As the school year wraps up and the temperature gets hotter by the second...I have found myself attending quite a few Nomikais. A sure sign that you have assimilated into Japanese culture is if these Nomikais become the norm for you.
"Nomikai" basically translates to "drinking party" ...but my working definition of the term is this: a social gathering where coworkers let their guards down and are their true selves.
Here's a rough idea of what goes on at a Nomikai.
A few weeks in advance, an invitation in sent out. You circle your name to RSVP and return the paper to whatever teacher is planning the event. (i.e Welcome Nomikai, End of the year Nomikai, Sports Nomikai, Ladies Nomikai, etc) When you arrive at the restaurant the day of, you first must pay your $40 or $50 and then find your seat among the crowd. The tables are usually stacked with delicious looking food set on small plates to share, along with tiny beer glasses. These beer glasses are meant to be refilled time and time again by your coworkers, who fill your glass as an act of courtesy and greeting.
The food continues to roll out steadily, and those who don't like beer (me!) can order juice, or any fruity drink of their choice. These gathering are all-you-can-drink-2-hour-events that include an array of speeches and plenty of toasts "Kampai!!!" When it comes to teacher Nomikais, people mingle with those in other departments and are way more approachable than they are within the walls of school. It is fascinating to watch people's true sides come out, and the two hours alway go by too quickly!
By the end of the party, groups of people head off to nijikais (second parties) where they sing Karaoke, go to a smoking bar, or my favorite option... go eat a huge bowl of ramen.
Finally, the night wraps up and people say their goodbyes and return to work the following week as if nothing every happened! HAHA. That part, to me, is the funniest and best part of Nomikais. It is like Japanese people live secret lives outside the workplace. They are really into separating work from play and in a way, live that motto "what happens at Nomikais, stays at Nomikais." Some teachers who work together for 10+ years don't even know if the other has kids or not!
Needless to say, I have loved every Nomikai I have attended and hold some fold memories of the conversations I've been able to have at these events. How interesting is it that what is normal in one cultural context could be completely foreign and odd to another culture? There is a lot of beauty to be had in experiencing these things first hand, and sharing them with others.
Cheers to many more Nomikais and getting a "real" look at the people I work with everyday.