Surviving Japan's drinking culture

Good morning everyone,

It's going to be another warm and sunny day-make sure you enjoy it, because they're calling for rain for the next two days. The weekend isn't looking too bad though...highs all week will hover around 30C.

lthough it might go against many people’s image of the stern, no-nonsense Japanese work environment, going out and drinking with colleagues is a big part of Japanese culture.

Whether you work in an office or teach in a classroom, enkai, or work parties, are a Japanese custom for blowing off steam and showing team spirit. You might be familiar with nomikai, a Japanese drinking party that is just for fun, but enkai have a few more rules. There will be food and drink and a more relaxed atmosphere but it is still an extension of work.It’s a practice that a lot of foreigners are not prepared for when they arrive. These events are similar to Western work parties — a chance for everyone to be more relaxed outside the constraints of the office — but the whole concept is steeped in traditional Japanese ideals and values.

I’ve met people in Japan who despise drinking and refuse to go to enkai but these people are actually making life a lot harder for themselves.

Why you should go

As well as bonding with your team, it can also be an opportunity for networking.

Some workers drink their way up the corporate ladder. Impressing a boss at the enkai can lead to impressing them in the office. Unfortunately, if you don’t attend these parties it can have the opposite effect. I’ve known people who were seen as outsiders to the group just because they wouldn’t go out drinking. If you turn down an invitation and use a mundane excuse like “I’m washing my hair,” your teammates will probably feel disrespected. You need to deflect them with a good excuse like a family emergency or medical issue but be aware that you can only use so many excuses before your colleagues may become annoyed. If there is no bonding at the bar — there is no bonding at the office.

What should I do at the enkai?

Enkai are your chance to make a deeper connection with your colleagues and to be truly accepted as part of the team. If you join in properly, you might find these nights are the best part of your job — but you do have to be careful not to offend anyone.

When you are still new, coworkers might be excited to see if you act differently in this type of situation. Try to communicate early on if you don’t drink alcohol or have a low tolerance, that way people won’t pressure you into drinking something you don’t want to drink.

A big part of the enkai is the pouring of drinks. Find someone who you’d like to thank for all their hard work and pour them a drink, it shows that you value them. Don’t pour yourself a drink as it can be seen as rude and wait until everybody’s glass is full so that you can all toast together before starting. At more traditional workplaces, everyone will be filling up the boss’s glass but a more modern leader might fill up the glasses of their employees.

Depending on how serious the party is, you might have to listen to long speeches from colleagues or just a short thank you to the staff. While this is happening, make sure to concentrate on the speaker and wait for them to finish before you start talking or drinking. Raise your glass with everyone else at the end of the toast, and as you do so, shout: “Kanpai!” Make sure your superior's glass is slightly higher than yours to show respect. This might not be the only toast of the night. Be ready to kanpai a few times before it’s over.

If you want to make the most of the evening, keep emptying your glass and someone will find a way to fill it. Don’t refuse a drink. If you don’t want to drink so much just show people that your glass is already full. It doesn’t have to be full of alcohol just so long as you have something with which to toast.

Bottles will probably be ordered for the table. Most of them will be around your boss or the host of the party. That’s the place to sit if you’re looking for constant refills. Alternatively, you can slip away to a quieter corner. The further you are from the boss, the less likely you are to get a refill.

Drinking parties usually involve plenty of eating, as well. Large orders of food to share at izakaya (Japanese pub) are the norm. Here, the food is offered around just like drinks. You should try and eat everything you’re offered but real party animals know to save room as there is more food to come.

Be ready to pay. Some enkai might require everybody to chip in beforehand, especially if it is a large group. It is very rare that your boss won’t want to cover the whole bill themselves. Politely offer to pay for your own food but don’t force the issue as it can be seen as being ungrateful. Make sure you do, though, because not offering to pay at all can also be seen as taking your boss’s kindness for granted. You have to walk a fine line.

When to leave

Usually people will start leaving around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. — quite early compared to some Western nights out, but pretty normal for Japan. The more introverted people have put their time in and can leave now but for the more adventurous this is just the end of one party and the start of another.

Hosts regularly invite the remaining few to a nijikai, or after party. Here is where the night can get wild. You might end up at a nightclub or even a hostess bar where your coworkers will spill their innermost secrets. Whatever happens, it always ends with a bowl of ramen.

Types of enkai

While this is a rough guide of what to do at enkai in general, there are many different types, all subtly different. Here is a crash course.

