Enkai (宴会)

Enkai are a vital part of Japanese culture. The definition of “enkai” is merely “party; banquet” but it is also what greases the wheels of social communication in Japanese culture. The enkai is usually a work party celebrating something such as the start of the new fiscal year or transfer of the office workers.

At these parties there is usually a flat fee which covers the cost of food and drinks, often all you can drink for about 2 hours. Most people drink alcohol, usually beer or 日本酒 (nihonshu, what we Americans call “sake”), sometimes large amounts of it, though others stick with oolong tea or cola.

Enkai ease the formal work environment found in most Japanese offices. It is an opportunity to get to know your co-workers; sometimes the only opportunity to get to know them in a social situation. There is a saying that what happens at an enkai stays at an enkai. Some enkai are known to get a little wild.

The approximate equivalent in the States is the Christmas Party. Both usually involve large amounts of alcohol, but one does not bring a date to the enkai; it is exclusive to the members of the company.

After the main enkai, there is often what is called the “nijikai” (二次会), which means “second party”. After a big enkai many people go to the second party. At smaller enkai few people go, perhaps only the men. In my experience, the second party is usually karaoke or going to a snack bar (スナックバー) so called because they serve snacks with the drinks, but which also involve ladies pouring the drinks for you and chatting with you, and the seating charge is higher than usual. The snack bars usually also have karaoke, though not the karaoke box. The “sanjikai” (三次会) or third party is often only the men, and I couldn’t tell you what they do because I have never been to one. I believe the tamer ones involve eating ramen, and the wilder ones involve going to places where you wouldn’t take children.

As an English speaker at an enkai you will often be surprised. It is a good chance to practice your Japanese, but every now and again, you will be talking with someone and they will suddenly come out with some really excellent English.

At my last enkai, I was talking with one of my coworkers and he suddenly asked me, “So, what do you think about the current presidential candidates? Who do you like better, Clinton or Obama?” I was floored, because I didn’t even know he spoke English at all! We chatted about politics for bit, when he glanced over and saw that an English teacher was sitting next to us. At that point, he became very embarrassed, clammed up and reverted back to Japanese.

Whenever possible, go to your work parties. The positive interactions you have an enkai will spill over into your work life and it’s a great oppotunity to bring up things that you otherwise don’t have time to discuss during the work day.

One Response to “Enkai (宴会)”
  1. bel says:

    thank you for postcard! very lovely <3


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