Kanpai! (Cheers)

By Benjamin Surbrook

One of my favorite things to do in Japan is participate in 飲み会 (nomikai). What is a nomikai, you ask? Well, the two Chinese characters in this word mean “drink” and “gather,” and thus the word essentially refers to a “drinking gathering.” Nomikai typically take place at izakaya (居酒屋, or Japanese-style bar), where everyone sits around a table, or if you have a big enough group, in a Japanese-style room with tatami mats.

A drink and an appetizer

Typical nomikai drink and appetizer

The reason I like nomikai so much is that it represents a uniquely Japanese experience that provides for a better social environment than its American counterpart. In most American bars, you go either alone or in a small group, which makes it harder to bond with larger groups. American bars are also not conducive to group bonding, because they are usually quite loud. At the other end of the spectrum, most American restaurants are not necessarily places where you can be alone with a larger group and be somewhat rowdy. This is why izakaya are so perfect; you can bond with all of your friends in an environment that not only accommodates you, but seems to be designed specifically for that purpose. (Also, we learned a LOT of fun games from the Japanese students, many of which I plan on exporting back to America.)

A group picture in a Japanese-style room

Group picture in a Japanese-style room

It’s easy to like nomikai; the drinks are cheap, the food is good, and the memories are unforgettable. Moreover, I can guarantee that when I return to Japan, I will be trying out as many izakaya as I can.