  • Nomikai (weekday): Everybody has work the next day and being sluggish from a hangover is frowned upon. Probably no nijikai after one of these.
  • Nomikai (weekend): More intense. A chance for you and coworkers to get very drunk and reveal your true selves. Most definitely a nijikai (or two) afterward.
  • Bounenkai (year-end party): The end-of-year party is the biggest of them all. People might raise issues with you or tell you the raw truth, but you’ve got to get this all out in the open so it can be dealt with and next year can start with a clean slate.
  • Christmas party: Obviously not a Japanese tradition and a lot less of a big deal than in the West. This will probably be a quieter party, likely in the office/workplace with a small nijikai after.
  • Shinenkai (New Year’s party): Everybody comes back from the holidays ready to do their best for another year. This is the best time to network and to impress the higher ups.
  • Kangeikai (welcome party): A way to make people feel welcome. Usually not too much drinking and more talking as everyone wants to get to know the new employees.
  • Soubetsukai (leaving party):  A chance to say goodbye. There might be goodbye speeches and small gifts going around. Try and go in on a group gift or ask for recommendations of what to buy if you are close to the person leaving.
  • Kansoukangeikai (end of season party):  Similar to the bounenkai, this is about turning over a new leaf and people might suggest company changes going forward.
  • Joshikai (women-only party). More about food and talking than drinking. Because the men are excluded, it is a lot more social and less about work. Staff might act very differently without any men around.

How to recover the next day

After all this drinking you’ll need some hangover protection, especially for those weekday parties.

Obviously there are the sports drinks like Pocari Sweat, but a small and more potent antidote are the ukon (turmeric) drinks. These little liver revitalizers come in small bottles, usually gold, and are full of vitamins to help get your electrolytes recharged for the next day. You can also get them in pill or powdered form. Make sure to drink one of these and a bottle of water before you start on the sake. They can also be effective if taken after drinking. Japanese salarymen swear by them.

Drinking — especially those outings tied to work — is a large part of Japanese culture. If you’re working in Japan, it’s a good idea to drink with your coworkers at least some of the time or if you are a teetotaler, to be around (or at least be seen around) while they drink. It can be a lot of fun, whether you’re imbibing or not, and if you get in the spirit it will surely lead to some unforgeable experiences.

Have a great day! And don't drink too much!

Get your kids in the kitchen sooner

Good morning everyone,

I'm looking forward to seeing some more sun today. I feel like we should enjoy it while we can, clouds will roll in tomorrow and from Thursday it's looking overcast again...

I've never lived with a Japanese family, but from what I hear kids aren't really expected to help out around the house. From the time I was 10, I was doing housework and I started on the farm even earlier. I know there aren't any farmers in my school, but how about helping out in the kitchen?

According to some experts:

"When is a good time to have your kids start helping in the kitchen?" Answer: Now!

And, "Which tasks can kids do at what ages?" Answer: Depends on your kid.

Some 7-year-olds are ready to use a sharp knife, while a 12-year-old who has never entered the kitchen except to ask for a glass of juice might be challenged by just rinsing some fruit. Yes, I know some children have been watching "Top Chef" since they opened their eyes, and are already busy flambeing something; if you are the parent of such a child, then just enjoy your souffle. You do not need to read on.

Here are some VERY rough age ranges for when you might think about introducing certain kitchen skills to your kid.

Only you know your child's ability and level of responsibility. And until you are sure that he or she is adept at an assignment, supervise, supervise, supervise.

Ages 2-5

Pour, dump, stir, sprinkle. Pick herbs off stems. Spread and brush things, rinse produce, juice citrus. Tear lettuce. Grease pans and decorate cookies.

Help get out the equipment — spoons, measuring cups, bowls (nothing heavy or sharp).

Ages 5-7

More of the above, with less assistance from you. They might be able to start cutting very soft items with a kid-safe, plastic serrated knife. There are some good ones on the market made just for this purpose, sharp enough to cut food, gentle enough not to cut little fingers.

Use the electric mixer to mix batters. Knead bread. Crack eggs (get the towels ready). Roll dough. Cut out cookies.

Ages 7-9

Even more of the above, plus measuring, frosting, decorating. Also, unmolding cakes and muffins, grating cheeses, skewering kebabs.

Talk about some math concepts, like fractions and multiplication, while you are measuring. Have them help read the recipe, and clarify any terms that are unfamiliar.

Consider the chemistry involved in cooking and baking, and if you're not up to speed yourself, let your kid take the lead in looking it up online or in a book. What happens when baking soda is added to a recipe? What is the difference between unsweetened chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate?

Children this age also can take part in food presentation, thinking about how things look on the plate and how to make them as appealing as possible.

Ages 9-12

At this point, kids might be ready to start using a real knife (begin with very soft foods, like butter or a banana, since the knife is less likely to slip).

They might also be ready to get in front of a stove. Height is a factor: If your child stands on a step stool near a stove, make very sure it's secure. Show children how to position the handle of a pan away from them so they won't bump it, and to never look away from what they are doing.

