Going for drinking parties (known as nomikai) with your colleagues in Japan is a common practice in Japanese companies. Inviting staff to events like these is a great way for managers to encourage bonding between colleagues. In a global business environment, it is, of course, important to to be aware that cultural norms and values are not shared across all cultures.Nomikais are a great example since drinking alcohol is not acceptable in many cultures.
We now have a very diverse group of foreign staff from countries like Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Fiji, France, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and China at ISFnet. Recently our Global Strategic Division organized a BBQ that brought Japanese executives, managers and staff together with their non-Japanese colleagues. It was the first such event to be held by the company and provided a valuable experience to our younger, less cross-culturally experienced staff who were not particularly aware of some cultures’ aversions to certain types of food (particularly meat) and alcohol. They were able to organize an event where everyone was comfortable and didn’t feel they had to eat or drink anything they didn’t want to
The event was very successful, staff could bring their families and ISFnet’s CEO, Yukiyoshi Wanatabe also came allowing people the opportunity to meet and talk to him in a more relaxed non-work environment.
As a foreign member of staff, if you are invited to a drink party or offered food that you can not eat, the best policy is always to be polite but honest. There is no need to feel embarrassed or worried. 40% of Japanese are unable to drink alcohol, so if you do want to the party but don’t want to drink, it is very unlikely you will be the only non-drinker their. If you are not comfortable, being with people while they drink alcohol, but want to show that you would like to build a good relationship with your colleague or manager, explain the situation and suggest lunch or another activity instead.