Nomikai or the importance of afterwork parties in Japan for team building
Monday, July 30, 2018
I attended to my first nomikai ever - spoiler alert: I survived… and I enjoyed!
The first time I heard about “飲み会” (nomikai), I didn't know what to expect of it. A nomikai is a party usually held after work in a restaurant or an 居酒屋 (izakaya, see below). Yes, you read that correctly: a party held after work.
As I had not grown up where this was a part of the culture, I couldn’t see myself getting tipsy with coworkers and, even worse, with my bosses. Plus, friends and acquaintances had told me what kinds of terrible, embarrassing things happened during their own nomikai. Needless to say, I was a little puzzled by the concept. When my co-workers invited me to a nomikai just a few days after I started my internship with IZANAU, I had mixed feelings. Everyone seemed so formal and polite, so maybe the stories I’d heard about the boss singing along to Perfume’s songs with somebody’s necktie around their forehead were just an exaggeration after all? Or maybe I would be the one who had the biggest chance of ending up dancing to the latest BTS hit song in front of my newly-met colleagues. Luckily, this possibility didn’t scare me. It was an invaluable opportunity to get to know my coworkers better and gain a closer look at the real Japanese working environment, so I clicked the “Going” button immediately. What could go possibly wrong?
The day finally came and I took part in my first, and hopefully not last, nomikai ever. Let me tell you about my experience, why I liked it so much, and the lessons I learned from it!
We headed to the venue chosen by the “幹事” (kanji, or organizer) after we finished our work for the day. While the formal rule about the seating arrangement is that the individuals with the highest ranks sit farthest away from the door, there’s no need to worry too much about it because you will probably end up switching places and going here and there in order to talk with everybody! Once we had all arrived, so did the food; a delicious Mexican course menu to share! As the drinks started to do their magic, people stood up and began chatting. The atmosphere was super relaxed and it felt more like a get-together with friends than a work-related gathering. I had a wonderful time and it gave me the confidence to begin conversations with my coworkers in the office.
If you are also a nomikai novice, you might be afraid of messing up and making a bad impression. My best piece of advice is to be friendly and true to yourself, but in case you want more guidance, here are a few tips I learned from this experience:
- Use this as a chance to refresh your memory on useful information: If you have a short memory like I do, you were probably introduced to each and every one of your colleagues during your first day at job... and forgot about their names, roles in the company, and other details in less than 10 minutes. This is a good chance to commit these details to memory once and for all by talking with everybody.
- Create bounds: Nomikai are the perfect chance to get to know the people you spend 8 hours (or more) every day with better. Don’t be shy and initiate conversations. Ask them questions like, “did you see the last episode of Aggretsuko?” or “what do you like to sing at karaoke?” to break the ice and show genuine interest in their lives. You may find out you have a lot of things in common.
- Don’t be the lone wolf: In general, Japanese society is not as individualist as in Western countries. There is a strong emphasis on “community” that applies to the working environment too. Spending time with your coworkers outside the office is a great way to enhance and strengthen your working relationship.
- Improve your Japanese skills: As I’ve mentioned before, my Japanese ability is far from functional. Mastering this language is going to take me a long time, but I am not a quitter and I truly believe that practice makes perfect, so I use my poor Japanese as much as I can. A nomikai is a great opportunity to test yourself and show your improvement.
- Get the best out of foods and drinks: This is a powerful reason just in itself, isn’t it? Enjoying good food and drinks in a relaxed environment and surrounded by cool people is a win-win situation. If you have allergies or any kinds of dietary restrictions, please tell the organizer in advance so they can look for a suitable place. Another important point is that no one is actually “forced” to drink alcohol, it’s completely up to you whether you want to drink or not. If you do, please remember to drink responsibly. You don’t want to be totally red in the face when you show up to work the following day, do you?
Next time you have a nomikai, relax and have a great time with your colleagues, try to speak a little Japanese if you feel like it, and be kind and polite with everyone. You won't regret. Oh, and don’t forget to say 乾杯 (kanpai, or cheers)!
Ready to experience the true Japanese working culture - including nomikai? Register on IZANAU and start your adventure in Japan.
About the Author
Half writer, half reader. Tokyo based and deeply in love with - you can easily find me meandering around Shibuya or Shin-Okubo. Communication and marketing assistant by day, video game localizer by night.