Let them take the lead on a recipe, with you playing sous chef. They can think about the order of steps, and how long the preparation will take.

Remember, it's never too early to get kids interested in cooking.

When my children were toddlers, I let them sort pasta shapes into a muffin tin. Useful? Nah. But it got them in the kitchen, in the midst of the hustle bustle of preparing dinner, and made them feel part of the action.

Everyone can smell, touch, taste.

And, no matter what age children are, once they can participate even a bit, involve them in two things:

First, let them taste the food, and ask their opinion — does it need more salt? Should we add something different? Should the mashed potatoes be smooth or a little lumpy?

Second, enlist their help cleaning up, even if the most they can contribute is clearing their own plates and pushing the "start" button on the dishwasher. Lending a hand when it's time to clean up is part of the deal, and the earlier that is understood, the happier you'll be.

Do you agree with these ideas? 

Have a great day!

Hiroshima would be #1 if it were bigger...

Good morning everyone,

A slightly sunnier day for us in Hiroshima, and the sun will stick around tomorrow. Highs will remain in the low 30s through the rest of the week.

Despite Japan’s compact geographic dimensions, there’s actually quite a bit of variation in the local character and customs between its various cities. Bustling Tokyo, for example, can feel very different from Kyoto, the unhurried former capital of the country,

But even if each town has its respective charms, some are bound to be seen as more charming than others. The results of a recent survey asked participants which of Japan’s eight largest cities is the most appealing, and which is the least. Responses were gathered from 3,344 participants ranging in age from of 20 and 64 (all of whom had lived in one of the cities for at least five years), and they were particularly harsh regarding one town.

● Most appealing city:

  1. Sapporo (chosen by 22.8 percent of respondents)

  2. Tokyo (22.4 percent)

  3. Kyoto (18.1percent)

  4. Yokohama (10.8 percent)

  5. Fukuoka (9.5 percent)

  6. Kobe (7.6 percent)

  7. Osaka (5.3 percent)

  8. Nagoya (3.5 percent)

Despite being Japan’s fourth-largest city in terms of population, with more residents than anyplace besides Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka, Nagoya finished at the bottom of the list, repeating its basement-level result from 2016, the last time the survey was conducted.

Nagoya did, however, make the top of another ranking compiled from the data (also mirroring its 2016 standing).

● Least appealing city:

  1. Nagoya (chosen by 31.9 percent of respondents)

  2. Fukuoka (15.7 percent)

  3. Osaka (14.4 percent)

  4. Tokyo (14.3 percent)

  5. Sapporo (7.6 percent)

  6. Kobe (6.2 percent)

  7. Yokohama (5.3 percent)

  8. Kyoto (4.7 percent)

So what makes Nagoya so unpopular among the respondents? Honestly, nothing in particular…but unfortunately “nothing in particular” sort of applies to their image of Nagoya as a whole. When asked specifically what they found appealing about Nagoya, the most common response, given by 33.1 percent of the respondents, replied “Nagoya Castle.” The second-most common answer, though, from 28.1 percent, was “I can’t really think of anything.”

▼ Nagoya Castle


Just about every other city on the list can boast multiple nationally famous landmarks and tourist-drawing events. Tokyo has the Skytree, Tokyo Tower, and the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival. Headed to Kyoto? You’ll want to check out Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu Temple, and take in a performance of Geisha arts. And of course, you haven’t really seen Yokohama until you’ve ridden its iconic seaside Ferris wheel, walked along the harbor at Yamashita Park, and been surrounded by Pokémon at the annual Pikachu Outbreak. But much of Japan simply sees Nagoya, if they bother to look at it, as just a large but nondescript city.

This is kind of unfair, since Nagoya has some awesome things going for it. In addition to its beautiful castle right in downtown (which is being restored to its authentically historical glory), Nagoya is arguably the best place in all of Japan to eat if you like hearty fare. Local culinary specialties include mouth-watering tebasaki chicken wings with a delicious sweet sesame glaze, tonkatsu pork cutlets slathered with miso, and bite-sized rice balls stuffed with tempura shrimp. It’s also the only major city in Japan where it’s normal to have breakfast out, with coffee shops across the city offering morning sets with pastries, salad, fruit, and coffee, often in unlimited quantities, for about the same price as you’d pay procuring breakfast at a convenience store.

And while they’re all outside of Nagoya itself, the city also makes a great base for forays into rural Gifu and Nagano prefectures, allowing you to spend the day enjoying anime Your Name inspiration Takayama and the preserved post towns of the Kiso Valley before heading back to for a night of big-city creature comforts. The highly-acclaimed Toyota Museum, in the city of Nagakute, is also just over a half hour from Nagoya Station, which means Nagoya will also be the most convenient large city from which to visit the Studio Ghibli anime theme park, which is projected to open in Nagakute in 2022.

