In Which I Sing “Ticket To Ride” and End Up In A Hot Spring…Nude
August 10, 2009
I’ve never really thought about partying with my teachers after school hours. It just seemed like so strange. Teachers…with social lives??? But all my perceptions have flipped now that I’m on the other side and I’ve attended my first Japanese enakai.
An enakai is a party for school teachers. Japanese school teachers work crazy stupid hours, and rarely have time to socialize. So when they do, they go all out. Meet the enakai. Before arriving here, I had read they were basically the means to get Japanese teacehrs extremely drunk and out of their comfort zones.
Then I got invited to one today, and got to see the enakai up close and very, very, very personal.
This shin-dig went down at a hotel on a mountai high enough up to make my iPhone useless for calling anyone. Once we arrived, guests slipped off their shoes (a Japanese custom I’m sure you’ve heard of) and walked upstairs to a small dining room. A nice buffet-ish row of food stood in the center of the room featuring various fish dishes, fruit and frozen french fries (still good). People were seated randomly at several tables…save for me, who go to sit next to a translator. The perks of not understanding anyone!
The ceremony started off with a few speeches and toasts before turing into a mad-dash for food and liquor. Soon after, I couldn’t get away from the booze. During the first half of the enakai (well, at least this one), teachers go from table to table talking to people. Very social. Well, they also fill up your beer cup if even .00001% of it is empty. Sometimes, they look so excited to fill up your cup that you end up taking a big sip from it so you don’t dissapoint them. This goes doubly true if the principal of the school wants to give you some beer. The idea is to loosen you up (read: get you wasted) and to have a good time (read: uhhhhh, just see where I end up).
(On that note, I was surprised how people didn’t get completely sloshed. Based on what I read, I was prepared for an all-out orgy. Nobody got that bad, just a little red, and nothing too traumatic happened. The secret, or my strategy for surviving the onsalught of booze, is too take small sips when a new person arrived at the table and have them only give you a little bit. The small ball of drinking.)
The night went on, and the situation seemed normal enough. People hanging around and socializing. I made the rounds, meeting various teachers (a few of whom were all recently hired and also happen to be pretty 20-something year old girls, check those hiring standards) and faculty, not facing anything too embarassing besides my butchering of the Japanese language. The night seemed simple enough.
Then, the karaoke machine appeared, and everything got weird.
While a few people went up and sang J-Pop songs, I foolishly flipped through the song selection book, curious to see what America songs were available. The answer, unfortunately, was Bon Jovi. Even more distressing, my curiosity was mistaken for enthusiasm, and I was told I would be going next so I better pick a song.
I am not a singer. The last time I tried karaokee, I sang “Paper Planes” and sounded like an emasculated Tiny Tim. Yet I couldn’t back out of this terrifying situation. I had to make a good impression on my future co-workers, even if it meant looking like a jackass. I frantically flipped through the book trying to find a decent song (sorry “Total Eclipse of the Heart”) and narrowed it down to either Feist’s “1 2 3 4” or The Beatles “Ticket To Ride.” I settled with the Fab Four, becuase the Japanses might not know Feist, but they have to know The Beatles, right?
Uhhh, maybe, I’m not sure.
I got up and sang the song to a more-or-less quiet crowd. They had been clapping and cheering while people sang the J-Pop numbers, but weren’t as receptive to me as I bleated out how “my baby don’t care.” Did they not know “Ticket To Ride?” Were they focused on something else? Was I that bad?
Yet I finished the song, albeit with a lot less respect for myself.
And then I took a bath with a few other teachers.
In Japan, they have things called “onsens,” which are basically hot springs or, even more Americanized, jacuzzis. What makes them completely different is you go in them in the nude. A small group of English teacehrs were quite excited to take one and, even more so, to have me join them.
Much like karaokee, this isn’t something I really enjoy. And yet also just like karaokee, I’d do it for my image.
You go downstairs, through a blue curtain and into a sorta locker room. In there, you leave all your inhibitions behind…as do your future teaching colleagues. Once you accept that you can never unsee what you’ve seen, you go into the next room, where you take a pre-onsen shower, to get clean. Just as awkward as before, but with soap all over the place!
Once that is complete, you go through one last door to the actual hot spring and get in. When everyone actually submerges themselves, it feels just like a hot tub and a lot less nerve-wracking. You just sit around and chat (with me, mostly about onset etiqutte. Never put your towel in the water, people). Very relaxing, as long as you don’t dwell too long on how you’re chilliing with three naked dudes in a hot tub with a view of the moon.
We got out of the onsen, and showered one more time (thing was hot, everyone was sweating up a storm. Again, only slightly uncomfortable). We dried off and one of the teachers (who, I remind you, I have now seen in the buff) drove us home. And just like that, I had my first very Japanese, very naked experience.
I’d have been cool with the drunken orgy.
(Japanese Fun Fact #4 – The local department store has a lot of Beck albums in stock. Huh.)