lifestyle

How to prepare for Japanese drinking culture at work

17 Comments
By Alfie Blincowe

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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17 Comments
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If you don't go don't expect to be shunned at the office and looked over for promotions.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

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.

Lol so basically lie your way out of a bind? How is it that bullying is so endemic in japan?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Here's one: " look guys, I wouldn't willingly go drinking with you because I find you annoying as hell, a trait which will only be enhanced by alcohol. So I sure won't let myself be forced to."

Probably get fired the next day, though.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

As a recovered alcoholic, which I made my boss well aware of, I was still forced to go out drinking. This I didn't mind but my boss getting angry at me for drink tea and cokes was a bit for me. End result, After all the bullying I could take, I quit and started my own company. So in a way, I have to thank him for his ignorance.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

What if you're allergic to alcohol (like me), do you get a free pass?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

What if you're allergic to alcohol (like me), do you get a free pass?

No! Shut up and take your poison like a good subordinate.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The ability to drink determines your career, at least for men. It carries more weight than any other criteria

If you cannot drink, you have zero chance of climbing the corporate ladder more than maybe team leader.

This criteria is not unfounded as you would not be able to do business with clients unless you are a heavy drinker.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Why did I stop going to all the drinking parties?

After work is my time, and add to that that others intentionally come late to show their status forcing all of us to wait like idiots without being able to start drinking or eating.

My boss would try to have close communication with me so that it was easier for him to approach me in the office and ask me to do odd administrative or other tasks for him. I prefer to be approached in a a professional manner for work appropriate to me position.

After a few years of no promotions or other changes, I realized I reached the gaijin bamboo ceiling. No amount of drinking will solve that except changing companies.

Having to listen to cultural biases from drunk Japanese men is beyond what I can stand anymore. When I was younger I thought I had to endure it, but I know now that you do not need to endure boorish Japanese manners and ignorant questions.
5 ( +5 / -0 )

These days non-drinkers can usually get away with a non-alcoholic beer, especially after the initial kampai.

Hoppy is also a good option - it is usually served to mix with Shochu, but nobody will notice if you just have the hoppy by itself, or after having one with booze just ask for the hoppy and top up your glass.

This doesn't mitigate against some of the other problems mentioned above though!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It is also expensive. Having twice a month for 6k every nomikai...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Some workers drink their way up the corporate ladder. Impressing a boss at the enkai can lead to impressing them in the office.

So this reads like the secrete to career success in Japan isn't what you know, but who's butt you smooch and you're willingness to get suckered into paying for a night of drinks at a bar. Wonderful...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

As well as bonding with your team, it can also be an opportunity for networking.

Oh yes very important to see my coworkers get hammered and bully the younger ones. Must see TV stuff

4 ( +4 / -0 )

According to my Japanese brother-in-law, who works for a subsiduary of one of Japan's large vehicle manufacturers, the bonding through alcohol culture is much weaker than it used to be, with less pressure on people to attend such events or drink alcohol at them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I dont mind going out with coworkers as long as its considered and paid as a sunday overtime and all drinks and food are comped by the firm ..., otherwise , unless I actually initiate it... I have better things to do with my own time.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Plenty of types of good non-alcohol beer and wine are available here. You can also state that you are taking a medicine that is incompatible with alcohol, have to drive back home, or practise a religion that forbids drinking.

Bottom line, this is a pretty old article that just serves to perpetuate the myth of excessive company drinking; in reality, it happens a lot less than it used to do.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Did someone find this article in an old box from 1978?

Stereotypes and old useless information. History of life in a Showa-era company.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

All a bit tough if you don't drink. Luckily I do - one of the many reasons to like Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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