Serious Business

14 05 2012

Weekend was nothing to write home about in terms of riding itself, really. No riding on Saturday due to attending the sumo tournament in Ryougoku (which was excellent fun!) and on Sunday I didn’t actually have any time in the saddle. We had a meeting straight after club, however, in which it was explained that because so many new people have joined this year it simply isn’t going to be possible for everyone to get a turn every day unless the club gets a new horse, which is fair enough. More than once a week is still better than I’m likely to get when I return home, and at the risk of repeating myself, equine company alone is its own reward.

However, the riding club had its ‘Nyūbushiki’ (entrance ceremony) for the first years (which technically includes me as an exchange student) on Sunday. Attendance of at least one of the two events that made this up was mandatory, I was told in advance.

The day began with embarrassment; I’ve been told about it many times and received dozens of emails to my mobile phone about it from the club’s mailing list, and my understanding had been that practice would go ahead as normal in the morning and the event – for which it was stipulated everyone would have to wear a plain black suit and white shirt (this had to be a skirt suit for girls, with stockings and pumps) – would be held in the evening. What I didn’t get was that I would be expected to take my suit with me and stay at the stables all day – on the way there I ran into two of my sempai, who were already wearing their suits and were surprised to see me wearing my riding gear as usual. I’ve checked back through the emails about it, and the only suggestion of this I could find in any of them was ‘we will walk there from the stables’ in one of the messages I’d saved, so although it was a bit embarrassing I don’t feel like that much of an idiot for not realising.

Club practice was followed by lunch in the office, a meeting (which was minuted – SERIOUS BUSINESS) and a lecture about horse therapy, which to be honest I didn’t understand a lot of.  After all of this was over, I excused myself and went home for a quick shower, a nap and to get changed into a suit a friend of mine had kindly lent me, then I headed back out to meet the others at the stables.

It was strange seeing the stables full of people in suits. Everyone looked very smart, and while I wasn’t initially very comfortable dressed as I was (in everyday life, I favour combat trousers, boots and plain, tight-fitting tops), walking into a stable full of Japanese girls in suits shouting your name followed by ‘Kakko ii!’ (stylish/attractive) in unison will soon put that to bed, I find. Heh. From there, in a long crocodile, we set off.

The first event was a very nice hot-pot meal at a not-cheap Japanese restaurant. The upper year students and guests will have had to pay for this, but because the event was put on for us (the first year students), we didn’t. In addition to the hot pot we had a salad, sashimi, tempura and some strawberry-flavoured mochi with ice cream inside. We were also told we could order whatever we liked to drink, which lead to one or two casualties quite early in the evening (the legal drinking age in Japan is 20, so this may have been one of few opportunities many of the students will have had to drink alcohol unsupervised). This detail was a bit lost on me being a teetotaller, but since it’s perfectly acceptable to order tea in a Japanese restaurant and there is invariably a selection available, iced or hot, I was happy.

Although I had initially felt uncomfortable being dressed in a suit, once we were all out I started to enjoy being part of a group, and the uniform definitely contributed to the sense of belonging. The other students, although they didn’t talk to me that much due to the language barrier, made efforts to include me in their conversations, and I actually felt like I belonged – quite novel for me, as while I am well-liked by many individuals back home, I don’t fit into any of the groups they seem to belong to.

The worst part was the self-introduction. This is normal for any kind of event in Japan that brings a large group of people who don’t all know each other together. You have to stand up and give a little speech about yourself in front of the whole group. I always find this terrifying, but I think I managed fairly well on this occasion, explaining my ethnic and academic background and merely adding ‘I love horses, so I’m very grateful of this opportunity – yoroshiku onegai shimasu [please look after me].’ – before sitting back down really fast, shaking. This being an Equestrian Team event, I’d had my security blanket pulled away from me, since usually nowadays henever I have to do this I just stick to saying where I’m from, why I’m studying Japanese and simply ‘I also like horses, tea and heavy metal – yoroshiku onegai shimasu.’ Heh.

The second part of the event was a two-hour stay in a nomihoudai (all you can drink) izakaya. Again, I have a feeling that the spirit of this may have been rather lost on me, but it was nice to hang out a while longer with the group and drink more unlimited free tea. Here I also got to speak to some of the club coaches, past and present, which was nice, although I wish people would stop telling me my Japanese is really good – it’s not at all!

So, yes – that’s another facet of belonging to a riding club in Japan. There are obvious similarities with being a member of a riding club at a British university, but I hoped to highlight the differences – the main one being the formality and strictness (as opposed to ‘We’re having a pub social, come down if you can make it’). It’s not got much do with horses, but it’s kind of relevant, so I thought I’d include it here.

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