Japan has a love affair with alcohol. Starting with their national liquor, sake, Japan has continued to expand its presence in the liquor market since, well, the advent of the liquor market. Scholars have found references to sake as far back as the Kojiki, Japan’s first written record. Since then, they’ve expanded their repertoire of alcohol manufacturing to include some of the world’s finest beers, whiskeys, and libations. So, with all of these wonderful alcohols just sitting around, waiting to be consumed, who do you think does the consuming? The answer, as it turns out, is everybody. Seriously. Everybody. There’s even “Kid’s Beer.”
This is the first of a series of posts concerning alcohol in various aspects of Japan’s culture. In this one, we’re covering the world of business drinking.
So, in one of the most tightly-wound societies in the world, with one of the strictest sets of morality laws of any industrialized nation, what does one do in order to relax after a long day at work? How does one seek the catharsis that one craves after hours and hours of answering the beck and call of one’s kyaku-san, douryou, senpai, joshi, and buchou? Well?
You get drunk, duh.
So, the question you might ask is, “Japanese people seem so reserved, why is alcohol such a huge thing that they seem to indirectly encourage even children to drink?” The answer is in the question you just asked. That I made you ask. Whatever. It’s called a segue, don’t read too much into it. Anyway, the reason is that Japanese people are so reserved. Their entire lives, children are brought up to show a very specific, dignified, respectful, introspective, and incredibly polite face in public. They don’t confront each other over issues in the workplace. They don’t step on toes. They don’t even chat up coworkers for fear of being rude. Enter “nomunication.”
Nomunication is a combination of the Japanese word nomu (to drink) and communication (if you need a definition, you shouldn’t be reading this). The term was coined for Japanese businessmen who, instead of confronting each other about work problems at work, tend to go out after work for “team-building exercises.” These are usually just nights of binge drinking with set rules. Rule number one is that you have to drink whatever gets put in front of you. Rule number two is that you have to drink as much as your coworkers do, and double what your superiors do. Rule number three is that you have to drink so much that you finally tell your coworkers about how they burn their popcorn in the break room and stinks really bad and it’s really frustrating and it’s not that hard to take it out before it burns and they should really stop because it’s incredibly annoying, then apologize and be done with it.
Seriously, though, this is how problems in the workplace get solved. Drink together, suffer through the hangover together, bond, and eventually end up a better, more cohesive work unit. “But wait!” you say (remember: segue), “That doesn’t make any sense! Why not just talk to each other about it at work?” Because, if you disrespect someone in the slightest, you have a major problem on your hands. In Japan, where even addressing your boss directly is considered rude, how, exactly, would you approach the possibility of your boss maybe being wrong about one little part of his plan for his department? The answer is that you really can’t. Unless you’re in a society with an outrageous tolerance for drunk people. Then you could get them drunk, get drunk yourself in order to work up the courage to speak to them, and then talk to them on an even playing field about how they should fix their plan, neatly avoiding, I might point out, any personal responsibility for rudeness committed while you were drunk. Thankfully, Japan is just that kind of society.
So alcohol in Japan isn’t just a way for you to unwind after work. It’s a way for you to bond with your coworkers, speak to your boss, and relieve some of the stress of living in an incredibly uptight society.
Around Salt Lake, there isn’t much of a cultural tendency to drink. In fact, we really aren’t that much of a drinking society at all. However, if, one day, you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, I really wish I could go out with my coworkers and tell them off about this problem I’m having,” remember: Dojo SLC has a special night on Tuesdays called Izakaya Tuesdays. This is where they have specials for sushi and Japanese bar food and serve alcohol in an environment perfect for airing out your professional frustrations. Or for just taking a load off. You know, whichever.
Til I see you out and about at the bar, keep eating/drinking the good stuff.