Last Wednesday evening, we had a Higashi Kougyou reunion party. Since Higashi Kougyou (Tokushima East Technical High school) closed in March 2009, the English teachers who were working there towards the end have met up every now and then for dinner, to chat and reminisce, and complain about our new schools. Myself, Mrs Templemarsh and Mrs Paddyriver hadn't been at Higashi for that long before it closed, and we were all moved to the new school formed when the Higashi students merged with those of the main Tokushima technical high. Mrs Goldmarsh, then head of English was moved to Emily's school - Johto, an academic high. Ms. Wildriver, who hasn't passed the difficult employment test required by all high school teachers in Japan, was only working at Higashi on a contractual basis, and was replaced by Mrs Paddyriver after one year. She'd apparently only been filling in for a teacher who'd had some kind of breakdown, though I was never told the full story, and didn't think it polite to ask.
Even though I was only at Higashi for its final year and a half, I understand the desire to memorialise the place. Mrs Templemarsh once told me it was known among teachers as the last paradise of Tokushima. The atmosphere was relaxed, the classes were relatively small and the students were generally friendly and well-behaved. Because the teachers weren't as busy with school duties, there was more time for teachers to socialise at work in free periods, and because the teachers really cared and were really helpful, I had the best teaching experiences while I was working there. It's been over a year now since I left and I got used to things not being as good as they used to be. Still, I remember.
Anyway, aside from it being about time that the lot of us met up again, this was a kind of a last chance for us all to be there, since I'm leaving Japan next week. We went to Mrs Templemarsh's house and had yakiniku. Ms Wildriver brought a cake as well, with a message for me:
The next day, I had another farewell party with two of the same teachers. Thursday was my Kagikou farewell party, and as I said before, two of the Higashi teachers were transfered to Kagikou along with me. Actually, at the party only one of them was present, because Mrs Wildriver was kept at school due to homeroom matters. One of her students had shaved the eyebrows off another student, so she had to deal with that situation while the rest of us were eating lunch at a classy restaurant. Also in attendance was Dianne, the other ALT working at Kagi. She graciously took nenkyuu (paid holiday) to be there. It was a pleasant gathering, and at the end I was given presents of a Japanese style t-shirt and jinbei - traditional Japanese summer wear, kind of like pyjamas, but meant to be worn outside. People often wear them when they go to festivals. When we got back to school, Mrs Templemarsh made me put the jinbei on and come back to the staffroom to take pictures. It was kind of embarrassing, but it was funny to see once again how talented the Japanese are at not engaging with the elephant in the room. I passed a few teachers on the way from the changing room to the staffroom and while their eyes momentarily betrayed their confusion, they acted as if it was perfectly normal for the ALT to be walking to the staffroom in casual traditional summer wear and sandals with fake snakeskin straps. I was quite sad when I left school that day, as I was applauded when I left the staffroom, and accompanied to my bike by two of the English teachers.
The third party was the following evening, this time a general end-of-term party for Tokusho. I had to give a speech on the stage, before which they gave me a gift, which threw me off because I had my script in my pocket and I couldn't get to it with the gift in my hand. I ended up just spouting it from memory, albeit with a couple of alterations when I couldn't remember what I'd written down. It impressed well enough, though, and when the vice principal got up to say his part afterwards he commented that he was nervous to be speaking after me, because he wasn't sure if he could speak as proper Japanese. Aces.
Everyone was really friendly throughout the evening. I haven't spoken about Japanese staff parties before, largely because I haven't been to one since I started this blog. When they're held in the event rooms of hotels, as they generally are for high school, there are many courses and unlimited booze. Of course, this being Japan, a large number of the courses tend to be fishy, which puts me at a disadvantage, especially with all the beer flowing. It's traditional to fill the glasses of your colleagues and friends rather than your own, and if someone else is carrying a bottle and offering it to you, it's good form to accept, and if your glass is already full, to drink some of it to make the task worthwhile. Since it was a good while before I was served anything I was able to eat, and half the teachers coming over to offer me beer since it was my farewell, and me having to keep drinking so there was space to fill the glass further, I was worried I was going to pass out before the evening was done. Somehow I made it, however, even though my appetite was ruined by being asked to sing karaoke on the stage in front of everyone. Preferably a Japanese song. The Me of three years ago would have secretly wanted to, but would have been held back by doubt and fear. The Me of now, however, has braved scarier things, and was luckily full of alcohol at this time, so I acquiesced to their request. It didn't take long to think of a suitable song, since there's only one Japanese song I know that is guaranteed to impress and entertain a room of tipsy Japanese people, both through its subject matter and it's relative obscurity. Japanese people don't know how I know this song, and the truth is until I found it on youtube earlier tonight, I'd never actually heard the original version. It's a song myself and former JET friend Rob heard people singing at Casanova, a karaoke bar in the city, and we kind of appropriated it. After practicing it a few times, we had it down pretty well.
Here is the song, "Sugoi Otoko no Uta" by Miyoshi Tessei:
The lyrics to the first part translate like this:
Pass the beer around
Drink down to the bottom
You're Number 1
I'm Number 2
There was once a great man.
Upon meeting him by chance at sea
A shark was brought to tears, and apologised.
Pass the beer around
Drink down to the bottom
You're Number 1
I'm Number 2
Suffice to say, it was well received. After I'd finished, Mr Underricefield, whose face turns red at a drop of alcohol and acts sort of drunk even when sober, came onto the stage and kind of forced me to be the straight man in an impromptu manzai (Japanese comedy double act) performance, where he went on about how great I am at Japanese, and how I must be wearing colour contacts and have dyed hair, that I'm really Japanese in disguise. It was awkward and silly, but I think everyone was drunk and merry enough to enjoy it by that point.
After the main party, some of the male teachers, all of whom came to the school either this year or last, took me out to a nijikai (second party) where we sang more karaoke (including a lot of anime songs) at a snack bar run by a simpering hag of a woman, then we went to a gyouza (a kind of Chinese dumpling) restaurant and stuffed ourselves while drinking more beer. It was really nice of them, and they paid for everything. I think they wanted my last official party in Japan to be memorable, and it was. I stumbled back to Emily's place afterwards, as once again we were getting up early to go gallavanting. More on that in the next post.