Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dinner with a Sensei; or, No, Sensei, No!

It is said, in Japan, that before you marry a woman you should eat her 肉じゃが [nikujaga] or meat and potato stew. This stew consists of potatoes and beef (or pork) boiled and flavored with mirin—a sweet Japanese cooking wine—and is a typical winter dish for Japanese families. This stew, it would seem, is the best way to judge what kind of wife a woman will make. That being said, Kashiwazaki Sensei has a fantastic wife!

A few weeks ago, the world-champion Judo player and current director of the bekkasei program at the International Budo University—Kashiwazaki Sensei—invited the foreign Judoka to his house for dinner. Besides the afore mentioned nikujaga, we sampled a wide variety of Japanese foods including sashimi, clams, oysters, tempura, fried sweet potato and fried rice. In Japan, it is not unusual for a Sensei to invite a number of his students to dinner; however, it is an honor to be served in the sensei’s home. The sensei/student relationship is sometimes more akin to an adult/child relationship in the west. Sensei sometimes treat their students in an almost parental fashion.

Allow me, now, to relate the importance that alcohol plays in Judo… and every other Japanese club, place of work, or group of people who are in any way socially related. Nomikais—or, drinking parties—are a common feature of clubs and work places. Basically, the members of the club or, alternatively, the boss and his employees will go out and drink themselves blind. There is much that can be said, both good and bad, on this topic. Some believe that it is necessary for Japanese people to become completely hammered in order to express themselves freely. Others say that the Nomikai is yet another form of social pressure in which you *must* drink because your boss tells you to. Many, though, see this as an opportunity to relate to your colleagues in a somewhat more relaxed environment.

In the case of our dinner—and subsequent round of drinking with Kashiwazaki Sensei—it was just a chance to have fun and, perhaps, for Sensei to show off his wide variety of alcohol. We tried, in no particular order: traditional Japanese Sake, called nihonshu (rice wine); a sweet version of rice wine known as amazake; Okinawan Awamori (with snake venom); a very rare umeshu (plumb wine) that cannot be purchased in stores; some kind of alcohol with flecks of gold floating in it; a number of varieties of shochu, which is a potato or sweet potato based alcohol similar to vodka; and, of course, beer to chase it all down. Kashiwazaki Sensei laughed joyfully and proceeded to pull out bottle after bottle while one of our members cried in panic, "No Sensei, no!" Sensei only grinned evilly and refilled our glasses.

Amidst the revelry, Sensei took out the medal he received when winning the world championship and passed it around for us to see. I personally feel that it is inappropriate for anyone but the world champion himself to wear this medal, but Kashiwazaki Sensei insisted upon putting it around each of our necks and taking a photo. So I did not protest. After all, this quite possibly will be the only time I ever hold a gold medal in my hands.

AS with many Japanese nomikais, its all fun and games until someone pukes over the Sensei’s table. This is the traditional sign, I believe, that the party has been a success and that it is time to go home. I have lived in Japan long enough, now, to know how to hold my licker, but one of our younger members is now proud to say he puked over the bean-bag of a world champion. Far from feeling embarrassed, however, we are all quite proud of our light-weight heavy-weight.

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