Saturday, March 8, 2014

飲み会 (nomikai)

This was one of the early and important words when I moved here.  Nomikai (飲み会, のみかい ) is usually translated as "drinking party" among my Japanese friends.  There's a lot of drinking in Tokyo, but I don't know that more alcohol is drunk per capita than in, say, the state of Michigan or the city of Moscow.  I don't know statistics on this.  But I feel comfortable in saying that there's been drinking (of alcohol) at every get-together I've had with friends in restaurants, izakaya and, of course, bars.  

Having a pretty great  train/subway system helps a lot.  Whenever my friends from back home come to visit, they're always sort of giddy over the fact that they don't have to drive home.  To have the freedom to drink as much as one wants. . .

I do have friends here who don't drink.  Not all that many, but they live.  The nomikai system can be financially tough on non-drinkers because generally people here split the final bill equally.  This may be unfair to those who don't eat or drink much, but it's part of the group ethic, I think.  And it can be liberating, in more than one way.  But not everyone is into it.  One of my (Japanese) friends who doesn't partake in drinks of merriment regularly says to me "I paid a lot for my Oloong tea tonight" when others (especially girls) aren't listening.  Of course drinks generally drive up the bill, so I take his point.  Generally, a night out at an average izakaya or restaurant seems to cost me in the neighborhood of 3000-4000 yen; of course, at theme places or more extravagant settings it'll be more.  To the drunken, I guess this sits as par for the course or better.  But for teetotalers, I can see how it would seem expensive.  Heavy drinkers know that it's a bargain for them, and I've known a few who take advantage of the night.

My first year here I didn't want to rock the boat or cause ill feelings, but now when I'm at a nomikai where there's someone who doesn't drink, I don't mind coming out and saying (no doubt because I'm drunk, as I do drink) to everyone that the non-drinkers should pay a bit less.  It feels like the right thing to do.

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