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The Nomikai – Bonding Through Drinking

Date Published: Traditional Culture , ,

A nomikai (飲み会) is a drinking party event particular to Japanese culture. It is a part of the culture of most places of employment. They are most often held in restaurants or izakaya (drinking place, bar), usually with everyone seated at one large table or occupying a separated section of the venue.

What happens in a Nomikai?

Employees are usually expected to participate to some extent in various nomikai, as it is considered a social aspect of work, although it is not expressly required. Such parties focus on the bond between coworkers as a group, and are not considered private or somehow non-work related (see Japanese values). Attendance does not necessarily imply that a person will drink any alcohol, however, and attendees generally pay a set amount for the food, drink, and venue regardless of consumption. Any leftover money may be put toward organizing the next nomikai.

Nomikai are held to mark a wide range of events, including completion of major projects, attainment of set goals, foundation anniversaries, school sporting events, entry of new coworkers, and retirement of senior employees. There is always at least one organizer (Japanese: 幹事, kanji) responsible for the preparation of the venue. This is usually not the same person or persons for whom the nomikai takes place.

At onset of the nomikai, the organizers give a brief welcome speech, followed by the manager, president, or principal, who offers words of reflection and encouragement. The monologue is punctuated by a toast after which everyone begins eating and drinking. If there are new employees or guests at the nomikai, it is customary for them also to give a self-introduction and salutation to the other members.

nomikaiNomikai Etiquette

During nomikai there are rules of etiquette which are generally followed. Generally, one tries to avoid filling one’s own glass, but instead offers to fill others’ for them. This is especially true of senpai-kōhai (senpai: senior, kōhai: junior) relationships, where the participant of lower rank or age will first offer to serve his superior. This relationship is often reciprocal, and the superior will offer to fill the junior’s glass in return. This is not perceived so much as currying favor as it is seen as acting in a manner conducive to workplace harmony.

In a nomikai, it is also considered acceptable to become drunk. But as professionals, what happened in a nomikai should be forgotten once office has resumed. On the other hand, it is generally regarded as unacceptable to pressure people into drinking alcohol or consuming more of it as they want.

Nomikai are nearly always concluded after a few hours by everyone standing, clapping in unison. There are two main styles of clapping: ippon-jime and sanbon-jime. These translate roughly to “one-clap ending” and “three-clap ending”, respectively. A three-clap ending is actually three series of three claps, followed by a single clap. Often this is repeated three times, leaving the total number of claps at thirty. Sometimes the shime (ending) may happen in conjunction with a verbose salute to the organizer or honored participant, or the singing of the company or school song.

The Afterparty

The nijikai (二次会) is the afterparty. After the main nomikai is concluded, the attendees often break into smaller groups and move to different bars. As attendance is not at all mandatory for nijikai, they usually are groups of friends or people interested in doing a lot of drinking, including bar-hopping. Drinking that comes after a nijikai is referred to as sanjikai (三次会).

References:

1. Nomikai. Wikipedia.

2. Images (including the featured image) from AC-Illust.

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