“Nomu” means to drink; Kai means an event. When combined, nomikai (飲み会) is a drinking social event which usually takes place in Izakaya (居酒屋) where liquors as well as light cuisines are served.
We often see a red lantern in front of izakaya. This is because izakaya is also called as akachōchin, which means red lantern.
On the other hand, yakimono (the grilled food) is a common dish served during nomikai.
In order to drink as much booze as possible at a reasonable price, the Japanese generally opt for nomihōdai (飲み放題) which is also known as “all-you-can-drink” for a fixed price over a designated period of time.
Whenever I attend a nomikai, the menu overwhelmed with katagana really gives me a hard time to decide what to order.
On the day of nomikai, the disciplined Japanese avoid driving a car or riding a bicycle. They take public transport so that they can fully indulge themselves in drinking alcohol and get home safely after that.
On the contrary to the Japanese culture which strongly upholds the respect for elders, you may be surprised to observe how outgoing and open minded the superiors are at interacting with students or juniors at nomikai. They laugh and talk about everything under the sun (but politics) until you may raise yourself a question: Are they friends or siblings?
For me, since this April, three nomikai had been held to welcome freshmen at the levels of faculty, laboratory and hospital, respectively. In other words, as far as a university student is concerned, April is “the month of social spending”, like it or not.
At the start of nomikai, the organizer invites the person usually of the highest social position in the particular group to give a few words. At the end of his speech, he proposes a toast while uttering “kanpai (乾杯)” to mark the beginning of the event. After a while of hilarious chit-chatting, new members or students introduce themselves to the audience.
During such an event, the girls are often preoccupied in serving the food or refilling the empty glasses of the males sitting next to them. This reflects the dominant masculine roles in the Japanese culture, although it is slowly changing towards a trend of gender equality.
If you have a plan to study or work in Japan, you should start improving your alcohol tolerance because “drinking alcohol is the socializing key” in Japan! Finally, just a piece of information, the legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years old.