Monday, November 3, 2008

Bunkasai & Nomikai (Saturday, October 18, 2008)

It’s Bunkasai season!!  Schools all around Japan are going crazy with preparing for and carrying them out, and yet I had no idea what they are until mine was going on.  Bunkasai means Art or Culture Festival.  In the weeks leading up to a school’s bunkasai, middle school and elementary school students paint, build, cut, paste, and sing in preparation for the grand event.  It always happens on a weekend, there might be an assembly to open the day, and then the school is open to the public as it displays that students’ work.  At my middle school, the art viewing was followed by culture classes for the students.  Naturally, I was to create an English-conversation class.  The teacher who I put it on with suggested that I do something Halloween.  So with Halloween as the theme, lots and lots of candy, and various games in English, our class ended up being a huge success!!  Some of the other teachers even commented on hearing about how much fun the students said it was!!  Woot!!  After that, the entire school was bussed to a concert hall where each class took turns getting up on stage and singing a song.  I was told to sit with a 3rd grade class where I had a little too much fun joking around with the boys around me.  ¾ of the way through, I realized that this was a huge singing competition among the classes.  Apparently the head teachers vote on which class did the best job, and the students want more than anything to win it all.  I was so shocked and confused when they announced the winners and all of the girls started crying.  Some were crying with joy because they had just won, and others were crying because they couldn’t believe that they had just lost. 

After that was all done with, the teachers arranged for a nomi-kai, or an eating and drinking party.  When I got there, I found out that this was also going to double as another new teacher and my (from July) welcome party.  The set up was two long rows of 10 places facing each other, and then 3 places in the middle and at the so-called ‘head of the table.’  Since no one wanted to sit at the center of attention and be farther removed from the rest of the group, they made me and the other new guy sit there with another teacher who got forced into the most unwanted spots.  As soon as the ‘kampai’ or ‘cheers’ was said, instead of eating, some of the teachers got up and started moving around the inside of this rectangle, talking to other teachers while pouring more and more beer into their tiny beer cups.  It’s Japanese custom to never pour for yourself.  It was explained to be that in order to make things like this more social, you always pour for others, and expect them to in turn pour for you.  The thing is though, that no one waits for you to be done with your drink.  Even if your cup is still 9/10 full, they will insist on filling that 1/10 of space, and you feel obligated to drink what they had just poured or to make room so that they can pour some more.  Needless to say, these guys were getting pretty bright red, and loud.  People who never talk to me or even acknowledge that I exit in school were becoming my best friend.  The principle even came up to me and expressed his most sincere gratitude for me being there to teach and interact with the students.  He couldn’t thank me enough, and I really can’t remember when the last time (if ever) he so much as even said ‘hello’ to me in school.  All in all this enkai was a blast, and I learned a lot about my colleagues that alcohol would not have given me the opportunity to find out.  After our 2 hours of all you can drink was up, a smaller group invited me out to the ‘nijikai’ or round 2 party.  There we ate more, and drank more, and some people left all wobbly on their feet.  One of the teachers let me ride in her taxi back to my apartment, which was nice.  This was a great night, and immediately afterwards, I was so excited that I had made so many new friends, and that everyone would be more social with me the next time I saw them at work.  Well, I’m writing about this event weeks later and I can say that nope, nothing’s change and I guess the unwritten rule is true: what happens at an enkai stays at an enkai.  

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