Although it might go against many people’s image of the stern, no-nonsense Japanese work environment, going out and drinking with colleagues is a big part of Japanese culture.
Whether you work in an office or teach in a classroom, enkai, or work parties, are a Japanese custom for blowing off steam and showing team spirit. You might be familiar with nomikai, a Japanese drinking party that is just for fun, but enkai have a few more rules. There will be food and drink and a more relaxed atmosphere but it is still an extension of work.It’s a practice that a lot of foreigners are not prepared for when they arrive. These events are similar to Western work parties — a chance for everyone to be more relaxed outside the constraints of the office — but the whole concept is steeped in traditional Japanese ideals and values.
I am not a big drinker. When I go out, it’s because I want to have a chat. Very rarely is it because I fancy a pint, but I still do make the effort to go out. I’ve met people in Japan who despise drinking and refuse to go to enkai but these people are actually making life a lot harder for themselves.
Why you should go
As well as bonding with your team, it can also be an opportunity for networking.
Some workers drink their way up the corporate ladder. Impressing a boss at the enkai can lead to impressing them in the office. Unfortunately, if you don’t attend these parties it can have the opposite effect. I’ve known people who were seen as outsiders to the group just because they wouldn’t go out drinking. If you turn down an invitation and use a mundane excuse like “I’m washing my hair,” your teammates will probably feel disrespected. You need to deflect them with a good excuse like a family emergency or medical issue but be aware that you can only use so many excuses before your colleagues may become annoyed. If there is no bonding at the bar — there is no bonding at the office.
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