Last weekend, Manyo had the long-anticipated Bon-enkai, the big year-end party. Before that, though, I want to share something I found on some stranger's personal web page when I was looking for pictures of a mountain near here:
He lives in Kelowna, Canada. Kelowna is the sister city to Kasugai. visited my home page before he came to our city as the trip of a school exchange visit. I had a friendly feeling toward him because of the same age with me. He was very helpful to me, although my English conversation was poor. I entertained him with my special trick. We had a good time for a moment.
Bon-enkai. I left school at about 4 in the vice-principal's car--we were all car-pooling, as there is limited parking at the spa, in the next prefecture to the north of us. The spa, Yamanaka Onsen, was mentioned by the poet Basho a few hundred years ago as one of the three best in Japan. It probably was, before it went upscale. There is a very steep gorge with a swift river at the bottom and numerous hot springs on the steeper side of the slope. The steeper side as been completely lined with hotels, though the river winds enough and the hideously ugly hotels are well-enough designed that from most vantage points, you can only see the almost pristine river itself and the other side of the gorge, which still looks natural. To give an idea of the steepness of the gorge, the hotel is very narrow, but you enter at street level on the sixth floor and take an elevator down to the first floor, which as a little above the river. The baths are on the first floor; there's a nice but not fabulous indoor area with spigots to squat in front of and clean up (of course, you clean before you bathe, since the communal tubs are for soaking) and a large, typically scalding pool for twenty or so. Outside, there's a smaller tub, perhaps 9'X12', just over the river--very pretty, and since it's December, the air is very refreshing. The water itself is slightly less than scalding. Despite how famous this area's spas are, I found the hotel's pretty modest--there are nicer in and around Takefu. People choose this over other places because of the spas, but they don't actually make much use of them. People actually just go there to eat and drink. When I went down the spa, it was almost empty, and fewer than half of the teachers used it (after using the spa, you're supposed to stay in your robe for the rest of the night, including the banquet, but as I was the only one of the younger teachers who used the spa and thus the only one in my room in a robe [nothing underneath, of course] I got shy and changed back to regular clothes; when I got to the banquet, I was surprised to see that 2/3 of the older male teachers were wearing their robes--I really should have worn mine because the staff went to the trouble of finding the longest one they had for me, and it was only a little short, but more than long enough to be decent). Mr. Hot Cheeks and Mr. Second Gym Teacher arrived a little after I got out of the spa (note: some names may have been changed to protect the guilty, but I'm sure if any of my students stumble onto this and manage to struggle through the English, they'll know exactly who Hot Cheeks and SJT are), and they immediately, before even putting their bags down, pulled out beers and began chugging. On the way up, I notice Hot Cheeks wasn't on the elevator--he had run up the stairs. Since he smokes, he doesn't have a lot of wind for running up seven flights of stairs, and it took him a long time to catch his breath. He told me he had done it because the exertion would help him get drunk faster--he and Second Gym Teacher had promised each other to get completely tanked as soon as possible.
At the banquet, of course we had speeches and a kanpai (toast), and of course there was a lot of drinking. I soon realized why Hot Cheeks and Second Gym Teacher had found it so important to reach oblivion before the rest of us: they were the entertainment. Second Gym Teacher came out and gave a speech with the enormous neck and head of a stuffed swan sticking out of his fly. For one horrible minute, I suspected that it might be Second Gym Teacher inside the swan, but then I realized that with the scale involved, were that the case Second Gym Teacher would be able to find substantially better remuneration in a different industry. For the first party game, teams had to pass rubber bands from member to member using only toothpicks held in our teeth. This was a little closer to kissing a couple of the women I work with than I would ever like to come again. The final person, though, had it even better. On stage, under a blanket, was a writhing, moaning Hot Cheeks. Under the blanket, he had a beer bottle sticking out from under his fly, and his moans and motions generally indicated the extreme frustration and eager hungriness of a man who was in the middle of something when his partner left the room. The last person had to, using only the toothpick in her mouth, get the rubberbands around the neck of the bottle in Hot Cheeks's crotch. Everytime she came close, he would moan and lift his hips to her eagerly, as if his bottle were dying for intimate contact. The second team's last person was a very young woman who was just too shy (and sober, which is never a virtue) to deal with this, so Mr. Inoue, the head gym teacher and genuine cut-up, took her place. Hot Cheeks continued his act, but now facing down with the bottle sticking out backwards from between his legs, at an angle in which no well man's bottle should ever point, so that Inoue's motion to place the rubber band--well, you get the idea. The second game was tamer. The staff was paired off, boy girl, each pair on a piece of newspapers. Hot Cheeks threw rock, paper, scissor gestures as obscenely as possible (having by this point shed his trousers, which of course mysteriously "disappeared" by the time he went looking for them). One person in each pair gestured back, and winners got to do nothing, but losers had to fold their newspaper in half and thus stand closer and closer together. Unfortunately, I was not paired with one of the more enthusiastic women--picture a man squatting on the balls of his feet and finger tips on a tiny bit of paper, the woman squatting on his back. I cheated a few times to keep from having to fold up my newspaper too much. The other games, gift grab, etc., were tamer. I really wish the third year girls with a crush on Mr. Hot Cheeks could have seen him either writhing with his frustrated bottle or taking his pants off on stage. I wonder how much they know about what their teachers and parents are like at these things? Probably a lot. Anyway, the food--good, but not spectacular, considering this was a ¥20,000 affair--and the drinking went on and on, the party adjorned to a karaoke bar downstairs, and at another point I was dragged into a soba place on the seventh floor by some of the older male teachers. At no point did what I'd feared most--bathing with my drunken colleagues--occur. After about midnight, all the men seemed to end up in the vice principal's room playing or watching mahjong, but I found this less compelling than tending to an incipient headache (staved off with quarts of water) and went to bed fairly early. In the morning, we had a large traditional breakfast (rice, raw egg, miso soup, a bit of sushi, a bit of cold broiled fish [too fragrant for me], and seaweed). Then, we left.
This is New Year's in Japan. Tokyo police have reported a huge upswing in men falling off of railway and subway platforms in the last week, and have issued warnings on the transit systems to be extra careful because of the large number of inebriated passengers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Madeleine Murray O'Hare's Birthday.
ps--a special prize, and my eternal high esteem, to anyone who can identify the allusion in the subject line