So if you’re a “glass-is-half-full” kind of person, maybe the best way to think of Nagoya isn’t as “Japan’s least appealing large city,” but as “the Japanese city with the most appeal that a lot of people don’t know about.” Still probably best to think long and hard about whether you really need to visit Lego Land while you’re there, though.

Have a great day!

Can you make it to 100 too?

Good morning everyone,

Looks like we'll have cloudy weather for today and tomorrow and then some sun on Tuesday and Wednesday before the rain comes back on Thursday.

Japan's centenarian population hit a record-high 69,785 as of September, with women accounting for 88.1 percent of the total, on the back of medical advances and greater health consciousness, the welfare ministry said Friday.

The figure rose 2,014 from the previous year for the 48th consecutive yearly increase, and represented a nearly a seven-fold jump from two decades ago.

The tally is an estimate for Saturday, two days before this year's Respect-for-the Aged Day holiday, based on resident registry data.

The number of male centenarians stood at 8,331, up 139 from a year earlier, while females came to 61,454, up 1,875. In the year through March next year, up to 32,241 people could reach 100, up 144 from the previous year. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who turned 100 in May, is one of them. Looking forward, the centenarian population is projected to rise further, exceeding 100,000 in five years and 170,000 in a decade, according to estimates by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Life expectancy in Japan was projected at 87.26 years for women and 81.09 years for men in 2017.

Kane Tanaka, 115, from the city of Fukuoka in southwestern Japan, is the country's oldest living female. The oldest man is Masazo Nonaka, a 113-year-old resident of Ashoro in northern Japan's Hokkaido. He was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living man in April.

The number of centenarians in Japan stood at 153 in 1963, when data were first collected. The figure topped the 10,000 mark in 1998 and the 50,000 line in 2012. Compare these numbers with Canada which has 5,825 centenarians (keep in mind that in 1911 the population of Canada was only 7.2 million whereas Japan's population at that time was 51 million).

I wonder what age we'll make it to...

Have a great day!

Are you a functioning alcoholic?

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like we can expect rain for most of today, then clouds tomorrow and Monday and maybe, just maybe...some sun on Tuesday and Wednesday before the clouds come back on Thursday...

Alcohol is a huge part of our social culture, and Canadians (and Japanese too) in particular are known to drink in excess. But how do you know when your love of a good time has started to spiral out of control, and you're entering the realms of being a functional alcoholic?

You might not wake up gasping for a can of cider, or maybe you need a drink stop your shakes and intense nausea - just some of the signs of alcohol dependency - but if you sustain high levels of drinking, there's a chance you may fall under the category of being a functional alcoholic. Many people who do, often successfully hold down high-powered jobs, with alcohol being part of their working culture.

Dr Iqbal Mohiuddi, a consultant psychiatrist at 25 Harley Street Day Clinic, talks about the signs. One method of determining whether you are a functioning alcoholic is to use the acronym CAGE to ask yourself a series of questions related to your alcohol habits.

Questions to ask yourself:

C – Cutting down: Have you ever thought you should cut down on your drinking?

A – Annoyance: Do you ever get annoyed or angry when people tell you about your drinking?

G – Guilt: Do you feel guilty about your drinking or any aspect of its effects on yourself or other people?

E – Eye-opener: Do you feel the need to have a drink to feel better, especially in the mornings to calm your nerves.

What's interesting is that, according to Dr. Iqbal, you don't have to answer yes to all four questions to have a problem. "If one or two of those are answered positively, it’s highly suggestive you could have a problem with alcohol," the expert said.

He did, however, point out that these questions shouldn't scare you. Some of the questions are very subtle signs, and you may answer yes without having an issue - but it's being aware and considering whether there really is a problem that is taking hold.

"The tipping point is usually when someone loses, or faces a very real fear of losing, someone they love because of their drinking," said the psychiatrist, adding: "It’s almost always the thing that brings people to us.
If you do believe you've got a problem, Dr. Iqbal recommended primarily being honest with yourself. From there, you can take other steps such as keeping a drinking diary, analyzing your drunk behaviour, and seeking help from medical experts or therapy groups if you feel that's what's necessary to help you move away from your functional dependency on alcohol.

Remember: lying to your doctor about how much you drink a week doesn't automatically equate to having a problem (I mean, come on, who doesn't do this?) - so don't panic. But if it goes much deeper than that, maybe it's time to start reconsidering whether your social drinking is really just a social habit, or if it's the beginnings of dependency.

A few years ago, that might have been me, but these days I hardly drink at all...maybe 4-5 drinks a month! If they were asking about being a functioning chocoholic, that might be a different story...ha ha!

Have a great day!