Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Konpa Craziness!

I've been in Japan only a short time, and have been single in Japan for an even shorter time, but I have already collected a few interesting dating stories in this new country. In the interest of protecting the innocent (namely, me).

I won't tell you all of those stories, but there is one story I cannot keep to myself, a date of such strange cultural significance that I feel it my duty to divulge the tiniest details of the evening to you, my avid reader (namely, Tasha).


It all starts with a Facebook, as do most things in this modern age, and a message from a JET acquaintance, the first line of which immediately catches my attention: "Hi ReBekha, this might be the weirdest messages ever since we don't really know each other, but do you want to go on a Japanese group date that me and my boyfriend are arranging?" (slight rephrase)

The Details: A group "social networking party" in traditional Japanese style with a carefully fixed ratio of men to women: five female foreign English teachers, five male Japanese chefs. This style of meeting is called "konpa" and started with Japanese University students in order to develop their social circles. It is not always mixed gender nor it is it only geared toward dating--sometimes a konpa is arranged with all people from a certain major, degree, career field, interest group.

My contact promises the evening will be, if nothing else, "entertaining."

I, already weary of those close-shaven, muscular types some call "Marines" and looking for a change of scene, agree to attend.

As the date approaches, I--for certain reasons (namely, T)--become less eager to meet these men, but I maintain my promise none-the-less. If nothing, this will serve as an interesting cultural anecdote, I reassure myself.

Finally, on the night of January 16th, I throw on a carefully planned outfit (casual, cute, but not too cute) and stride off to meet my fellow English teachers/future konpa victims. We twitter nervously as we walk, all in jeans and heels as if planned, toward the small izakaya (restaurant). This is when we commit our first faux-paux: we arrive early.

Now, I did some research about these konpa things before hand, but it's not until after the date that I read about the expected male-female roles: gals arrive late (oops), we sit interspersed (oops), all make formal introductions (oops), men provide entertainment (ok... sorta), and women make sure the drinks are filled (oops).

The izakaya is just opening and it is completely abandoned. A server greets us in Japanese and seats us at a long, thin table with three small burners down the center. A couple of us try to space ourselves out so that the guys will sit amongst us when they arrive, but that plan soon dissolves and we all end up huddled to one side of the table.

Gradually, the guys arrive. At first there are just two of them, who sit at the other far end of the table quietly. I, ever so bold, greet them with a "Hello!" and their eyes grow wide, "Do you speak Japanese?" they ask, in Japanese. We answer our heads yes, no, or sort-of as per our individual levels, and the boys seem surprised that about half us are less than proficient.

I take it they don't speak English, either.

As the evening progresses, the language barrier continues to be a problem. The nabe pots full of broth, veggies, and meat cook and are eaten: drinks are ordered, downed, and re-ordered (thanks to the guys who kept a steady eye on our drink levels): and conversation... goes. It halts, drops, flows for awhile, loops, and dies.

Nabe for One, originally uploaded by bananagranola.
This is what nabe looks like. I didn't take many photos.

Finally, after almost two hours, the guys take the initiative and break up our awkward seating arrangement. Once we are spaced out in a roughly guy-girl format, the conversation begins to pick up, and soon all of us are laughing at some ridiculous joke, gesture, or mistranslation.

A lot of the conversation was centered on questions to get to know each other. Important questions such as: where are you from? where do you work? in a relationship, do you dominate or do you like to be dominated?


Not quite typical date conversation in my world, but apparently it is here. Or at least on these kindsa dates.

One of my favorite moments of the night came when one of the guys tried to tell us more about his job. He didn't know the English so he did his best, with the accompaniment of a hand gesture. What followed became known (for eternity?) as the "sushi playa dance." I wish the video I took on my cell phone worked. Just trust me when I say: it was epic.

The final tale of my konpa date will reveal to you just how successful it was as a matchmaking endeavor (as far as I am concerned):

The gentleman who sat next to me was one of the oldest in the group. He, through another girl who knows MUCH more Japanese than me, asked all of us, "what are you looking for in a guy?" When it came my turn to respond I, half-teasingly, said I wanted to be able to communicate with him. At this comment, the guy next to me started speaking passionately in Japanese. I watched him as he talked, trying to guess his meaning through his gestures and expressions. The other JET translated some and apparently he said something along the lines of, "our love can surpass language barriers," which made me laugh. A lot. Then he continued, passionately gesturing and speaking in English.
I watched his face, only about a foot away, and was desperately trying to guess at his meaning when he turned toward me,
leaned forward,
pursed his lips,
and kissed at me.

I screamed.

I nearly fell out of my chair, and I screamed.

I screamed like a scared little girl with a rat in her room.

When everyone at the table realized what had happened, they didn't leave me alone for the rest of the evening. It didn't help that my face involuntarily turned the color of my scarlet sweater every time he looked at me. And my ears. My poor ears were on fire. This encouragement prompted my seat buddy to kiss at me innumerable times, and caused me to try and climb out the window. Literally.

This guy. He is wearing an earring in this photo.

At the end of the night, I waved (from a safe distance) goodbye and left the rest of the group to move on to karaoke. I had work in the morning, and a phone call to make. ;)

So, despite the awkward, the language barrier, and the embarrassment, I am glad I went. If only for the sushi dance and the bonding with my fellow lady JETs.

If some day in the future I am single and am asked, I might consider going to another one of these konpa things again... maybe.


  1. Rebekha- You have no idea how much I appreciate you writing this! And one day, because our memories eventually fail us all- you will be glad to have recorded the details. THIS IS HILARIOUS! I'm laughing out loud and grinning ear to ear (I just got off work.. starbucks.. and will be heading to Genres and structures of English soon).

    Honestly... hilarious. My one question.. why would that girl set you guys all up on Konpa without making sure enough of you spoke English/Japanese?? The numerous cultural faux-pauxs however, I understand.. none of my Jpnse friends are any good at explaining ANYTHING beforehand.

    "Do you like do dominate?"

    ehhhhh! Scary..

  2. Hey Tasha,
    Well, it was her first konpa experience, too, and she didn't know the guys. Really it was her boyfriend arranging it.
    I should know more Japanese... *sigh* My eternal lament.

    He he, I am glad you enjoyed it. I have been adding more and more over the last month, trying to make it complete and readable. Still not sure I accomplished that, but I give up. :)

  3. So, I found your blog through one of our many mutual friend (Beth) and it's making oh-so nostalgic! (It looks like we're going back to Korea this spring and your blog is getting me in the mood for mo' adventuring!)

    Anyway, about the post--laugh out loud funny! What an awkward conversation to be stuck in! Dominate? Eek! lol. It reminded me of a few dating disasters I ended up on in Korea. One friend tried to set me up with a guy from her school who ended up being into students... I also went on a date with another Korean guy I met at the pool who surprised me by introducing me to his parents! They weren't impressed and he never called me again... The foreigners didn't offer many good options either. I finally met my now boyfriend/fiance via Facebook. We were both teaching there and randomly met on Are You Interested? (yeah--that dorky "click yes" app!) Well, it all worked out so I don't feel too ashamed now. :)

  4. Thanks Kortney! It was a humorous night. :D

    Your stories sound quite disastrous, indeed. He he I guess it is about the same everywhere. ;)

    Congratulations on meeting the right one! I love it. :)

  5. Oh wow...what an experience! I don't think I would've had the nerve to go to one of those events, let alone stick it out! :) I love reading your stories, ReBekha, and I can imagine your behavior throughout this story--the laughing, the falling out of the chair, etc. I miss you, lady!