folks, ‘tis the season to be jolly. While the Japanese may not celebrate Christmas (at least not in the non-consumer way), they certainly take the opportunity to get jolly whenever it presents itself.
Yes, it’s the last few weeks before Christmas and New Year’s and that means the end of year staff party or bon enkai.
Anybody who’s lived in Japan for a significant length of time will know all about enkais. If you are down the local izakaya (the Japanese equivalent of a pub) and you see 30 men in suits falling over, vomiting and wearing women’s underwear on their head, chances are you’ve stumbled into one.
Firstly, the rules of the enkai
1. “What happens at the enkai, stays at the enkai.”
An example I was given, is that it is perfectly acceptable to tell your boss he’s an arsehole and then resume a normal working arrangement the next day. Needless to say, I wasn’t really willing to put this to the test.
2. Never fill your own glass, or allow another person’s glass to become empty.
This enables you to get as drunk as possible, without any of that responsible “knowing how much you’ve drunk” nonsense.
3. Talk to as many people as possible
Don’t worry if you can’t speak Japanese. By the end of the night most of the Japanese can’t either.
Let me run you through a typical school enkai.
4.00 – Try to find the restaurant on the map provided
6.00 – Arrive at the enkai. 90% of the teachers are still at school. Take a small random card to determine seating arrangements.
6.20 – Watch as the other teachers arrive and pick seats. Groan as the seat next to you is drawn by the teacher who hates gaijin and has said three words to you in 4 years.
6.25 – Start talking with the teacher next to him in front of his face just to piss him off.
6.30 – The teacher who organized the enkai thanks everyone for coming and introduces the principal who appears in a puff of smoke and saws a lady in half.
6.31 – The principal makes a speech thanking everyone for their hard work during the year. Fell guilty that he’s probably including you in “everyone” but really shouldn’t be.
6.33 – Realise you don’t speak Japanese.
6.35 – “Bloody hell. Is this speech ever going to end?”
6.38 – Speech finishes and teachers say “kanpai” (cheers). Clink glasses together, take a drink and then clap (presumably at the fact that you got it in your mouth without spilling any).
6.40 – First course arrives. Open your dish and realize that you have no idea what it is, or even what planet it came from. Just eat it anyway.
6.45 – Mingle with other teachers and fill their glasses. Have your glass filled by EVERYONE because they want to see what happens when the gaijin gets drunk.
6.45 – 9.00 – Get drunk and make a fool of yourself.
7.45 – “Hey, this Japanese isn’t as difficult as I thought. I must be pretty damn clever.”
9.00 – More speeches. The principal makes another speech and it concludes with everyone performing a special series of claps unique to our school. Rather like a noisier version of the freemason’s handshake.
9.30 – Soft-core teachers go home. The hardcore teachers announce the location of the second party, preferably somewhere involving karaoke.
9.32 – Realise that, while I’m having difficulty standing, I’m still not drunk enough to sing Karaoke and go home with the soft core teachers.
This is a guide to a normal enkai. Christmas enkais are almost the same, except everyone brings a small present and you draw one at random. Last year I got a ceramic rooster statue.
Today’s story is based on Shintoism, a subject about which I actually know bugger all. I’m not even close to being a theologian and my observations are based on information provided by Japanese friends on the day. Some of my interpretations may be way off.
Then again, even my knowledge of Christianity is based solely on repeated viewings of “Life of Brian” and the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ: Superstar”. So, if you want to write in and tell me that my synopsis of this Shinto festival is completely wrong, feel free.
Festivals are of course, a big part of life in Japan. The Japanese are never happier than when they can dress up in traditional clothes and eat fried noodles and crepes.
Living in a largely agricultural area, I was asked to participate in the local mikoshi festival. Mikoshi are large portable Shinto shrines, each weighing roughly a 1000kg. The shrines are supported by two or four large beams and are carried to a blessing site by about a dozen people, usually wearing a kind of loincloth similar to the ones used by Sumo wrestlers.
Each mikoshi is supposed to hold a god, generally of some kind of natural persuasion, like rocks, rivers, mountains or trees. However, it’s not just a case of carrying the mikoshi down to the site (a river in this case). That would be far too simply and not nearly painful enough for the Japanese.
No, it appears that these gods are in fact lazy little things who are constantly falling asleep on the job. Personally, I can understand this. Being god of a rock doesn’t seem to be quite as fun as say, being Thor, God of Thunder or Dionysus, God of Wine and Orgies. Basically, as god of rocks, there wouldn’t be much else to do except sleep and occasionally sediment.
So, in order for the god to realise he is being honoured, the Japanese feel it is necessary to bounce the mikoshi up and down to wake him up. This is done to the cry of, “Washoi, washoi!” which is basically translates to, “Go! Go!”
There aren’t too many times in Japan when I’ve cursed being taller than the locals. Oh, I might get frustrated occasionally when I’m trying to buy shoes or I smack my head on a low door, but generally being a head taller than everyone else has its advantages. Unfortunately, this was one of the times when it didn’t.
Basically, my shoulders were a couple of inches higher than everyone else’s. So, everytime the mikoshi was brought down, I managed to bear the full brunt of the impact before it hit everyone else.
Also, while not personally a religious man, I still wonder about the validity of this idea. I mean, imagine you’re a god of rocks or a river or something. You’ve just had a heavy day of diverting eddies, or sitting around feeling heavy, and you’re looking forward to a nice nap. You start drifting off and suddenly some bastards start shaking your house and shouting at you.
Are you going to wake up and bestow blessings on these people? Or are you going to start thinking it was about time for a rain of frogs or a flood of Shintoric proportions? It would be the god equivalent of your neighbour waking you up at 3am and asking to borrow your lawnmower.
Still, reservations aside, I agreed to participate on the proviso that I didn’t have to wear the loincloth.
Unfortunately for all concerned, I was outvoted…
The Cynical Traveller