I went to two bonenkais (end of the year parties) this week. Thursday night was the Board of Education enkai which I was dreading. And last night was the choir enkai which I was only slightly dreading. I'm not really a party person and I'm really not one when I don't speak the language but both parties went better than I had expected.
The part that gives me the most stress is the seating. Unless it's a small group you aren't allowed to sit where you want. You have to draw a number and sit at that seat. I'm always afraid I'm going to be sitting next to someone who won't bother to try and speak English or at least speak slowly in Japanese. I got lucky both nights and had people who were both friendly and willing to slow down for me.
The good thing about the assigned seating is that after the opening speech and the kanpai (cheers) you can get up and move around. People crawl around on their knees and pour drinks for other people and chat. Actually you're really not supposed to pour your own drink. If you want some more to drink then you pick up the beer/sake/tea and pour for your neighbor and then they will hopefully return the favor.
I didn't really drink Thursday night because I had work the next morning and I didn't feel like a hangover. Besides, I'm not a big beer or sake drinker. I did drink a little though just because there is a lot of pressure to drink. I drank more last night not only because it was Friday but because one of the choir members makes his own red wine and brought some along. Wine is my drink of choice so I had to have some. Besides it's weird to get plastered in front of your boss, it's not weird to be tipsy in front of the choir members.
At the choir enkai we also played bingo and got to pick out presents. I got a basket with some candy. The woman sitting next to me also gave me a book of photography published by her husband. It has some beautiful pictures of the beaches in Tahara and it's so I can remember Tahara when I leave next summer. We had a nijikai (second party after the first one disperses) at the local karaoke place. Almost everyone at the first came to the second and we got down with some jpop, anime theme songs, enka, and my few additions of English songs. This is why I haven't quit yet. Because I really did have fun last night.
But I am glad that I am done with bonenkais for the season...possibly forever. I will miss having enkai style dinners. The tatami rooms are gorgeous and the food is usually delicious (I chowed down both nights!) But I won't miss all the drunkenness and awkwardness of not knowing enough Japanese to sustain conversation for three or four hours.