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Drinking Culture in Japan: Info & Tips


Drinking culture of Japan may be a little different to your culture | Image by conan_mizuta, pixabay

You may be aware that drinking plays quite a large role in Japanese culture, even in how the Japanese society functions. According to writer Kay Sakamoto, the drinking culture stems from the traditional lifetime employment and unique working culture in Japan. Working with the same coworkers and bosses for the rest of your life, but not being able to talk “shigo”, or having private talks with them – this paradox required a situation in which you can form personal relationships with colleagues and bosses. This was when drinking party, or 「飲み会」(Nomikai) came to be the primary way to bond relationships outside the strictly regulated workplace. As the existence of the word “nominication” (combination of “nomu” meaning drinking, and “communication”) suggests, drinking was always at the center when conducting casual and private talks between company members outside the office.

University is no different, and the drinking culture might be quite prominent – but this depends on how you choose to spend your university life. As the Japanese say,「お酒は飲んでも飲まれるな」- always drink responsibly and don’t get swallowed up by alcohol. Although drinking may be an entertaining way to spend with responsible mates, any incident being swallowed up by alcohol is no light topic and might become a reality if you do not act responsibly. In fact, acute intoxication of alcohol has been a problem over the years, especially in Japanese universities. According to the Tokyo Fire Department, over 40% of the number of ambulance transport caused by acute intoxication comprise of people in their twenties.

The legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years old, so any drinking before then is prohibited. Therefore, as rule number one, do not drink before you reach this age. Like many others, I too have been through the experience of where alcohol was available, and noticed a few characteristics of potentially “dangerous” situations:

Here are some tips on how to avoid any serious, and potentially fatal mistakes with alcohol:

  • Choose your circles/clubs carefully

Irresponsible behavior in circles is the primary situation in which over drinking occurs. Don’t just choose your circle without doing any research / without going to their Shinkan (Welcoming) events. Similar to how circles of a similar genre (e.g. soccer) can differ massively in atmosphere, the expected amount of drinking involved also vary according to circles.

  • Know about responsible drinking beforehand

Remember small but important factors like not drinking all at once (which the Japanese call as 「イッキ飲み」Ikkinomi), or not drinking with an empty stomach, can potentially save lives. Most incidents involving university students and alcohol occurs in the first two hours of the nomikai.

  • Surround yourselves with responsible people

This should be quite an obvious factor when it comes to alcohol. Do not surround yourself with people that force you to drink. It is equally as important to make sure you are not the one forcing – do not force others to drink under any circumstances.

  • What to do if your friend gets alcohol poisoning

According to the Public Relations Office of the Government of Japan, if you see any conditions such as:

  • Unconscious (doesn’t respond even if you shake them)

  • The whole body is cold,

  • Abnormal breathing patterns,

  • High volume of vomiting (food or blood)

  • Bubbles from mouth

…call the ambulance by calling 119.

Keep these factors in mind when coming to a Japanese university. The unique drinking culture and perception towards alcohol may shock you at first – but don’t be scared by this. As long as you are responsible, it should not be a problem. I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable university life.


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