Last Friday was the Soul Run Christmas party! It was exactly a week until Christmas, but none of us (particularly the exchange students) were feeling very festive. I wasn't feeling it because it wasn't cold enough! It was still 5C at night, which is as high as it goes during the day tops in Britain! It seems like Britain is going through a cold spell at the moment, with temperatures of -6C and lots of snow all over the country. I missed the first White Christmas in absolutely ages!
We went to an all you can drink karaoke place in Shinjuku for the party. It turned out that the place we had booked didn't have enough space for the 20 or so of us, so we had to go to their annex. It was in a seedy-looking building above a host bar, which looked slightly dodgy, but it turned out to be perfectly fine.
It cost Y2,500 per person, and that included all the drinks (but not beer, which required an extra fee, as is pretty common in Japan) and seven dishes of salad, chips (as in French fries), popcorn and things like that. I had one alcoholic drink, and then had oolong tea for the rest of the night. I've realised that I'm not a big drinker, although I do drink alcohol.
We sang lots of Christmas songs at first, me starting the night off with my all-time favourite Christmas song - All I Want For Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. The Japanese name is, weirdly, 恋人たちのクリスマス, koibitotachi no kurisumasu, which translates as something like 'The Couple's Christmas'.
That was a lot of fun to sing, and I did take a video, but I adamantly refuse to put it on the internet, as that can lead to nothing good!
We then sang a lot of other traditional Christmas songs, both English and Japanese versions, and then changed to Disney, and ended up with the normal pop songs.
This was the night we were exchanging our Secret Santa gifts, so Rei and A-chan got up with the microphones and called out the names of the people who were giving presents. I was the first one to be called, so I went up and gave my present, a small cup and flannel with cute characters on them, to a girl called Nao. Rei asked us to say a message as we handed our presents over so I thanked her for teaching us Soul Run, and wished her a very merry Christmas.
The next person was Rob, and he got up and announced that he had been given me! So I went back up to get my present, and I was really surprised. Rob said that I'd become a really good friend of his over the last few months, and he was glad we were living together. I felt the same way, so I was a bit overcome with emotion. And his gift was so thoughtful! He got me a Japanese Where's Wally book, and a Perfume Portfolio (Perfume is my favourite Japanese pop group), along with a really nicely written letter. I was so overwhelmed by his kindness! I wish I had money so I could give him something as nice back!
We did the rest of the Secret Santas, and everyone was really pleased with their gifts. It was the first time Soul Run had done a Secret Santa, and it worked very well. I definitely want to do it again at some point!
It was a great night. I had brought my Santa hat along, to get into the festive spirit, and something must have worked, because I ended up very seasonal and jolly.
After karaoke, we split in half, and some went home, but I stayed with a group of about eight who went back to Rei's (the leader) house for the night. We took the Seibu Shinjuku line (西部新宿線) from Seibu Shinjuku station, which is about ten minutes' walk from JR Shinjuku station, the main one. The station was very crowded when we arrived, and we walked down the platform and then waited for the train. The train took a long time to arrive, and the platform was getting busier and busier. The train came, and it was nearly empty. But after everyone had got on, it was extremely cramped. We were some of the first to get on, so we were by the door on the opposite side to the platform.
The busy train left Shinjuku and stopped at Takadanobaba (高田馬場) first. Some people got off, but then about twice that amount tried to get on. A-chan was pushed right up against my chest, and she cried out "I can hear your heartbeat!" Not the most romantic setting for that kind of line...
The train stayed at Takadanobaba for a really long time (we think there may have been a suicide further along the line that caused a delay), and that meant that more and more people tried to force themselves on. When the train left, there really was no room to breathe. I had an old man falling asleep on my shoulder, with A-chan pushed against my chest, and Rei holding my bag behind me. It was definitely the most crowded train I've ever been on. Actually, probably the most crowded place I've ever been in. I was lucky to be right by the door, because there was a breeze coming in through the door, and when we stopped at a station I had to get off the train to let other people get off, which meant I got some fresh air. This also meant that I had to be the person who shoved everyone further into the train, and then hold onto the door frame so I didn't get caught in the closing doors. I felt awful, but I'd seen so many people do it before I knew it was a normal occurence. I tried my very best to be okay with it, as I do get claustrophobic, and I was surprised that I was fine, even though there were big gaps in between each stop. I must be getting used to it!
We had a bit of a scare when a very large Japanese man with very bloodshot eyes started staring at Rob, muttering threatening comments. He did it to all of us, but Rob was closest, so he got the full brunt of it. It was the first time we'd ever felt threatened in Japan. The man eventually got off without any trouble, but we were quite worried for a bit. The lovely thing was that several of the other Japanese people said "It's okay now" once he'd gone. We think it must have been racism that fuelled his anger towards us, which is a shame, but it was bound to happen some time.
We put that experience behind us when we got off the train at Rei's stop, which is one stop before Saitama prefecture, so it took just under an hour from Shinjuku. What an awful journey! But at least I can say I've been on one of those trains. I really can't imagine doing that every day though, the life of a salaryman is really not for me.
We had a great night after that. We rolled ourselves up in blankets and chatted for a while, and then watched Aladdin, which was a lot of fun. We went to sleep at about 3am, and slept til 10. Most people left pretty quickly, but Rob and I stayed for a while until mid-afternoon. I love Rei's house, it's really big (four rooms and a bathroom, with a small garden!) and I feel very comfortable there.
All in all, it was a lovely night, and it definitely put me in the Christmas mood!