Last night I went out with my colleagues for a farewell party for two of my colleagues who are being deployed overseas. These after-work parties, such as 送別会 soubetsukai—farewell parties and 歓迎会 kangeikai—welcome parties, are really a lot of fun.
Typically they consist of a dinner and drinks in a nice restaurant, with speeches by the person leaving and the manager, followed by “Round 2” which is karaoke.
The dinner course includes 飲み放題 nomihoudai—all you can drink. Japan has a very nice tradition where you don’t pour your own drink; you top up someone else’s glass and they top up yours in turn. At the start of the meal, when everyone’s drink is poured, you don’t take a drink immediately; you wait until the manager says a few words to launch the party and invites everyone to say “kampai“.
I took a few photos last night at the restaurant, but I used my phone so the quality isn’t great.
One of my colleagues took this one so you can see me (on the left, wearing a red tie).
It was a nabe-style restaurant (actually udon-suki), so we cooked the food ourselves at the table.
By the time of the speeches, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and most of the jackets and ties had come off.
I especially enjoy the karaoke (no photos unfortunately). We usually go to a place called Joy Joy in Shinsaibashi; I think it costs around 1300 yen each, and for that price you can drink as much as you want. There is a snag however: the free drink does not include beer. Instead you get a 酎ハイ chuuhai or “highball” consisting of Japanese spirits with a mixer, such as lemon. I drank a lot of chuuhai, as a result of which today I’ve had a really unpleasant and persistent headache. Key vocabulary: 二日酔い futsukayoi—hangover.
In karaoke, the lyrics on the screen are accompanied by yomigana or furigana, little characters that indicate the pronunciation of the words. So even someone like me, who can’t read Japanese very well, can often read the lyrics well enough to sing along, even if I can’t actually understand everything I’m singing! It only works if the song is slow enough for me to keep up, such as a ballad. However, it is a surprisingly good way of learning Japanese!
When it comes to my turn, I don’t choose Japanese songs (partly because I don’t know many Japanese songs). At the start of the evening, there is usually a few minutes of fiddling with the song selection device before we manage to find the secret menu that unlocks the foreign songs.
Then, there are a few criteria to keep in mind. First, the best karaoke songs are the ones that everyone knows, and can even join in on the chorus. Second, I don’t have a good singing voice so I try to choose songs that are not too technically demanding. I learned this the hard way by cueing up an Adele song that I like. It’s beautiful when Adele sings it, but not such a good choice for me. Third, it’s not about showing off your cool taste or eclectic knowledge of music. Japanese fun is about being inclusive and sharing. Copa Cabana is a good choice, as is John Denver’s Country Roads, and I think Mrs Robinson would work well too.
Having said that, I often choose songs by Irish artists, just to put my own country in the spotlight. Last night I sang a beautiful old song by Gilbert O’Sullivan, Alone Again (Naturally). To my surprise and delight, my colleagues were familiar with the song and were even able to sing along in English. However I was equally surprised afterwards when I mentioned what a sad song it is, only to discover that they hadn’t realised that it’s a sad song.
These parties are not paid for by the company; the cost is shared out between the participants. However, it is not shared equally. I don’t know the exact criteria, but it goes by seniority and (probably) perceived ability to pay. Managers always bear more than their fair share of the cost; for my part I am asked to pay much less than my fair share (typically 2000 or 3000 yen for a full night out including food, drink and karaoke).