How to Get Away with Not Drinking (in Japan) for Non-Drinkers

Even before I applied to work in Japan, I knew the concept of a "nomikai". For those who may not know, this term refers to drinking parties. This is very common between friends during your free time or simply after work between some of your closest coworkers. When it is work related, it is usually done with your boss(es) and coworkers to celebrate a period of hard work that was accomplished.

Now for those who drink, this is probably paradise. Especially when the menu includes all-you-can-drink.

For non-drinkers, the prospects of this can be very daunting. I don't know about you, but in Canada, there is always that one person you barely know in a party with all the booze peer pressuring you to drink. Even when you say you can't (for whatever reason).

I actually happen to be very allergic to alcohol. One sip of plum wine here in Japan, and just like clockworks, 5-10 minutes in you'll see me in front of a toilet puking it (and anything I've digested before) out. For chu-hi, give or take 5 sips to get the same effect. TMI. I know.

But you get the point. Not everyone (especially me) can drink, whatever your reason may be.

Thankfully, there really is no REAL pressure to drink here despite my expectation of what nomikai are suppose to be like. People are generally quite understanding, even without you trying to justify yourself.

However... you might still feel like you are obligated to, or have a bunch of people try to pour you a drink and you're not sure how to navigate out of it respectfully each time. But there are a few surefire excuses you can use here in Japan. Especially if you get the excuses right. Sure, you MAY have one guy who is drunk out of his mind just basically trying to get everyone (and you) to drink, but it is much easier to get away with it.

The number #1 excuse, even among your Japanese friends and colleagues, would be to tell everyone you must drive or bike back home after the party. There is zero tolerance for driving or riding a bike under the influence, unlike in western countries where a tiny bit of consumption might be ok. So people who may be designated drivers, or have to bike home, simply can't or don't drink.

I find that people are also quite tolerant and accepting of the idea of an alcohol allergy. In the west, people MIGHT believe you if you go into detail (just as I did earlier) about the severity of the allergy. However, I think alcohol allergies are more common among Asian/Japanese so people often understand it's serious and won't pressure on. Of course, if you are from a country that is known for parties and drinking, this excuse would probably backfire on you based on those stereotypes alone.

Zero alcohol beer is also pretty common on the drink menu, and I find people who don't drink and is easily influenced will partake in this beverage. I sometimes will just pour myself a glass of zero alcohol beer for toasts during work events and such, if I really have to. Otherwise oolong tea does the trick really well.

If you are a non-drinker, have you ever been pressured to drink with your friends/coworkers here in Japan? How did you get out of the situation?

Comment below to share your experience!

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