The Japanese nomikai (drinking party) is the social event to end all social events. It's the place where people who are colleagues, mentors/mentees, or plain old acquaintances become friends. This is because the hierarchical rules for interaction that apply in all other social situations are suspended during the nomikai. It is fundamentally understood that everyone is drinking and therefore no one need bother with the standard rules of behavior that require distance and deference in daily personal interactions.
Having spent the rather rainy day out and about, it was a delight to pile into taxis and head for the Kadoya Brewing Company—where the nomikai was to be held. In addition to being a brewer, Kadoya features a restaurant that specializes in seafood dishes. Their oyster dishes are particularly well-known and with good reason. Over the course of our meal, which was all-you-can-eat to complement the all-you-can-drink beer menu, we ate fried oysters, fresh oysters, and oysters in stir-fry and on pizza! We also had extremely respectable German sausage (the German participants vouched for its authenticity of flavor) and a variety of delicious Chinese dishes and salads brought to us.
Kadoya had about twenty beers on tap, ranging from lagers to pale ales to ambers to stouts, and I made it my mission to attempt a tasting of all of them. I begin my series of orders with a tasting flight that allowed me to sample six of their beers and then settled in for the long haul.
Everything was so scrumptious, and the conversation was so much fun. I was seated at a table with a bunch of the student volunteers, and we spent a lot of time talking about linguistics and idiomatic expressions—when we weren't laughing hysterically over the never-ending quantities of food, taking silly pictures, and toasting one anothers' very good health. At one point it was discovered that one of the students, Takahara, and I shared a mutual love of rock-n-roll, and we spent a large portion of the evening talking about bands (he himself is in one), concerts, and what it's been like for me having a roadie for a dad (short version: incredibly awesome).
As the evening wore on, people began to detach themselves from their tables and wander freely—chatting, laughing, toasting, drinking, silly photo-taking. Several of the teachers, normally quite reserved, expressed their hopes that we would all remain close friends of them, of Kogakkan University, and of Ise.
Eventually it was time for last calls, and then suddenly it was time to go. I had ordered a just-in-case glass at last call, as I wasn't sure how much longer we'd be staying, and I hadn't gotten around to finishing it. So, in that time honored tradition of preventing alcohol abuse, I chugged it. In one tremendous, scene-stealing gulp. And everyone erupted into drunken cheers and clapping. It was an extremely proud moment for me. I had drank six flights, four (five?) glasses, and one pint of beer (not to mention various sips from other people's orders) in about a span of two hours, and I was still on my feet and essentially coherent.
I was very, very happy about life, the universe, and everything, but I was coherent in my happiness.
We caught taxis back home to the dormitory. My friend T. and I shared a taxi with the program coordinators, and during the drive back we gave ourselves over to an effusion of "I-love-you-man!" declarations. They were apparently so profuse that they got Tamada-san laughing at their cuteness. But we didn't mind. We were just so happy to be where we were, doing what we were doing.
Back home and in bed, I drifted off to sleep with gratifying rapidity, and I woke up refreshed and ready for the next half of the program to commence. The buzz had faded, but the sense of camaraderie was still very much evident—as it would continue to be for the rest of the trip.
Nomikai. You just can't beat it.