Saturday, December 16, 2006

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

This evening was the annual Rotary Club Christmas Party. Last year I was unable to attend due to being in Malaysia, so this year I was more than happy to be able to attend. Unfortunately though, the late start to my holidays means that I will miss most of the 新年会 (shinnenkai = new year's parties) that happen in early January. Oh well, more 忘年会 (bonenkai=lit. "forget the year" parties) for me before I go home.

The Christmas party is a special event for my Rotary Club dudes. Every month, they invite me to their regular meetings where they get together to eat great food, drink far too much, and talk about things that the ALT shouldn't hear (politics). The Christmas party is a chance for these old dudes to bring their children and grandchildren to the party to show them off. It's actually one of the few events that I've been to here where people admit to having a family. I think this is one of the most jarring cultural differences I have run across in my time here. In Japan, your home life is so separate from work and everything else that there are still -- after a year and a half living in this town of 4500 -- people that I don't know if they have families or not. I'm hoping that a lot of this has to do with my lack of Japanese, but I don't think it does. Family is just not something that people talk about outside of their homes.

I had a really great time meeting the families (or putting families together) of people I know at this party. I was seated with my friend Mr. Watanabe and his family -- his wife, their two daughters and four grandchildren. All of the grandchildren were made to introduce themselves to me, bringing a whole new meaning to the embarrassment that is having to talk to your grandparents friends. And I had always thought is was embarrassing enough as a child to have to meet all those boring old people. Imagine doing it in a second language!

It was a fun evening -- not quite as much sake as usual for Rotary events, but I had a good time. It made me really miss family get-togethers back home. For real. It was very なつかしい (natsukashii = nostalgic) for me to see kids running around tables playing with their toys while the grown-ups were being boring and talking to each other. Just one week to go...

Of course, being a Japanese event, there were many many speeches and introductions, bingo, janken, and team games for kids and grown-ups. And presents for everyone -- not just for the little kids. Although Santa made an appearance as well. He only gave presents to the youngest kids though. Everyone else had to earn their おみやげ (omiyage = souvenirs). I guess I earned mine by being asked to lead an improptu sing-a-long. It being a Christmas party, I led everyone in singing a round of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". Since my singing debut it's been hard to convince people that I don't really feel the urge to sing in public at every event I attend. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "sing for your supper".

There was plenty of food to be had, just like at any other Christmas party you might attend. A special mention goes to a traditional Japanese New Year's dish (I assume): boiled red beans with mochi dumplings. The Japanese name escapes me. It tasted exactly like kutyah though, I swear.

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