Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My First Enkai!

Alright, so it wasn't really an ENKAI since I don't really work and this group of people were friends and NOT co-workers, but it is fun to pretend.

Emily and I were invited to attend a costume party by one of Emily's fellow JETs, Sarah. The party was hosted by a group of Japanese, who from what I could tell were friends who all had children that were pretty much the same age (they could have been co-workers, who knows?)

The party was held at a restaurant in Takaoka; I think it was an Italian restaurant, but I could be wrong (I probably am). We were told to show up around 6:30 dressed in costume and to bring a gift. Now Emily isn't really a detail person. Our apartment is spotless and she is definately into details when it comes to fashion, but as far as planning goes, she prefers someone else to do it for her. Combine this with our inability to comprehend Japanese language and culture and, well, you see where I'm going with this.

Emily dressed up as a naughty Christmas Elf and I bought a wig, donned my Red Sox jersey and claimed that I was Johnny Damon. We also bought two poinsettia plants, thinking that they would make nice gifts.

We met up with Sara and her boyfriend, Michael, outside of the restaurant and when we walked in we quickly realized that we had completely missed the whole point of the party. We were supposed to show up dressed as a CARTOON CHARACTER and we were supposed to bring a WRAPPED gift. Oops! Sucks to be gaijin.

As we entered the restaurant we paid for our dinners (4000 Yen each, ouch!) and took a seat at the Western table in the center of the room (there were several other tables set up for our enkai). Besides the hosts (Batgirl and Darth Vader), we were the first guests to arrive. We sat at the table and discussed how lame our costumes were (except for Sara, who was in a full body Pikachu outfit) as we watched the room fill with Japanese parents and kids dressed as characters from Disney movies, anime cartoons, and giant bugs. Most of the costumes were homemade, which really impressed me. The homemade costumes looked better than what a store bought costume looks like back home. By the way, I don't know what cartoon the giant bugs come from. Any input would be appreciated.

I think my favorite costume was worn by a little boy named Toyo who came dressed as Snow White. That's right, I said little BOY dressed as Snow White. His mom was dressed as the Evil Queen from the same movie. They looked great together, but I thank GOD my mom never did that to me (Toyo eventually won the award for Best Costume).

While we waited for everyone to arrive and pay for thier dinner, we sat around and socialized some more. While most of the kids were transfixed by the 42 inch plasma screen TV in the corner, we were able to talk to several of the parents in English. A typical conversation went like this:

"How long have you been in Japan?"

"Since Saturday."

"Soo desu ne! Do you speak Japanese?"

"Iie. Zen zen Wakarimasen."

"So you speak Japanese!"

"Umm..."

The dinner started when one of the Dads got up and gave a short speech in Japanese. Then one of the Moms got up and gave a short speech. During the speeches we all poured beer into each other's glasses. When the speeches were done, we raised our glasses, KANPAIed, and chugged our whole drink.

With that out of the way, we let the feasting commence!

I guess I should mention that you're not supposed to fill up your own drink at an enkai. You're supposed to fill up the glass of everyone else around you, especially the people that you want to show respect towards. In return, they fill up your glass. Everybody is supposed to know that. I feel lame having to write it.

The food was fantastic. We were served salmon, duck, pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with cream sauce and calamari rings, and the coolest dish that can be best described as a goulash served in a hollowed out toasted loaf of bread. It was all delicious.

This type of meal is called a tabehoudai, which basically translates into "all you can eat - but you have to leave after two hours." It is different from an American all you can eat. In America, you take food until you are unable to eat any more. In Japan, they give you food until you are unable to eat any more. It is a subtle difference.

Our dinner was also technically a nomihoudai, which, similar to the tabehoudai, literally means "all you can DRINK - but your drunk ass has to get up and move after two hours."

During dinner, Emily and I sat on the end of the table next to the cutest little Japanese girl dressed as Marie from the Aristocats. Her name was Chieko. Click HERE to see a video of Chieko singing the ABC song.

Halfway through our meal, one of the Mom's got up and introduced everyone in the room. I had the honor of being introduced first. I was introduced as "Sara's friend's boyfriend, Angelo." They made me stand up and wave to everyone. I don't know if being the first introduction is a sign of respect or a sign that I was considered to be the least important person in the room. I'm sure I'll figure out this whole Japan thing eventually. Emily was next, then Michael, then Sara, followed by each of the families and their children.

After the introductions we played BINGO!

It was a pretty fun idea. We separated all of the gifts into two separate piles: gifts for children and gifts for adults. Then we played some MAD bingo; it was really exciting. If you got to be one number away from calling BINGO, you had to stand up and say "richii." I don't know why and I don't know what it means. I just know we had to do it.

When somebody finally called BINGO, they got to go up front, select a gift, have their picture taken by 12 different cameras, and then sit back down. If there was a tie and two people called BINGO at the same time, they had to play janken, which is just the Japenese name for rocks, paper, scissors. We continued playing bingo until everybody in the room had selected a gift. Emily was just about the last person to win. Our poinsettias were the last gifts to go.

After bingo, we listened to another speech; this time it was a goodbye speech. We also had to take group pictures. We took one picture with all of the kids and then one picture with all of the adults. It was entertaining to watch a roomful of kids take pictures of the adults.

We finally left after saying a thousand thank yous. It is traditional for an enkai to be followed by a second party (remember, this wasn't really an enkai), but Emily and I had to get ready for a JET party being held at a Brazilian nightclub, so we had to leave our new Japanese friends behind.

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