This past week marked the end of the academic year in Japan (yes, the year runs from April to February, with a short break for summer in August).
The end of year comes with grades, teacher evaluations, syllabi corrections and book ordering…and farewell parties. Two of my colleagues left for greener pastures (i.e., they got tenured positions), so everybody in my department got together last night to fête and shower them with parting gifts. And naturally to gripe, commiserate, regale, story tell, and generally remind ourselves why we like to work together.
This of course meant that I wasn’t at home for dinner, and couldn’t help with the bath, either (all important!). Worse, I had had yet another party the previous night…a Sunday, no less…with the Shorinji Kempo Kyoto Prefectural Federation, a group so politically potent that former MEXT Minister Bunmei Ibuki was on hand to give the opening speech. That party was to celebrate the opening of the year, and had been delayed by a month so as not to conflict with yet another party (the “opening of the mirror ceremony,” or kagami biraki shiki 鏡開式 at the HQ in Shikoku). So instead it was called a “kondan-kai” 懇談会, which literally means “conference” but really simply means “drinking party.”
There are lots of parties in Japan. Parties when people get hired. Parties when people retire. Parties when a sporting event is held. Parties when a building is officially opened. Parties to “forget the year,” and parties to start the new one. Even parties to celebrate the release of a new book.
I’ve been to my fair share of official parties, beginning when I was an assistant language teacher on the JET Program. In fact, I made it a point to attend the three or four parties held by the high school faculty; it gave me a chance to practice my Japanese and to talk with teachers I rarely spoke to in person during the day.
And even now that I’m older and more experienced…or, rather, because I’m older and more experienced…going to such parties is more important than ever. It’s where alliances and agreements are made, where the daily politeness masks come down and the inner workings of office and administrative politics are revealed. It may seem as if attending such a party is just an excuse to carouse, but if you miss more than one or two in a row, you suddenly find that things at work have moved past you without your knowing, and colleagues feel a bit more distant than they used to.
All this partying puts a strain on our homelife. After all, my wife also works, and she has parties of her own to attend.
So we have to plan well ahead of time. Who will pick up the kids at the nursery? Who will prepare dinner? Who will do laundry? Whose turn is it next to go to a social event in the evening? The loss of spontaneity is a reality that took us some time to get used to, but we found that negotiating the details of each other’s workplace-related social requirements helped to reduce tension and to stave off resentment.
Not to say that the parties themselves don’t hurt, either. Both Daddy and Mommy have to cut loose once in a while. Kanpai!