Tuesday, March 15, 2005

How I got my digital camera

So here it is March already and I realized I never posted the story about how I got the nifty digital camera I’ve been using to take and post pictures to my blog.

Back in December I was invited to go to my Board of Education’s year-end party, called a bonenkai. The BoE is basically my employer - while I’m here under the auspices of the JET programme, my salary and my daily supervision is taken care of by the city employees at the Taisha Kyooinkuinkai (BoE). I had to spend most of August in their office, so I got to know a few of them, and my supervisor, Utani-san, works there - but I really don’t see them that much anymore as I now spend all my free time at the Jr. High and really only go to the BoE when I have a problem with my living conditions or I have to sign job-related paperwork. But they still invite me to the office parties, which is damn skippy of them, even though only a handful of them speak English.

Getting off track for a minute, I just went to a BoE party last week, celebrating the end of the school/financial year. Very soon, Taisha town is going to be absorbed by Izumo, a larger town to the south west. It’s a process called “gappe” and it’s happening to small towns all over Japan - they get some sort of tax incentive if they combine with a larger city. So it was also a party to celebrate the end of the old group and the welcoming of the new situation.
Anyway, they went to the trouble of having the place where the party was held (a hotel I think) prepare me a special dinner consisting of steak, yaki soba and spaghetti since I don’t eat fish, which is what everybody else ate. So that was cool. Since I’ll probably end up having to pay 5000¥ (about $50) for the party, it’s nice to actually be able to eat the food. They didn’t have cola, but I was able to drink cold tea, which I like better than beer or sake.
I had to sit in seiza, which means sitting with your legs folded up underneath you, so you’re sitting with your butt on the soles of your feet. It’s really hard for me to sit this way for too long, as I start to lose all feeling in my legs. You gotta remember that I weigh about 120 kilos, so after about 10 minutes my legs go numb. I only had to sit in seiza for the opening speeches before the “kanpai” (the toast, kinda like “cheers,” that symbolizes the start of the party and allows all the guests to start eating and drinking), so it wasn’t so bad. I can endure it much longer now than when I first got here.
After the main party, about 15 of us went to the nijikai, or second party, which was at a karaoke bar. I was encouraged to sing somthing, so I chose YMCA by the Village People, as most Japanese know it and will sing along during the requisite parts. Luckily the parties were in Taisha, so I could just scooter home afterwards, unlike when they take place in Izumo and I have to pay $25 or so for a taxi home. (They have zero tolerance here for drinking and driving, so no one drives to these parties - they all take taxis or have their spouse pick them up)

OK - back to December.

I arrived at the party, which would eventually have 50 people in attendance, before anyone else since I hitched a ride with Utani-san, who had to help set up. As people came in the door, they drew random numbers to see where they would be sitting, except for me - I was told where to sit. And when I say sit, I mean cross-legged on the floor on a small, flat cushion with a small table/tray on legs in front of you. I ended up sitting next to two people I didn’t know and who couldn’t speak much English. So the first part of the evening was a bit boring, and added to that my special meal of baked chicken came out way after everybody else had started eating. I’ll admit I wasn’t having the best time, when Togano-san, a great guy at the BoE who helped me set up my in-home internet access, stood up and started speaking to the whole group. He then started to pull a few envelopes from a container, and after their name was read, the people would come forward and receive a gift. That person in turn would pull the next name from the container. The very first woman called got a good gift - a nice and expensive bottle of alcohol - but the next 35 or so people got what I call “gag gifts” - things like dishwashing detergent, tea towels, shampoo, bug spray, etc. It seemed like a Japanese twist on the “white elephant” style of gift exchange I used to take part in with friends in the Bay Area.
With only about 10 names left, my name still hadn’t been called. It occurred to me that my name might not be included, since I’m not really part of the BoE in a strict sense. But the prizes stopped being silly and started to be pretty good. Large bottles of expensive sake, shopping gift certificates, etc. So I was hoping that maybe my name was among the names left to be called. With only 5 people left, Togano-san asked all the people still without a gift to stand up. My supervisor, clearly excited by my chances, had edged over to my seat by this point and when Tagano-san asked the giftless to stand, Utani-san motioned that I should stand up. So I was in the running! The #5 person got a gift basket of nice stuff, and the #4 person got an nice electronic dictionary. Only 3 to go and I still hadn’t been called. The remaining prizes were a digital camera, a “boobie” prize for the 2nd place person (a basket full of all the silly gag gifts) and a portable DVD player. Well, it’s no surprise to you reading this that I was called #3 and got the digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 4100. But it sure was a surprise to me that night! I got up, with people cheering and clapping and claimed my prize, astonished at my good fortune. Ever since coming to Japan in July, I’ve wanted to get a digital camera to document my experiences here. I even had one picked out online, and was saving to get it. So the fact that I basically “won” one in a random drawing was the coolest Christmas present I could’ve hoped for. The timing was perfect and even with the language barrier my coworkers at the BoE could see how happy I was with my gift. Lots of exclamations of sugoi (great!) and subarashii (wonderful) were exchanged. Everyone wanted to check out the camera and some even jokingly offered to exchange their body soap or insect repellent for my camera. No doing! :)
So what started out as a boring and somewhat tedious evening ended with a completely unexpected bang. And in addition to the excellent camera, which has been great and I take everywhere with me now - my getting it acted as a conversation starter that evening that allowed many of my Japanese coworkers to come over and initiate a conversation with me - something they rarely do - so getting the camera had a delightful side effect.
I should point out that the party cost me 5000¥, the second party at a karaoke place cost me 3000¥ and the taxi ride home cost about 2500¥, so in all the night cost about ichi-man (10,000¥) or about $100. But you’ll hear no complaints from me.

-Jason
Shimane Shutterbug

1 comment:

Chris Robbins said...

Come on, when are ya gonna finally update, Chris wants to know more about the interesting adventures in Nihon!