Monday, November 15, 2004

Enkais and Elections

This entry covers events that happened from late October to early November.

Had my first thunder storms here during the first week of November and we even had some small hail. And guess what, I was walking to school when it started hailing. But more on that in a minute.

Nov. 1st to Nov. 5th was a slow week here. I know the election happened on Tuesday, but I had already submitted my absentee ballot weeks ago and the coverage didn’t really happen here until Wednesday because of the time difference.

That reminds me, I should mention that Japan doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so now California is 17 hours behind and England is 9 hours behind Japan time. (instead of the previous difference of 16 and 8 hours respectively) Good info in case anyone wants to call me - I never get calls unless they’re wrong numbers dialed by very confused Japanese people who hear a strange Western voice on the other end.

Wednesday was a good day for the election to be covered here, because it was a national holiday (Culture Day) so I basically stayed home all day and watched the ABC news feed, which was broadcast in English in 45 minute chunks throughout the day and evening.

My initial reaction to the news that Bush had won reelection for a 2nd term is reflected in this e-mail message I sent to my brother, Paul. But since I’ve now had time to reflect, I don’t think it’s as grim as I first thought, but I am still profoundly disappointed and not exactly looking forward to the next 4 years with Bush still ensconced as our leader.

E-mail to Paul:


Sadly, I watched what little coverage I could here in Japan as Bush maintained his lead throughout the election and seemed destined for victory. While my one absentee ballot did little to change the result, I feel good that I was one of those "record number" of Americans who voted against perhaps the worst sitting president to ever be reelected.

But one thing discussed on the ABC news feed I was watching was the "rightness" of America now. And I'm not talking about correctness, but rather a move to the conservative right that doesn't seem to be a temporary shift by any means. We have to face the fact that America is a far different country now than it was even 4 years ago. 9/11 has impacted us in ways that are only now starting to emerge. While the west coast and much of the east coast voted for Kerry, the large middle and southern section of the country voted for Bush and his conservative "values." America is really a divided country now, and not since the days of the Civil War have we seen a nation so polarized and unwilling to compromise.

Bush could go a long way to repairing some of the partisan divide by making smart appointments and trying to move to the center on a few issues, but I seriously doubt he will take this course. If anything, he'll push further to the right and now that the Republicans have a majority in both houses and the presidency, I can see a day not too far from now when the Democratic party becomes the permanent minority party in the U.S., simply struggling to keep the Republicans from overwhelming national politics completely. It happened here in Japan, and it could happen in America. What will Bush do about the "Michael Moore voters" - those who really dislike him and his stance on Iraq? Probably nothing. It's really up to the Democratic party to muster the energy of these extremely dissatisfied citizens and channel that into gains for the Democrats in the next election.

The election did not go the way I had hoped, so I may just have to find a way to stay in Japan until 2008, or I may have to move back in a few years and find a way to make sure that the values and ideas I believe in are represented in Washington once again.


I’m not as sure the country is as divided as I stated above. I’ve read coverage of the aftermath of the election and one reporter mentioned that Americans are still by and large a united people - we all shop at the same Wal-Marts and Starbucks, we are by-and-large patriotic citizens who believe that America is a great country with a good political system. The country is as a whole Christian and shares many of the same values. While I am neither Christian nor overly patriotic, I do have faith in people and America is my home and always will be, so I hope that we can endure and maybe even thrive during the next four years - and at least Bush can’t run again in 2008.

Anyway, I need to post an entry about the Apple picking event, which is represented by a few pictures below. And the Halloween party and soba noodle tasting that happened that same weekend of Oct. 30th & 31st. So that’ll be my next entry. And then I need to describe the weekend trip to the OKI Islands I took on Nov. 6th and 7th, cuz I have a few pictures to post for that too.

But first, I’ll briefly describe why I was walking in the rain the other day.

