Japanese work culture is a subject that can raise a lot of questions and concerns for foreign people. “I heard people work till they drop!” “Do you have to work 70 hours every week?” “Is it true that there are no days off?” “Are there really mandatory drinking parties?”
These questions are, to an extent, referencing somewhat extreme workplace situations. In Japan, just as in every other country in the world (except for maybe someplace like North Korea, I guess), every workplace is different. Your job and your situation will depend on a number of factors: your supervisor(s)/boss(es), the location of your office, the nature of your job, your coworkers, etc. If you’re a guy working part time for 900 yen an hour at a local convenience store, your workplace experience is, naturally, a lot different than the woman in the suit in the high-rise business building across the city.
I want to focus in on the last of the questions I posed in the introduction to this post: “Are there really mandatory drinking parties?”
The short answer to this is: “yes”.
The long answer to this is the infuriating: “it depends”.
Some companies (admittedly, not any I have ever worked for) DO have regular “parties” where their employees are all expected to go out and get fall-down drunk together. There are a number of layers to this.
1. Generally, nobody ever tells you that you MUST do something. There is just a permeating sense of: “you’d better do this and fit in with the rest of the group, or else life is going to be difficult for you in the future.”
2. Everyone drinks differently. Some people are very, very good at faking drunk. Some people can take two shots worth of beer and be red in the face. Some people can drink till dawn and be bright and cheery at work the next day.
3. Part of the reason for these drinking parties is to enhance the sense of workplace community. In some cases, this means people can get mind-numbingly drunk (or fake it very well) and say whatever they like to their bosses and coworkers. All is forgiven the next day.
Of course, just as in paragraph two of this post, these 3 points are all generalizations. Each office party is different, and expectations are different. By no means does every company follow the same “rules”, nor is everyone expected to binge drink.
Last night, my company hosted a little shindig to say goodbye to a worker who is leaving the company this month. Our goodbye party was held at a rental space near Shinjuku park, and we all gathered at about 7:15 for food, drinks, and merriment. We played a few games as a group, enjoyed some music, and consumed both food and beverages.
As some readers know, I work for a beer importer. Of course, that means the alcohol flowed freely. One of the games (participation optional) was a “how fast can you drink this beer” game. See Exhibit A: Office Drinking Competition (via Vine).
One guy had it done in about a second. Nuts.
Participation for this drinking game was, for the most part, voluntary. Some people were teased into joining, but anyone who did not want to participate could opt out. The same went for this Gangam Style dance-off, where the winner took home a bag of 10 beers.
Beverages other than alcohol were available – soft drinks, juices, and water were all acceptable. You might have even spotted a few kids running around in the background of those videos – they had to drink SOMETHING.
In sum, consider office parties in Japan the same way you would any other aspect of life; it all depends on the situation.
What’s your work party situation like? Do you even go out with your coworkers? Is it a culture of drinking and debauchery, or gossipy lunches and relaxed afternoons? Do you think you could ever work at a place where “mandatory” drinking parties were the norm? It’s easy to want to say “YES THAT SOUNDS AWESOME” when you’re a college student buying the cheapest alcohol you can find. The idea of your boss taking you and all your coworkers out for free drinks sounds fantastic, right? Just imagine doing that regularly for the rest of your life. The fun wears off quick. I don’t think I could do it. Could you?