Sunday, February 03, 2013
One day, you sit down at your desk in the crowded staff room of your Japanese office and notice a slip of paper on your desk. It's an invitation to an enkai (a party). The invitation has the type of party, the location, the time, and the price.
When you arrive at the restaurant, the staff takes you to where your group is meeting. Most izakayas are split into tons of rooms with divider walls to accommodate different sized groups. You take off your shoes, and step up into the area where your group is meeting. Someone in your group directs you to a seat. The area is just big enough to accommodate the tables where you are sitting. It's quite cozy. You could lean back on the wall, but there is a slight possibility that it might fall over.
A few platters of food are already on the table. But don't eat anything yet!
The first order of business is drink orders. Most people are having beer, so whoever is taking orders is just getting orders from those not having beer. A lot of non-drinkers get iced oolong tea. Since you are trying to watch what you eat, that's what you get.
Once everyone has a drink, someone stands up and makes a welcome speech, and someone gives a long toast. Then everyone says kanpai! and the party starts. People serve themselves from platters on the table. People pass you sashimi, sushi, kebabs, fried stuff, salads, roasted squid, and all kinds of other dishes. Because you are a foreigner, people are very interested in what you eat, and in what you can't eat. You can also expect compliments on your chopstick usage.
It's cold these days, so there are several big hotpot dishes on the table that everyone cooks together. When it's ready, one person will serve the people nearby.
As you have been sitting squished in between people on the floor at the table, your legs start to go numb. You stand up and hobble your way behind the others at the table, drawing some concerned glances as you go. In the hallway, you do a little dance to shake the tingles out, and then head back in.
Everyone watches out for each other to make sure that drinks stay filled. Sometimes, there are pitchers of beer and tea on the table, and sometimes you order by the glass.
Close to the end, there are some farewell speeches. Anyone who hasn't paid the organizer does so (most enkais cost from $30-50), and then everyone disperses. Sometimes people go to a second or third party and sing karaoke and drink more, even though everyone has to be at work the next day.
The next day, your co-workers thank you for coming to the party.
Enkai- general term for a party
Bonnenkai- an end of the year party (lit. forget the year party)
Shinnenkai- New Year party
Soubetsukai- Farewell party
Kangeikai - Welcome party
If I had to sum up an enkai quickly, I would say that it is kind of like a large dinner party at a restaurant. There are lots of different kinds and different situations, but what I described above is the most common for me. This is not the greatest explanation, but I hope it gives you a little idea of what Japanese parties are like.