Saturday, 28 December 2013


When you hear the word "Japan" the first thing that comes to your mind is the madness of high-tech Tokyo, crowded trains, flashing neons and anime characters who greet you at every turn.

I'm in Japan now, but nowhere near Tokyo. What? I hear you say, there is more to Japan than its famous capital city? Oh, yes. These big stretches of land between the cities commonly known as "countryside". What? I hear you say again, there is countryside in Japan? Oh yes, again. I'm here, so it most definitely does exist. 

There is no madness here. The trains are not crowded, simply because there are no trains (yes, there are towns and villages in Japan without a train station). There are no neons and the only anime character is… me. Well, sort of anime. But you know what I mean.

I've been here for all of 5 minutes and already my new friends invited me to join them for a traditional "end of the year" party. The occasion is called "bonenkai", which simply means "forget the year gathering". The "forget" part comes from copious amounts of alcohol consumed during the party, and the "gathering" consists, usually, of co-workers and friends.

And because every horse likes a good party, I couldn't say "no"!

The hotel, where the event was being held, was quite fancy (by Japanese countryside standards) and the food served was Japanese through and through.

The edibles were looking great, but before I had a chance to dig in, my new friends reminded me about using "oshibori" first. 

What's this oshibori? A wet towel to wipe off your hands before eating. In winter they are hot, in summer they are cold. Some restaurants offer disposable paper oshibori, but not this hotel. Here we got a real, hot, individually wrapped hot towel.

With clean hands and refreshed, now we could concentrate on eating.

The food looked lovely, but judging from the reactions of people around the table, it was a lot tastier with alcohol. Strong alcohol.

Japanese workplaces are very hierarchical places, where rank, age, and time spent at the company are of outmost importance. But for a few hours each year, nobody cares, and bosses and employees all drink together until they can drink no more. And what happens at bonenkai stays at bonenkai. 

That stew (nabe) cooked right on table terrified me a bit. What's that big piece of meat? No, wait. I don't want to know. I'll pass.

The eating part was over fairly quickly, everybody was anxious to get to the drinking bit and drunken karaoke.

I decided to investigate my dessert instead.

Hmmm… mochi… delicious.

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