He is a herver.
Yes, herver. Sukebe.
Ah, a pervert.
Yes, a hervert.
Pee. Puh. Puh-rvert.
He is a Herbert number 1.
At first I was worried that I would be the only female at my welcoming party until Chikako arrived, waded through the suit clad, chain smoking male bodies
and sat next to me and said with a big smile: You can call me Chika.
I'm not often phased by odd social situations, and I probably could have handled a room full of non-English speaking gents
, but her presence brought such comfort, I instantly felt more at ease. Doubly so since Chikako was wearing a short skirt and I had been fretting that mine was too flashy
for such a formal occasion.
I was placed at the head table, in between the mayor and deputy mayor, a daunting place. The mayor left our table to sit with his cronies as soon it was proper. I don't think he disliked me so much as felt uncomfortable with the language divide. The deputy mayor, on the other hand, entertained me as best as he could. His English was even more limited than my Japanese, which is to say that a discussion of Japanese foreign policy or trade relations was out of the question. Likewise, there was little chance we could even exchange favorite colors. Despite this, we managed to have a good laugh as he attempted to explain to me what I was eating.
The welcome party started with a series of formal speeches made by the superintendent of the Board of Education, the Mayor and myself. My boss at the BOE spoke at length about me, my hobbies, my education, my travels and my family. It is interesting to note that I had only met with him only once before the welcome party and, because we shared no common language, had told him none of the above things. I realized why the others in the BOE office had been asking me so many questions. The Mayor rattled off a much shorter speech, probably full of formalities and such things. I understood little, except that it pertained to me from the repeated mention of my name. Lastly, I read a few lines in Japanese I had copied out of a textbook; a prefab self-introduction.
A few more things were said and finally something I understood. The cheers meant that we could start eating and drinking. The food was plentiful and varied. I had little idea of what I was eating, but it mattered not. I did everything as properly as I could, mostly by copying the gentlemen at my table. I slurped my soba as loudly as possible, nearly choking in the process and dipped my tempura in the correct bowl (I had a choice of several). Copious amounts of alcohol were brought to the tables and the deputy mayor seemed determined to get me as drunk as possible in as little time as he could. If I had so much as a sip of my beer, my glass was refilled. Then the sake ritual began.
One by one, the elderly, suited men came to the head table, sat on the floor across from me, introduced themselves and offered me the sake glass they had brought with them. They would pour in the warm liquid, gently holding the bottle with both hands and watching as I downed the drink. I learned to wipe the rim of the glass, pass the cup back and return the favour of a pour. I also learned a neat trick; to surreptitiously spill the sake I could not drink into any available container, be it noodle bowl, Soya plate, beer glass. I wasn't, nor was anyone for that matter, expected to drink a full cup. It was the mere formality of accepting a drink from someone and taking a sip, however small, that mattered.
As time passed, the men approaching the table got drunker and drunker. And this is when the "he's a pervert" business started. It seems that a pastime of Japanese men in these formal situations is to accuse one another of being more perverted than the next. Another, apparently hilarious, trick is to say that you are yakuza. But it is imperative that as soon as someone laughs that you say you are joking, otherwise you might be believed. After listening to how all the men around me were both perverted and yakuza (but not really), I was relieved when Chikako sat next to me and whispered:
I hate old men.
I could have hugged her. She handed me a note she had written the day before, inviting me to come to a festival with her and her family the following week. While it had been hard work avoiding pervert talk with the men, with Chikako I could let my guard down. Talking to her, turning away from the suits, was like getting into a warm bath at the end of a long day. She even refused to translate some of the dirtier comments made.
He wants you to stay in Ariake cho forever and marry a Japanese man.
Well, maybe if I find one I like.
Ah, he has one ready for you. The youngest town councilor.
He also owns a sushi bar so you can have free sushi whenever you want.
Um, can I think about it?
The idea of free sushi was tempting, but not at such a high cost. Not yet anyway. The party got into full swing and everyone broke into sake pouring circles. I found myself sitting with some of the younger clerks from the BOE, who it seems, had learned English over night. Whereas at the office I was surprised to hear so much as two words in English, I was now carrying on full conversations. Must have been the liquid courage urging them on. I was passed a cup from one person and then another and slowly became intoxicated myself. Again, the pervert finger-pointing began, but the younger men were much more respectful. They were more interested in talking to me than saying things at me that were rude and I couldn't understand, while chucking amusedly to themselves like the dirty old men from city hall. The town councilor, to whom I am tentatively engaged, was polite enough to get me a bottle of tea when I was done with sake.
Do you think it is true that he was a rugby player? Do you think so?
Uh, Yes. I mean, no. Yes? What is the correct answer?
As communication levels increased and inhibition decreased, I found myself in more and more ridiculous conversations. I had no idea how I was supposed to answer some of the questions thrown at me. What is my blood type? What kind of toilet do I prefer? Was he a rugby player? If I say yes, am I playing along with a rude joke. If I say no, am I saying something about him that is unkind? And then:
I hab a bigu deek. A bery, bery bigu deek.
Oh, I see. Would you like some sake to help you with that? Oh no, wait, that might actually make it worse.
By the end of the night I learned who was the biggest pervert: kocho-sensei, the principal of my school and my boss. Kocho-sensei was Herbert #1. He speaks about 10 words of English and I doubt he had any idea what he was saying, so I choose to look not shocked and move on in the conversation. I moved away from him and kept moving away from him anytime he attempted to sit near me. It seems that being perverted and making unwanted advances is not uncommon, not to mention a laughable act, at these affairs and the other men jokingly kept warning me. Kanube-san, from the BOE and I even developed a battle cry to warn the others: Danger! Danger! Kocho-sensei is danger!
The night ended with Chikako driving me home and the remaining revelers going on to the after-party for karaoke and girls. This morning, Okawa stumbled into the office and I could tell he was still drunk from the way he was having difficulty handling the broom. Shimada, likewise came in on time, but looking very ill. The superintendent came out of his office only to tell me that he was terribly hung over by pointing at his forehead, shaking his head and groaning. The secretary, Kaneko, and I giggled at the men all morning as they bumped into furniture and drank copious amounts of coffee in an attempt to avoid falling asleep at their desks.
This afternoon I came into the staff room to find kyoto-sensei in a state much like the others at the BOE this morning. I am sitting across from him and I can report he has not raised his head for a good 20 minutes. He only groaned when I entered and pointed at his head. Kocho-sensei has been by as well and, as is the custom, acted like nothing had happened last night out of the ordinary. I was certainly welcomed last night, with all the formalities and customs, but I was also initiated into the seedier side of Japanese society.