I’ll be honest. Christmas this year… didn’t quite feel like Christmas.
However, I don’t for a minute regret spending Christmas in Japan. I mean, if I had really wanted to, I could have bought plane tickets home, but I didn’t.
Why? Because I wanted to test myself, to see how I could handle Christmas alone. Because I want to save my nenkyuu (holiday leave) for future adventures. Because I wanted to experience Christmas in another country. Because I knew that for all that I was missing out on with family and friends at home, I also knew that if I left for the US, I would be missing out on things here in Japan, too — things that were completely new to me.
And so I don’t regret staying. This is how the first part of my winter holidays went:
On Christmas Day, I went into school. There were no classes, no students, and a general feeling of ease among the smattering of teachers who had decided to save their nenkyuu for warmer days. I spent the morning reading sweet Christmas cards that my family (all 21 of them) had mailed to me, then I whittled away the rest of the day with lesson planning . Everyone in the office went out for lunch that day (I joined 5 of my colleagues for soba noodles) and we took our time in getting back.
Luckily, I was not alone on the night of the 25th either — I think that would have been a bit depressing — because that same school had a huge Bonenkai (a “Forget the Year” Party) on Christmas night. Basically, the Bonenkai is an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink, semi-formal event, held at a rather nice restaurant for the entire staff. An endless game of Bingo, with prizes for all staff members, seems to be a reoccurring tradition at Bonenkais, as well (seriously, it’s just a single round of Bingo… played until every single person gets Bingo…).
I actually went to two Bonenkais this year (at two different schools) and I enjoyed myself immensely at both, although they were very different.
The first (held on December 22nd) reflected the younger, more playful nature of that school’s staff. There were lots of contests (I was called upon to participate in the women’s Coca-Cola drinking race) some ridiculous dances performed by some of my more intoxicated colleagues, and a “Top 10” powerpoint, featuring the 10 “best” (most embarrassing) moments that had happened to staff members that year.
The second was, as I mentioned earlier, held on Christmas Night, and although it was a more expensive party, I’ll say that I definitely got my money’s worth of food… I can’t even list all the delicious things that I ate that night! But the highlights included tender beef slices grilled to your liking at your own personal grill, king crab legs, tempura everything, and DESSERT (this was particularly exciting for me, since all of the previous enkais that I have been to have sadly lacked a dessert of any kind).
I finished off the evening by reading Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” by the light of my Christmas tree. A merry enough Christmas, indeed.
On December 27th, an older colleague kindly invited me and another colleague to her house for a quick introduction to the art of Ikebana (flower arranging). We made beautiful New Year’s arrangements under her tutelage… and then we took it all apart, wrapped all the flowers in newspaper, and put them aside to be taken home and reassembled.
Following the Ikebana lesson, the four of us (my colleague’s husband included) went out to dinner, where we were treated to the chef’s undivided attention. We watched as the chef expertly sliced fresh fish for sashimi; we chatted with him and and his wife as he tended to skewers of tempura shrimp, tempura lotus root, and tempura shiitake, all bubbling in the hot oil fryer; we raved about the oranges from Ehime that he served as dessert; and we left with rice and tempura leftovers for the next day’s lunch (a rarity for restaurants in Japan).
Of course, I can describe the food and the flowers of that night, but there was just something about being there, with those lovely people — colleagues and strangers both — that will live on indescribably in my memory.
Oh, and to end… here is my Ikebana arrangement after I reassembled it at home, from memory: