Friday, January 13, 2006

A night with the Rotarians

My first week back at work, if you can call it that. School hasn't started up again, but I still have to go into the office and look busy. There's only so much Japanese you can study before your head explodes and you end up drooling and babbling in japanese syllables.

So it was nice to go out to a Rotary Club Meeting Thursday evening. Every month the Rotarians have a meeting, which is really an excuse to get together, eat really good food and drink a lot. I'm sure they do other things, but during the speeches before dinner starts, I'm usually too busy eyeing the food and trying to refrain from digging in before the "kanpai" to pay attention to what they're talking about. This being the first meeting of the new year, it was much more festive than usual, and the speeches were shorter.

The food is always incredible. This time it was sashimi, tempura, beef tataki (thin slices of barely cooked beef with onions and sprouts), various salads and pickles, rice, and a giant nabe full of tofu, cabbage, fish, meat, noodles, mushrooms, and more. And no Japanese gathering would be complete without freely flowing beer and sake.

I chatted with the local buddhist priest about my trip to Malaysia, and with another member about his recent trip to Canada, who started calling me kanojo, which can be used as a female pronoun, but is more typically used to mean girlfriend. I guess all of that Japanese studying is starting to pay off, because I could understand about half of what people were saying to me. This may not be such a great thing...

Later in the evening, we played games. There were prizes to be had, so the group of us -- all thirty or so -- played janken to decide who would win them. If you teach English in Japan, you already know what janken is, but for the benefit of those at home, I'll elaborate.

Janken is the Japanese version of "Rock, Paper, Scissors", but it's so much more than that. First of all, there's the chant that goes with it, "Saishou wa gu, janken poi!" (at least in my area of Japan -- I'm sure there are regional variations) with concurrent throwing of hands. And it's so useful! Not to mention ubiquitous -- everyone from school children to seventy-year-old Rotarians plays. Need to decide who will go first? Need to choose team captains? Who gets the extra dessert at lunchtime? Resolve disputes? Make a decision? Use janken! I can even play it on my cellphone. I'm sure major decisions in Japanese government are resolved by janken. Should we privatize the postal system? I don't know, lets janken!

I won at least one initial round at the rotary meeting, but usually I'm pretty terrible. My students love playing with me because I usually lose. And yes, there is strategy and skill involved in janken. Don't laugh.

We played another Japanese game. You take a number of pieces of rope, tie a charm to the end of one rope, and hide that end of the ropes from view. Everyone chooses a piece of rope, and the winner is the one holding the rope with the charm on it. I'm terrible at this game too. But my consolation prize was, as the local gaijin, the gift of someone else's prize. So I came home with a giant bottle of sake. Should be fun at our next musical rehearsal.

This time out, I was dragged across the street by the kacho (head Rotarian) to the ni ji-kai for more drinking, a bit of karaoke, and some talk. After a while, one of my neighbors took pity on me and offered to share a cab home with me. I usually prefer walking, but it's dangerous* to walk home from the bar by yourself in the snow, so I took him up on his offer.

All in all, it was a fun night and I got a giant bottle of sake out of the deal.

*Every year, I'm sure lots of people drink too much and pass out in the snow on their way home. And in Hokkaido that's bad news. With all the snow here you'd either suffocate or freeze to death. Hence, everyone's concern with making sure I get a ride home from the bar.