Another day, another nomikai with my BFFs at the Kaisha. After what sometimes feels like a lifetime of nomikai, I have learned that to be fashionably late is to have a better chance of actually enjoying yourself. For at the Kaisha, when the reservation is for 7.30, all the Secretaries gather together and move en masse to the restaurant, with a few older male Professionals flanking them to make sure they don't get lost. Or poached.
Upon arrival at the banquet room, there is mandatory milling about and twittering behind raised palms, until the male Professionals insist that everyone find a seat, anywhere. There is then pairing off and choosing of team members, as the Secretaries distribute themselves among the tables. The first hour is never much fun, for the party starts off like an old reluctant train until it's wheels are oiled by free-flowing alcohol and the arrival of the younger Professionals. The it's off the chain, I mean tracks.
You see, at these events the Secretaries never drink much, some for legitimate reasons and others because they do not want to appear too human, female, like one of the guys or all of the above. Usually about half an hour in, the rest of the male Professionals (with a few young females among them) decide to grace us with their presence and it is precisely here where the combination of people sitting around you will determine what kind of night you'll have. Will you end up going home by last train or falling out of a cab after cross-dressing karaoke? It's a fine line.
It's not that the male Professionals are all hot studs with impeccable conversation skills, but they tend to bring the life (or death) to the conversation and I generally have a better time talking to them than to the Secretaries. This is where timing and guesswork comes into play. If I arrive with the Secretaries, I must be strategic and sit by those who work for good Professionals, for it is a general rule of Kaisha thumb that Professionals sit in close proximity to their Secretaries. To do this, you must research beforehand and ensure you know every important name and face so you don't get caught at the table with the 20-year old Secretaries who have nothing to say for themselves and the old Professionals who have nothing to say for anyone.
At this last nomikai, I was seated at a middle of the road table. I have recently become friends with a Secretary who is a little more seasoned than the others and a genuinely lovely person. She was sitting at a so-so table but when she motioned me over I couldn't refuse (plus the older Professional who had called me Princess at the last gathering was there so who was I to say no?). Then a friend of hers who saw I was joining the table got the free English lesson equivalent of dollar signs in her eyes and scooted over, penning me in for the night. What ensued is formula really, the same questions got asked and answered and no real conversational ground was covered.
As the party broke up and I was getting my coat, a well-meaning but obnoxious Professional came over and asked if I was heading home. At my affirmative answer he informed me that himself and a few others were having a small intimate party at Princess Professional's secret pad if I was interested. The fact that words like "gang bang" were going through my head at that moment must have registered on my face, for he quickly assured me I didn't have to go. Lovely Secretary then came over and explained that after most nomikai, Princess Professional invites a small group of people to his penthouse for drinks and did I want to come. That sounded a little more reasonable and not as sinister as Obnoxious One's proposal so I said yes.
Minutes later I found myself experiencing what the rich and famous must live with every day in Tokyo: lofty night views, floor to ceiling windows, vaulted ceilings and multiple bathrooms. Heavenly hea-ven. Most of the other Secretaries invited to this intimate party were newbies and from their high-pitched sighs you could tell they were learning on the spot not to accept any less from a partner. Now that they had tasted the fruit of Princess Professional's labour, they were going to set out to snag a Professional of their own. It was incredible to see how quickly their minds worked.
What followed is old hat really, champagne was popped, French red was poured and the high flying mingling commenced. Things went fairly smoothly until Obnoxious One's line of questioning got a little too intense, to the point he was insisting we go out and meet the beau that night. I have now learned to keep my mouth shut about having a boyfriend, for it just opens the door to questions I don't need to answer from the people I work with. Luckily he got distracted and cornered a doe-eyed Secretary on the balcony while the rest of us carried on inside. The ultimate moment of awkwardness came when people began asking about Obnoxious One's whereabouts and Lovely Secretary went out on the balcony to find them there alooone. They promptly came back in and everyone pretended nothing had happened. And really, nothing probably did happen but after hearing Lovely describe it to another Secretary the following day at lunch, it was clearly thought of as strange and awkward that the two of them had been out on the balcony alone. To have been a fly on that balcony...
As for me I managed to grab the last train home, unscathed. I enjoyed the conversation at the Princess Pad (which, by the way, is separate from the house he shares with his wife), and took every opportunity to "up" my profile at the Kaisha. I figure I only have a few chances each year to get out the Good Geisha Word, so if the gossip mill is working, at least I can try and influence what is said about me. It probably won't make a difference but if it means one more person talking to me or at least acknowledging my presence at work, I have come to think of it as progress.