Friday, March 18, 2005

A Dissertation on the Evils of Spring (and a Very Bad Party)

Spring is Here, and It’s Rot

. . . Just a Heap of Refuse

. . . Garbage! That’s All You Are, Spring—Garbage!

Probably the only thing worse than spring is karaoke at a big party. Perhaps I am just being cranky because life seems to have taken a handful of sharp gravel and scrubbed my throat with it, right before lighting a coal fire in my nostrils. I have, in fact, a cold. I blame spring, and I blame 宴会 (enkai: parties; banquets). According to the Aomori Rough Guide for 2004, “The enkai is a wonderful way to lighten your wallet, eat bizarre food, make you wake up feeling like a flock of canaries used your mouth as a bird bath, and provide your colleagues with months of laughter, mainly revolving around the look on your face when you realised you were eating squid guts.” In my own experience, there is very little to laugh about after an enkai. Perhaps this is my own fault. I already know squid guts (not to mention squid testicles) when I see them, and my comedic value as a gaijin jester verges on nil. Having said that, I have for the most part enjoyed the staff parties I have thus far attended. They have all had two things going for them: they have been small, and they have not involved karaoke. Tuesday’s graduation party, on the other hand, was not small and it had a big karaoke machine which was cranked into service even before the opening kampai (toast) had a chance to properly die on our lips. Some people in this world cannot fly in airplanes. Others will under no circumstances pick up a snake. As for me, I cannot will not do not sing. This has been true ever since my first week of grade one when I discovered that I was already behind in music class. It is for this reason that I manifest extreme hostility towards the karaoke culture. I also extend this extreme hostility towards people who try to tell me that karaoke is Japanese culture. There is nothing uniquely Japanese about getting drunk and then singing and dancing in front of everyone. People have been doing that sort of thing all over the world for a very long time now. As far as I can see, the only uniquely Japanese part about karaoke is its hybrid Engrish name (kara meaning “empty” and oke, short for “orchestra”) and the high-tech gadgetry used to facilitate it. Oh, yes, and the assumption that if someone is obviously a foreigner then they should obviously be one of the people required to sing. Perhaps I should take a moment here to explain that there were no graduating students invited to the graduation party. It was strictly an affair for parents, teachers, and village dignitaries. It makes sense. Those spoiled kids have been fed, housed and clothed by their parents and educated by the state all these years; there’s no reason to go and blow an expensive party on them as well. Besides, they aren’t legally eligible to carry out the proper functions of a party anyway—important functions like alcohol consumption and sexual innuendo. So there I was in a big drafty room full of parents, wallowing in the sickening knowledge that at some point that wanker with the mike was going to ask me to sing a Beatles’ song or something. I said “no.” I shook my head vigorously and made a big “X” with my arms. I might have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for a friendly sushi chef who was drunk enough to think that his only chance for happiness that evening lay in doing a duet with me. I whimpered, I whined, I sagely explained to him about childhood complexes and the importance of not exacerbating them even in adulthood. He tugged, he cajoled, and he tried out various headlocks on my person. In the end, the science teacher lent his assistance to the sushi chef and I was propelled onto stage and into a (solo-) duet in which I pretended to move my lips to “Let It Be.” I wish they’d have let me be. Sushi Chef was a little deflated at the end of the song when he realized that simply standing in front of a crowd wasn’t going to shake me from my non-singer complex, but he was also drunk enough to spend the rest of the night trying to get me to do it again. I do not blame the sushi chef. I don’t even blame alcohol. I blame karaoke.

The evening did have its moments, though. My favourite was when five of the mothers put on a song and dance that they had obviously prepared for in advance. One of them was fully decked out in a Red Power Ranger outfit. Another was dressed as a white ninja. A third was dressed in green and wearing one of those perplexing animal tutus (usually a swan but in this case a turtle) with a conspicuously phallic head. I have no idea why these naughty tutus are so popular in my village, but I’ve seen them used at both elementary school and community events. I forget what the fourth mom was dressed as, but the fifth simply wore a tight sweater and jeans with a grotesque Akashiya Sanma mask (like the Nixon masks they have in the States).

Akashiya Sanma

This fifth mother, who seemed like a shy enough women earlier in the day, belly danced her way around the banquet hall, molesting random fathers along the way. I have to admit that that was the most—and possibly the only—interesting moment of the evening.

A Parting Shot at Spring