Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Enkai 101: Introduction to the Japanese office drinking party

Man, it's so easy to lose track of holidays out here... I totally forgot about Easter and kept on forgetting that today was July 4th, and that that actually means something! A phone call from my bro jogged the 'ol memory though, as did a couple emails and convos with people throughout the day who aren't as senile as I apparently am becoming.

So anyway, last night was a blast - we had a big party for everyone at work since we just went through the annual personnel shift. As documented before, there seems to be absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, but these kinds of things happen annually. In my town they did it in July for whatever reason despite the rest of the country doing things in April. To show you how nonsensical it is, my boss got transferred from the international relations department to... ready for it? The water department! Because I guess they really needed someone who can give things a fresh and wide perspective concerning the town's water gathered from years of international experience. His replacement? A guy from the cultural policy department who's international experience includes a trip to Hong Kong and... well ok, apparently just a trip to Hong Kong. Oh, and he tells me he doesn't like planes either, so I think he's the perfect choice for a job that includes him escorting children on tours of the US eastern shore board. He's actually pretty cool, but it still makes no sense to me to make people with years of experience start over from square one every few years.

Alas, I digress. So office drinking parties - the Japanese enkai. They're sort of like Vegas in a way - what happens at the enkai stays at the enkai (except in this blog =P). With places like Shichigahama where everyone's close, everything's really relaxed since it's like going out with family. You find out all the dirt on people and watch people make total asses out of themselves. I hear there are some offices where you're still expected to keep up pretenses and formalities, but here is definitely not one of those places. For instance, the other night the one girl we have in my office slapped both me and the facility director in the face at different points, as well as running around calling everyone by their first name (I've never heard the director called Katsuaki-kun... very funny stuff when you're used to everyone using 'san' and mostly last names). She was upset because at the last enkai we had a few months ago I talked her into drinking an Irish car bomb, after which she passed out sitting up in her chair for about 10 minutes and then spent about 20 minutes in the bathroom praying to the god of porcelain before someone drove her home.

Personally I don't think it was the car bomb that did here in as she had a nice little drink queue going before that as well. She's got all kinds of goofy drunken tales and adventures... and injuries. Like the one time she came in with a bandage on her leg from where she burned herself by curling up in front of her space heater in the winter and passing out after a night on the town. Or the time she couldn't sit down or walk right for a week because she fell right on her coccyx on the sidewalk on the way out of a bar. That, and she invariably talks about how much of the last night's festivities she doesn't remember - this time, it was at least half the night. So yeah, I don't think my one drink was the real problem there, no matter how much punch it packs.

Other things I've found out at enkais include the fact that one guy at work is separated but still married to a woman that does piano lessons here every week - they sat on opposite sides of the room at the party though and don't get along at all. Oh, and then there's the one guy that had a shotgun wedding yet is still happily married. Besides gossip, it's an opportunity to find out what you have in common with people and get closer to your coworkers, which is really the whole point. I first really got to know my best friend out here at the enkai, after which we've shared many a snowboard run and karaoke room, at which he can sing any Green Day song you throw at him. We've both helped each other out at work with different things as well.

So they have these ritualistic gatherings periodically- either for holidays like New Year's, or welcome/goodbye parties, or after big projects, etc. I hear that some offices have little games (some with prizes), or that sometimes people will dress up in goofy costumes and such, but in my office they just drink. A lot. No formalities or pretenses, just let it all loose and have a drink or 12. The next day, everyone shows up at 9 and suffers through the day together with that look of mutual satisfaction. From the sounds of it, I'm guessing Mike out in Korea gets the same treatment out there too. Yey asia! Where else can you go out drinking with your boss and call him a pustulating rectal wart and smack him in the face one night, then act like nothing happened the next day at work?

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