Picture the scene: December 1999 in Osaka, Japan.
I am in a restaurant with the 30 Japanese teachers that I work with at our school.
We have traveled here for a weekend in the city at the end of term. I have only been in Japan for five months, so my Japanese ability is basic to say the least and I have no idea what is going on.
We are all sitting formally on the floor, eating our meals from little tables, when suddenly I notice that some of the teachers have mysteriously left the room.
One of the younger teachers stands up, says something that everyone else laughs at, and then two of the teachers reappear through a sliding door.
They have changed out of their formal clothes; the man is just wearing a pair of shorts, and the woman is wearing sports clothes and holding a table tennis bat in her hand. The man starts singing a Japanese song, and the woman proceeds to hit the man on his back with the bat, until the song is finished.
Apparently this is hilarious, as my colleagues fill the room with laughter.
Bring out the Gimp
My brain barely has time to process what I have witnessed when the sliding door opens again and two more teachers appear.
This time, there are two men; the PE teacher is dressed as a female nurse, and the social studies teacher is a gimp.
The nurse lights a cigarette, and then the gimp hits it out of his mouth with a whip. My colleagues erupt with laughter, but this is quickly followed by gasps as the PE teacher lifts up his nurse costume to reveal his skimpy underwear, and then sets fire to his pubic hair.
Beer on tap
The smell of burnt hair still lingers in the air as the next teacher comes into the room.
He’s wearing a pair of longjohns, with a tube hanging out the front.
He walks slowly around the room, dips his tube into people’s beer glasses and proceeds to squeeze what I can only presume to be beer out of the tube into the glasses. People are laughing hysterically.
I find out later that all the newest members of staff have to perform, as a kind of initiation. I don’t know whether to feel offended or relieved that I was not asked to join in.
Another male teacher is, by this point, very drunk, and proceeds to undress, down to his underwear. Unfortunately, the way he has positioned himself meant that his testicles are exposed.
I take a swig of beer, glance around at this room full of teachers, and finish eating my dinner.
Later on, we all leave the restaurant and walk to a club, called Betty’s Mayonnaise.
Inside, it looks like a theatre, with rows of seats and a stage. We get drinks, sit down and wait for the show to begin. I have no idea what’s coming.
It turns out that this place is famous for its show.
I squirm in my seat as the performers focus all their attention on me, because I am the only foreigner in here.
We then spend the next hour watching transgender women performing on stage, mostly without their clothes on. I am sitting next to the headteacher and don’t know where to look.
What happens in Osaka, stays in Osaka
The next day, nothing is said about last night; it is as if nothing ever happened. We all have breakfast in our hotel, and then visit the aquarium before heading home. School life resumes as normal.
All subsequent staff events seem boring in comparison.
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