Nomikai: How To Enjoy Drinking with Japanese Smartly

When you look up Japanese drinking (Nomikai) etiquettes, you may find so many DON’Ts such as “Do NOT make superiors sit by the entrance.” “Pour a drink if someone’s glass is empty”. But please forget all of them if you want the occasion to be an informal, open social place. You can take your own country as an example. Do people expect foreigners to follow what they consider to be old customs?

Forget About Business Nomikai Manners

If you are a manager of the company and dining with executives from other companies you do business with, it is necessary to understand appropriate Japanese business manners at Nomikai. Furthermore, if you demonstrate Japanese business etiquette perfectly, people will be surprised and amused by the unusualness that foreigners deeply understand Japanese business manners. But don’t overdo it on inappropriate occasions, especially when you are drinking with young Japanese people. Otherwise, you may end up spoiling the fun atmosphere.

These days, young Japanese people in their 30s or below are actually fed up with the traditional style of Nomikai, which is meant only for entertaining the older generation. Young people want to enjoy casual communication, which is not always possible in the workplace. 

Act Smartly at Nomikai

Here are some tips to make people of all ages feel comfortable and make others think you are thoughtful without being overly attentive.

Ask if they want to put their bags on the sofa

table at the restaurant

Japanese people don’t mind putting their bags on the house floor because they don’t wear shoes at home. But it doesn’t mean that they do the same outside. Most Japanese people hate putting their bags on the floors outside their houses, even indoors. When you’re sitting on the sofa and your friend/colleague is sitting on the chair opposite. You can put their bags on the sofa.

Yes, it sounds natural. But don’t ask directly like “Do you want to put your bag on the sofa?”. Don’t expect all the Japanese people to express themselves honestly and directly if you haven’t built that much of a relationship yet.

Check when somebody’s glass is empty

Pouring a drink in other’s glass is good etiquette, but it’s a rather businesslike etiquette. There is no need to do it if it’s a casual Nomikai, or it might make the atmosphere a little formal, although people don’t expect it. However, it’s good to check if someone’s glass is empty. If so, you may let them order another drink but don’t force. You may say, “What should I drink next…and what about you? Would you like another one cos your glass is empty.”.

Ask if somebody wants a salad

At a big party, especially with many men, people tend to order fatty foods only. Yes, the Japanese Izakaya menu has a variety of cheap and delicious greasy foods. But some people are concerned about their health and diet and want to order a healthy salad, which is relatively common in female Japanese. Again, you may ask, “If I order a salad, will you eat some?” instead of “Does anyone want a salad?”.

Having said that, of course, not all the Japanese like to order something healthy. Moreover, some people act like that simply because they are too embarrassed to have a hearty meal in public even though they want. Sounds confusing? Yes, it does.

Ask for water if someone looks pretty drunk

There are a lot of Japanese people who drink over their limits. Drunk people often don’t realize they are very drunk and won’t even admit it. In such cases, ask them for some water without saying anything. And then you can just put it in front of them. They will drink it on their own. The other people are watching what you do, and they’ll think you’re a very thoughtful person in a casual manner.

Importance of Being Casual

It is often said that the Japanese are shy, but they don’t like to be forced to do something. Japanese people prefer not nosy people, but who can take care of others in a casual manner. It cannot be easy to know what the Japanese are thinking from their expressions and reactions. But the more you communicate with them, the more you will get to know them well. And of course, please don’t forget to enjoy yourself when you join Nomikai, which is the most important thing!


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