Monday, June 2, 2008

And now for someting completely different...

新人旅行 As promised, a report on the Kaisha sponsored bonding trip last weekend.

The ryokan we stayed at was lovely actually, it was like a huge villa with several gardens in the centre and ponds filled with koi (carp), and there were huge rocks placed everywhere (including our rooms). We didn't stay at "Hotel Oh!" featured to the left, which I saw from a bus window, but at this lush place to the right. There were six other women in my room so we slept like sardines in two rows of futon and we all pretended not to mind sleeping so close to people we didn't know. In terms of bonding success, I had a great time hanging out with the other-foreign-girl-at-the-office but didn't exactly hit it off with anyone else. I'm just not interested in having an in depth conversation about whether I'm going to bring omiyage souvenirs back for people at the office or what I should talk to the Top Professionals on the trip about. Yes, this is what the secretaries chatted about while we passed the time before dinner. Dinner was a large enkai banquet in a huge room where we all sat on the floor in rows with our own small tables. There was a seating chart passed out beforehand and the secretaries in my room were stressing about what they could talk about with the Professionals or Top Professionals they were seated next to. There were also sighs over how they would have to continue plying them with beer as soon as their cups began to look low (a common practice here). When one began worrying that she didn't know how to properly mix whiskey or bourbon, another informed her rather matter-of-factly that she could just order it and it would come to the table mixed. God how worldly are we?! I felt like screaming at them to stop worrying so much about this bullshit but I guess when you always have to be Switched On it's par for the course.

The enkai was quite fun actually, the food was delish and because I am a foreign amazon I was also plied with lots of beer. I too was worried about who I would be sitting next to but for different reasons. I've had a couple work parties so far when I have been completely ignored by the male Professionals. I don't mean in a showering me with attention way, but in a I am a fellow human why do you pretend I'm not here kind of way. So much for the sweeping generalization that Japanese people are sooo kind. ANYWAY. I was seated next to a cute young Professional who was very kind and let me talk his ear off and then told me about backpacking through India. Finally a real conversation! And with a Local! I was a bit horrified with myself however, when I noticed that I was using hand movements that I would never use in English. What you ask? Covering my mouth when I laugh (my teeth are nice and why should I be ashamed about laughing with my mouth open?!) and shaking my hand back and forth to indicate no I would never do tha-at, or no, stop! you are TOO amusing! I must learn to speak Japanese like I speak English and stop unconsciously imitating Japanese women. It's just not my style.

After dinner it was time for the second act, or the nijikai (after party in Japanese). This was orchestrated with a new seating chart and more alcohol to really help us bond. Act two consisted of an interactive bingo game on drugs where the male Professionals were called up on stage to do something embarrassing while an equal number of secretaries were called up to assist them in this. There were really no parts of the game in which the secretaries actually embarassed themselves or had to do anything gross, nor was there much room for the female Professionals to participate. Some of the games included telling the difference between $10 and $100 wine, tying four people together by putting stockings over their heads and having them try to pull apart, eating French pastries laced with wasabi, and drinking coke which had been laced with hot sauce, raw eggs, milk, you name it. For most games, the participants pointedly asked that a puke bucket be placed in front of them, because how normal is that?! As I said before, the female Professionals are really left out because this is secretly an omiai for the secretaries and male Professionals and the rest of us are just along for the ride.

The onsen was the best part and seeing the Professionals come to dinner wearing yukata bathrobes was so refreshing compared to seeing them slaving away in suits at the office. It's hard to imagine them leading lives outside of work (most of them don't) but seeing them unwind and wear jeans made me feel a little more sympathetic than I usually do. I unfortunately have no stories about being shunned or pointed at in the onsen as when I took a midnight and early morning dip I was almost the only one there. The main bath was a roten iwaburo which is a natural-looking outdoor pool surrounded by large rocks and other foliage. Having not left Tokyo's concrete jungle for quite a long time it was luxurious to soak in the onsen especially with so few people and no irritating conversations. For as crazy as they work the Japanese know how to do relaxing baths.

As annoying as the office politics are and the fact that I despise most of the secretaries I enjoyed the weekend despite myself. There's no use fighting the bullshit so I'm trying to do as the romans do (as much as my sanity will permit) and just let it all be.

This sign for Pachinko Ruby has no meaning and the parlour itself is long out of business but when I saw it during our treasure hunt on the first day I had to snap the trendy retro sign.

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