I went to explore Nukumori no Mori, a magical forest about 40 minutes by bus from Hamamatsu city centre.
Looking like a little twee village pulled straight out of Ghibli, there’s also a restaurant, patisserie, an ice cream stall, tiny quirky shops selling home-made knick-knacks, an art gallery and an owlery (because of course there is.)
One thing I’m terrible at is describing places, so here’s just a bunch of photos. Enjoy!
There are apparently many kinds of Japanese ‘enkai’ – aka: drinking parties.
Japanese teachers work incredibly hard and long hours. At my school the teachers are there between 7am-7pm.
I’m a lucky, lazy ALT who rocks up at 8am, leaves at 4pm and only teaches for between 3 to 5 hours out of my 8-hour shift. So naturally there’s many an excuse for a booze-up.
In most schools, there’s an enkai after the Sports Festival – which makes sense seeing how long the teachers’ have planned and rehearsed the event, notably in-between their usual classes, marking papers, planning lessons, running after-school clubs etc.
I was asked within my first hour at my desk if I’d like to attend which put me on the spot a little, but wanting to be a happy, genki gaijin I’d agreed to attend. However as the enkai rolled nearer and I looked up etiquette on the internet I’d managed to tie myself in knots about it.
Firstly, the dress code was vague. “Dress up!” smiled my deskmate JTE but according to Reddit this could mean a full suit, business casual or formalwear. I couldn’t really get a solid answer out of anyone for specifics so took a punt and chose the outfit I wore to my 30th birthday party. Better to be overdressed than underdressed, right?
The enkai was also ¥5000 (around £50), which sounded steep and took a hefty chunk out of my weekly budget – but when it was explained it’s all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink it’s fairly worth it.
Japanese food is expensive back home. When me and my best friend Sam get together for sushi (our tradition ever since Sam moved away from the city) for a platter to share, as well as other little plates such as gyoza, edamame and takoyaki, two rounds of beers plus the tip we end up paying around £25-£30 each. So not too terrible in the grand scheme of things – but I have heard of higher-end enkai racking upwards of ¥10,000 per head.
There was of course the language barrier. My Japanese is practically non-existent, and none of the teachers (allegedly) speak much English. It was set to be a long night.
The internet also advised me that we all had to sit on our knees with our toes curled inwards. I’ve had tendon issues in my left knee ever since I was 15 (I felt off the back of the stage during our school production of Godspell…), so knew that simply wouldn’t be possible and I’d have to sit cross-legged like the blokes.
However it all turned out absolutely fine. I don’t know if it’s my school or just this particular enkai – but it was very relaxed.
The male teachers were in t-shirts and jeans, the female teachers in “jeans and a nice top” as we’d say in the UK! One of the teachers was in a hoodie with trainers.
I’m glad though I’d made an effort and was greeting with cries of “Ahh kawaii!” from teachers who’d never really spoken to me yet. I did look different than I do everyday at the school, where I wear my hair scraped back from my face, no makeup, and my ill-fitting teacher workwear.
One of my JTEs was going and I was hoping to sit next to her, but when I arrived we were asked to pick a card that allocated you a random seat. I was sat next to two female teachers, one male teacher and the admin girl I hadn’t spoken to before. When my JTE arrived and saw my table was full she looked apologetic – but this being Japan we would have never asked to switch tables. Rules is rules is rules.
There were a lot of speeches from the chief organisers of the Sports Day, the organiser of the enkai and finally the principal who called “KANPAI!!” and the festivities could begin.
I’d read the most important thing was to fill other attendees’ glasses, but to do it with two hands. I’d been rehearsing with a large Coke Zero bottle all week.
However all the teachers – including the principal – filled glasses one-handed. When I went around with the jug of beer and poured with two hands, I was greeted with appreciative cries of “Ahh, Japanese-style!”
I’d brushed up on enkai etiquette, but as mentioned before – it was all incredibly casual. (We were in booths so no kneeling required!)
As the beer and alcohol flowed I was complimented on my chopstick skills (a standard compliment every non-Japanese person receives from natives. One mustn’t let it go to one’s head). Everyone was amazed that I adore sashimi, and was gawked open-mouthed as I ate my raw amberfish and shouted “OISHIII” enthusiastically.
(I sent a picture to my Uncle who hates all seafood and he commented “Looks like Morrisons’ fish counter.”)
I’d also managed to get myself a little squiffy by this point. The male teacher called for “beiru!” every time my class was empty. He offered me sake and I politely declined.
(The first and last time I had a night on the sake me and my sister ended up in a karaoke bar in Osaka with a bunch of random Germans singing “Barbie Girl”. We didn’t get out of bed the next day – missing our trip to the Cup Noodle Museum. Devastating.)
My dad’s catchphrase could practically be: “Get your money’s worth, pet!” I think I made him proud. You can take the girl out of Hebburn.
Wor George would have been especially impressed with the male teacher sitting opposite me though – he got through five beers, two bottles of sakes and two whiskey highballs in two hours and enthusiastically egged us on to order more drinks – he got the other girls on our table on the cocktails.
Teachers who previously garbled they speak no English could suddenly make clear sentences. The male teacher apparently has a penchant for Scottish whiskies and told he he’d like to visit a distillery there one day.
After two hours, time was called, more speeches were made, there was a big clap and the party was over. A group of male teachers who shyly ignore me usually shouted “KAWAIIII” at my pink Kate Spade bag (my dream bag and an extremely generous 30th birthday present from my sister in May) as I got up to go to the bathroom. When I left they all bowed low and thanked me profusely for coming.
The general rule of thumb is “what happens at the enkai stays at the enkai” but it was a fairly tame affair with nobody being particularly loud or throwing the principal in the air (I’ve heard this is a thing that happens).
And back at school – the ice has somewhat been broken a little with some teachers who were otherwise are too shy to even acknowledge me in the teachers’ lounge. Others who chatted away to me at the enkai have retreated, but at least the olive branch has been offered.
Although I’ve started getting a hearty “OHAYO GOZAIMASUUU” reply from most teachers in the morning, which is hopeful.
And will I be going to my next one?
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