Hey everyone, long time no see. So what’s going on with you? Great, just great. So listen, the other day I went to my very first enkai. Attending an enkai is one of the more distinctive Japanese experiences, so I was pretty excited.
The word ‘enkai’ itself is made of two kanji, 宴会. The second of these, 会 ‘kai’, is very common. It is normally translated into English as ‘meeting’, ‘gathering’ or some other synonym whereas the first, 宴 ‘en’, is typically read as ‘huge orgy’.
You really don’t want to see what’s under those mosaics
Despite these philological roots, the modern-day enkai contains very little free love. In reality, it’s co-workers binge drinking.
This particular enkai was held in late March. Around this time the Japanese school year ends and the cherry blossoms bloom. These twin events place an extreme pressure on Japanese people to go binge drinking. It’s a very pretty party season.
I had been looking forward to the enkai for a long time. Seating was allocated on an entirely random basis, therefore I found myself next to a middle-aged art teacher to whom I had never spoken before. Initially, it was pretty awkward. However, twenty minutes and five drinks later, he finally broke the ice.
“Hmmmm, Japanese girls…how are they?”
I had no idea how to answer the question. I still don’t. Whatever answer I gave must have been acceptable as the conversation continued in this vein for….a long time. He was a curious man and had many, many questions.
‘Are you an erotic?’
‘Do you know erotic?’
‘How about English erotic?
The party eventually ended but my new friend suggested we go to a sushi bar. Sensing the chance to continue this world-class debate, I enthusiastically agreed. We made a group of four and took a taxi across town. We were led down an alley and into a small shop where we were seated at a counter.
The next hour or so followed a pretty strict pattern. The teachers would point to some kind of fish on display and ask me if I knew what it was. If I said I didn’t then they would order me some. They would then pass the time until the dish was served by cackling and rubbing their hands with glee.
Anyone living in Japan must be aware of the importance of showing respect to one’s elders. It’s rarely a good idea to directly contradict or refuse an offer from your senior co-workers. Given that there was an age gap of 90 between myself and the other teachers, I felt it was important to show unbridled enthusiasm for whatever was placed in front of me.
A teacher, whom I had never previously heard speak English, pointed at some indescribable white stuff in a tray.
‘You know shirako?’
I saw the sign placed in front of the tray. It read 白子, which literally means ‘white children’.
‘You should try’
There followed a particularly long period of cackling and hand-rubbing.
Eventually it arrived. I didn’t take a picture then, but this gives you the general idea.
I ate it all. Every last piece.
‘It’s good!’ (I’m a skillful liar)
‘Err…yes, it is creamy’ (Not a lie)
After I finished I decided to check on my phone’s dictionary what shirako actually was. The entry read:
‘白子 － soft roe, milt, fish semen’
I looked back to the teacher, who was now leaning back in his chair looking very pleased with himself.
‘Creamy’ he said again, to no-one in particular.