The Art of Nomikai in Japan


Nomikai in Japan is an art to be mastered if you want to survive in the corporate world

About the meaning: Nomikai (written 飲み会 can be translated as “drinking session” from 飲む: drink and 会:meeting, session, gathering, …)
If you are a salaryman in a Japanese company or even a Gaishikei (more about Foreign companies in Japan here), you will be expected to join your fellow salarymen in drinking sessions.
Mostly after work, your colleagues or boss might tap your shoulder and invite you to have some drinks with them.
There are plenty of occasions and I will describe few of them.

The official Nomikai:

Shinnenkai (新年会 or New year’s party)
It brings generally all the office or depending on your size can be arranged by departments/divisions. Also you might have some shinnnenkai with your distributors/customers. All in one you might have to join several of them in January.
Bounenkai ( 忘年会 or End of the year’s party)
This is mainly to celebrate the end of the year. Even if Japanese companies have their fiscal year finishing generally end of March, it is generally held in December.
This is the occasion to forget everything, including ranking relationship within the company. Be prepared to see thousands of salarymen in the streets, often inebriated to an extent which is unbelievable for peoples coming from abroad.
Reservations are often done very early as most of the places will be crowded with parties.

The more regular Nomikai:

Hanseikai (反省会 or evaluation meeting, it is also translated by ALC as “post-mortem meeting”…)
This is generally a drinking session after a customer meeting, or some event which not have gone as you expected to reflect the root causes, to think about what could be improved and so on…
Kangeikai (歓迎会 or welcome party)
Generally a new employee joins the company you have some dinner or drinking session with them to get to know him/her and to let him/her get to know the other employees.
Soubetsukai (送別会 or farewell party)
This is when an employee leaves the company. It can be for good or bad reasons. Depending on the cases you might have a general company soubetsukai with all the employees and many smaller sessions with his/her department (in case they want to complain about the boss…)

On top of that there are plenty of occasions to have a nomikai, here are some more:

  • Finishing a project -> let’s have a Nomikai
  • 3 days exhibition in Big sight -> let’s drink all together the last day
  • Want to complain about the boss -> another Nomikai session with your colleagues
  • Lost a customer? -> another Nomikai with your boss which might turn into a Hanseikai

Now how to deal about some many drinking sessions and with your health?

Situation has evolved in Japan compared to the eighties or even the nineties.
Before you used to have the following schedule:
  • Nomikai with let’s say 15 members (from 18:00 to 20:00)
  • Then nijikai (二次会 or second party) maybe in a karaoke with less peoples (around 10 members) as some are leaving very far
  • Then finally a sanjikai (三次会 or third party), maybe in a bar with only the core members (4 or 5 of them)

At this stage, either you could not find a train and then decided to party more (some peoples applied for “Sick-ill” as they say the next day and did not come office) or they were coming back by taxi.

Recently, most of companies at least in the industries I have been working in are finishing after 1 or 2 parties and many companies will accept that the employees want to come back just after the first party.
About gaishikeiman 33 Articles
French citizen in his forties living in Japan. Almost 20 years working for foreign companies in Japan. I have an engineering background with an extensive sales experience in highly regulated industries. I am currently the representative director and managing director for an European company's subsidiary in Japan. I have seen all the lows and highs of foreign companies in Japan since late 90ties. Feel free to contact me wether you are looking for opportunities in Japan.

4 Comments on The Art of Nomikai in Japan

  1. Interesting! I’ve worked for a few different companies teaching English, so the parties were different or non-existant. I got to experience welcome and good-bye parties, a couple of year-end parties coupled with Christmas, and a couple of end of season parties at the end of March. Of course, alcohol was onvolved, but nothing like what you described for office companies…lol.

    Thanks for linking up for Trekking with Becky’s #ExpatTuesday! 😀

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