Every year, around the first week of January, Dentsu in Tokyo throws its annual New Year Party. Held at the same place each time, at that venerable dowager, the Imperial Hotel, it is the event of the year -- three parties spread over one whole day to which clients, media, government and practically any one who is any one in the industry is invited.
I receive my annual invitation sometime in mid December. I don't always attend but this year, since I have been thinking of retiring soon, I think perhaps that this could be my last New Year party at Dentsu. So I pack my bags and I go.
This huge centerpiece at the main ballroom of the hotel is where the big bosses of Dentsu stand and where most of the guests, at least those who care to, line up for a photo opportunity.
Of course I dutifully take my place in the queue.
The New Year party starts as early as 10 am and lasts till 12 noon. Everyone is ushered out and then the next batch arrives for the 1:30 pm to 3:30 slot. The last party is held from 4 pm to 5:30.
I imagine that the Dentsu hosts (who are also all the top honchos) must be dead tired from standing, greeting and entertaining the thousands of guests who attend throughout the day.
Just look at this crush of people, party goers all.
There really isn't much to do at the party but to talk, eat and drink. Dentsu always gets the top notch and most famous specialty restaurants to come and cater the party. So if you line up for tempura at the tempura station, you can be sure you're not eating just any kind of tempura but the best that money can buy.
The buffet counters are spread out with all sorts of small plates of Japanese food.
I just look and take photos since I'm not really hungry. The array of food is just so overwhelming.
Every where you look you find trays of delectable looking and beautifully presented dishes.
The longest queue is always at the sushi counter. There are more than ten sushi chefs from the top sushi restaurant in Tokyo, yet each line in front of each sushi chef is still more than 10 people deep.
Serious looking businessmen and CEOs in their best dark suits wait patiently for the sushi masters to fix them a tray.
A Japanese colleague urges me to line up and have some sushi -- the best you can eat in Tokyo, he promises and definitely not within ordinary price range.
Which is why everyone but everyone lines up -- and some even go back for seconds.
Not all the action is happening in the main ball room. Dentsu has this floor and the one above it, where the function rooms are -- exclusively for the party.
Upstairs, the atmosphere is more fun and relaxed. The various function rooms are devoted to specialty restaurants where you can sit and have a meal. Traditionally costumed Japanese entertainers, typical of old Tokyo, roam the hallways. This one is trying to cadge a 1000 yen note from these kimono clad ladies.
There is a fortune telling room and a room where artists can do your caricature in 15 minutes.
But they've closed this room early and are now turning away people since only a few guests can be accommodated.
Perhaps if I didn't line up for sushi, I could have had my caricature done.
We see a long line in front of a function room and decide to join it. Who knows what gourmet delights await us inside?
What we lined up for, we soon discover, is a famous 213 year old restaurant that specializes in dojo or loach fish. Small and slim, dojo or loach is a fresh water fish that the Japanese love.
This is dojo nabe, cooked in a small pot and eaten with lots of sliced green onions.
The fish is a bit spiny but once I get the hang of eating it, it's quite tasty.
It looks a bit like and reminds me of our own local version -- the talimusak.
They serve the dojo two ways -- as nabe and with egg in a soft omelet. I actually prefer the omelet version since the dojo has been deboned and is much easier to eat.
Hmm, this would go well with a bowl of gohan, but none is forthcoming.
The owner of the restaurant is very gregarious and entertains us, our group are the only gaijin in the room. The waitress says his name is Watanabe san but they all call him "shacho" or Boss.
He is the sixth generation owner of this restaurant.
It's getting close to 3:30 and soon the party will be over, at least for us, in this time slot. We move towards the exit and come upon a couple of booths with traditional Japanese crafts and games.
We do some rounds of simple games and win a few prizes. It's a lot of fun and there's a lot of good natured joshing and clapping and some trash talking too.
It's time to go and we take a photo for posterity -- these are my long time colleagues and heads of the various Dentsu offices in Asia -- from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
Seeing each other at the New Year party is a good way to strengthen bonds of camaraderie and friendship that have been built through the years.