Shiro Wine, Onegaishimasu!

In a country where R sounds like L and L sounds like R and L and R sound like “D,” it’s no wonder that I can’t prounce a word correctly. My American tongue wants to make its American sounds, and even when I know the Japanese word, I repeat it four, five, 19 times until finally, the server knows that I would like a glass of white wine.

And white wine – or “Shiro wine” (pronounced something like – she-do why-eene) is where this story begins.

My first week in Hikari. I won’t soon forget those first days. I sat at my Board of Education office the day after I arrived in this strange town, confused as to where I was and what I was doing. I sat at the small desk with four chairs – that uncomfortably sat three very tall American ALTs for two days, before my predecessor left. I leafed through a notebook full of information – what each English teacher was like at each school; seating charts; textbooks; my schedule for the next three months. My mind twirled, danced on the stage where my brain used to function. I was goo – confused, disoriented goo. And then, night three or four in Hikari, I experienced my first enkai.

Enkai – (n) – office drinking and (sometimes) eating party – often done in nomihodai, or all you can drink, fashion. Generally followed by an after party at a karaoke bar, which is then followed by an after-after party at another bar.

Used in a sentence: “At my first enkai, I learned that my coworkers could put half the college kids I know to shame at a drinking party!”

An enkai can be held at random occasions or intervals but is almost always held when a new employee comes or an old one leaves. In my case, both happened. My BOE enkai was a goodbye party for Jessica and a welcome party for me. It was held at a conference center in rented out space in a room. It was all-you-can-eat and drink for two hours.

The night started with speeches, – Jessica and I sat in the middle – and after she gave her farewell speech, I gave my welcome speech.

Konbanwa! (Good evening)
Watashi wa Cyndi desu (I am Cyndi)
Hajimamashite! (It is a please to meet you – make your company)
Watashi wa America no Georgia kara kimashita (I am from Georgia in America)
Watashi wa umi to hikingu ga ski desu. (I like the beach and hiking)
Hikari wa kedai ga (Hikari is beautiful)
Yoroshiku onigaishemasu! (Thank you/I hope we have a good relationship/please treat me kindly)

It was deep, no? I wrote that here from memory, so for the few of you (er, Pam) that know Japanese, forgive me if I butchered it. 🙂

After the speeches, everyone got food. I tried at least four different noodle dishes, and Cyndi’s Japanese noodle preferences are in:

1) Yakisoba
2) Ramen
3) Regular soba
4) Udon

I also tried different tpes of rice, miso soup and many, many Japanese “vegetables.” What happened to good ‘ole green beans and broccoli?! Tomatoes? I don’t think they grow here. I’m apparently so Western that I didn’t realize that vegetables I eat aren’t universal. Many Japanese vegetables are pickled, for one. And actual pickles – there are a million kinds – red, yellow, black and white – all the pickles are precious in Japanese sight. Radishes, spongy potato (I wish I knew the name for it – I swear I didn’t make that up); one day I asked a woman in my office, “What vegetable is that one, there?” (pointing). “Hmm,” she responded as she poked it with her chopstick. “I dont know!” and she ate it, smiling.

After getting food, everyone raised their glasses for the traditional Japanese “Kompai!” – an equivalent to the American “Cheers.” The kompai is much more formal and it is considered in very bad taste to take a sip of anything before the kompai speech has been given. After the toast, traditionally the only toast during the meal, you are free to drink. And all the rumors I heard about Japanese drinking before I arrived came true – as soon as my coworkers had two sips of a drink, they went from seemingly shy and intimadated by foreigners to outspoken and even eager to try out their English skills. The two men sitting across from me – one we call Skyscraper (suuuuper tall, especially for a Japanese man!) and the other Onmai (a cute lad of 26), chatted with me. An hour into drinking, they were teaching me “paper, rock, scissors” in Japanese, and we were making bets off the games. I then decided to teach a little American culture and explained that the drunker we get the more we toast and do “cheers!”

Every five minutes for the rest of the evening, all the men at the table (these old, crabby, dignified, high-positioned Japanese men) grabbed their glasses and yelled the word for “drunk” and clinked their glasses with a shout of, “Cheers.” I feel absolutely successful in internationalizing Japan!

Since that night, Onmai has been my “boyfreeendo!” according to everyone in the office. He’s cute, and we’ve texted a lot, but considering we’re both illiterate in the other’s language… I’m not seeing a long-lasting future.

After the enkai, we headed out for karaoke. They asked me what American singers I like, and I, of course, responded with Bon Jovi.

Skyscraper burst into a very accented rendition of “You Give Love a Bad Name.” For this man who speaks so so little English  to know the words to a bon Jovi song shows just how far-reaching Western culture is (although he had managed to say, “You.. are… pretty. I… like… you” in very slow English during the enkai – so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised!). We rocked the rest of the night away without being able to say more than five words to each other – but there’s nothing more universal than a good air guitar!

After that night, BOE became a lot less scary of a place. Instead of sitting in overwhelming shock and confusion, I started asking questions. I was scared to talk before, thinking no one spoke any English. But hand gestures, talking slowly and repeating things go a loong way.

It tends to be that what happens at an enkai stays at an enkai – the Japanese people I work with, at least, seem to be very diligent about keeping their work and private lives very separate. In America, we might be all chummy the next time we see each other after a crazy night – here, you’d never know you drank together.

The more I learn about being Japanese, the more I really learn about being American. But that’s another story for another time.

I’ll leave you here with karaoke pictures of my coworkers!

Waku-san! She picked me up from the airport and has been my lifesaver since. Her English is limited but her kindness isn't.

Waku-san! (and one half of Skyscraper) She picked me up from the airport and has been my lifesaver since. Her English is limited but her kindness isn't.

Fukuya-san and Skyscraper. She is my age - 23 - and about the most adorable person you will ever see. She handles my schedule, and talks with her hands like she lives in the most fun game of charades.

Fukuya-san and Vice Superintendent. She is my age - 23 - and about the most adorable person you will ever see. She handles my schedule, and talks with her hands like she lives in the most fun game of charades.

Onmai-san, my "boyfreendo," showing off his rockin' air guitar.

Onmai-san, my "boyfreendo," showing off his rockin' air guitar.

The Head Honchos. On the left is Noisy McNoiserson (he clears his throat with the most gutteral sound I have ever heard come out of a human) and on the right is... well, I don't have a nickname for him. Noisy won't let me live down that I may, possibly have mentioned to him once that I want to be a ninja when I grow up. He went so far as to tell reporters I said that when I did interviews after meeting the mayor. JERK! Even if it was deserved :)

The Head Honchos. On the left is Vice Superintendent/Noisy McNoiserson (he clears his throat with the most guttural sound I have ever heard come out of a human) and on the right I don't have a nickname for him, but he introduced me to "enka" - traditional Japanese folk music (ie - old folk songs!). Noisy won't let me live down that I may, possibly have mentioned to him once that I want to be a ninja when I grow up. He went so far as to tell reporters I said that when I did interviews after meeting the mayor. JERK! Even if it was deserved 🙂

Next post: First weekend trip out of Hikari – Yamaguchi City and the 5-Story Pagoda

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~ by C on August 19, 2009.

3 Responses to “Shiro Wine, Onegaishimasu!”

  1. […] Shiro Wine, Onegaishimasu! « feminist-san […]

  2. Awesome !!!! My coworkers and I have been reading and enjoying!!! Keep up the blogging!!!

  3. AH! I LOVE it! I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall during your speech! And I freaking love that you actually said that you wanted to be a ninja!!! hahahaha! freaking miss you but love reading the updates!

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