Tuesday night, Nov. 2nd, I was invited to an “enkai” which is a formal Japanese party with drinking and eating and speeches. I was a special guest, as it was a “welcome” party for me and a farewell party for others leaving my local Board of Education, the people that employ me. So I put on a jacket and tie and rode thru the rain to my town offices, where I left my scooter and we went by car up the road to a nearby inn that has special rooms for these type of large parties. Everyone sits on the floor in front of a small, ground-level table about 2 feet by 2 feet. I was seated near the front, befitting my special guest status. I usually have a so-so time at these events, since I can’t really converse with anyone due to the language barrier. But my supervisor was seated next to me, and he always tries his best to make sure I’m enjoying myself, despite his limited English. The meal consists of many small portions, and they always serve fish in most of these courses, so I don’t end up eating much as I don’t eat anything that swims. And the only thing they usually have to drink is beer or sake, and I really don’t drink. Another interesting thing is that you can’t eat or drink ANYTHING at a Japanese enkai until the first few speeches have been given and they make an official toast and say “Kanpai,” the Japanese version of “Cheers.” Can you imagine being at a dinner party in America for 20 or more people where you have to stand around and chat with no appetizers or beverages at all for the first 20 or 30 minutes?

I’ve been to a number of these parties now, and I’ve discovered that they’re really expensive as well. The first one I went to was also for me, so as a guest I wasn’t expected to pay. But the day after I went to the 2nd one, for a departing teacher at my Jr. High, another teacher came to my desk and casually mentioned that I owed 7000¥, which is about $70, for last night’s party. I was flabbergasted. Apparently, $70 is standard for men and women pay about $50. I paid, but I decided that I would find out ahead of time next time how much it was gonna cost before I agreed to go. So the next time I was invited by the Kendo parents, I declined, explaining to my Japanese teacher, who is also the Kendo coach, that I couldn’t really afford to spend $70 on a party where I barely ate anything and barely drank anything. But the parents insisted I come, and said that I could attend without paying. So I agreed to go and when I arrived I found out that they had arranged to have a special dinner made for me with steak and spaghetti and they even had bottles of Pepsi brought in. So then I felt a bit sheepish about refusing to pay, but I’ll make it up to them.

The fun part of these parties is that it’s socially acceptable to get pretty drunk, and it’s one of the few times you get to see your co-workers with their guard down and sometimes their real personalities emerge and you’d be surprised how much some of them can speak English after they’ve had a little alcohol to bolster their confidence. And often, the dinner party is only the first party. Often, small groups will continue the party at a local bar or karaoke joint or even someone’s home.

The tolerance for drinking and driving here is ZERO. You can even get in trouble for riding your bicycle if you’ve been drinking, so most people at these parties take a taxi home or have their spouse come and pick them up. So after the party on Nov. 2nd, we all went to a local bar that has karaoke, and I entertained with my rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode” and then we had a group sing of “Imagine” by John Lennon, who is as revered over here just as much as he is in the West. I was drinking cola the whole time and had only had a few sips of beer during dinner and for the Kanpai toast. As a conversation starter, people at these parties get up and go to other guests, and offer to refill their glass of beer, so I had to drink a gulp or two from time to time just to be polite. But even though I’ve lost weight since coming here, I still am a big enough guy that a few gulps of beer and the odd shot of sake are hardly going to get me “drunk” or even tipsy.

Still, when it came time to go home, my supervisor refused to allow me to drive my scooter home, so I had to go with him by taxi, which are really expensive over here BTW. So wednesday, I had told the Kendo coach I would try and make it to school, even though it was a holiday, to help coach the girls participating in the upcoming speech contest. I slept in, but managed to get ready to leave my aparto by 11 am. It was cloudy and raining ever so slightly, but I decided I would walk the 25 minutes to school, check in on the girls, and then get my scooter, which was still parked at the town hall. Well, about 10 minutes into my walk, the heavens opened up and it started to pour. And then about 5 minutes later it started to hail. I ducked under some cover in a open garage and waited out the hail. I was wearing jeans and sneakers, and I was soaked right thru, but I was already halfway to school, so I decided to trudge on, since I was already soaked. I got to school only to find that everyone I needed to see had already gone home, so I grumbled some hellos to students that probably wondered what their English teacher was doing walking to school in the rain on a holiday. I walked down the road, got on my scooter and rode home. Of course, by that time it had stopped raining, and as some cosmic joke, a rainbow started to appear on the horizon. *sigh*

OK - enough for now. I’ll post soon about the more interesting apple picking event and my trip to OKI, and more pictures are on the way as well. Be good.


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