As we know, Japanese nomikai often have a lot of ritual and social tension, especially when it’s with colleagues: where you sit is important to your rank in the office, and of course you have to be nice to your boss, pour his drink, and generally show lots of 遠慮 (enryo or “consideration”).
One way to get around this but still enjoy drinking in groups is to go online. Apparently net nomikai are gaining in popularity, according to reports by J-Cast and others. All you need is a web cam, Skype and a pair of headphones and mic. There is no boss, no seating arrangements — and even no geographical limitations! Obviously it’s a lot cheaper than boozing in an izakaya too, which might appeal to the recession-minded younger drinkers who can’t rely on company expenses.
Some might argue that drinking in front of a camera, even though at home, is not private enough. The same Kobe newspaper reported that single customers going to sing and drink in private karaoke booths (ヒトカラ or “solo karaoke”) are increasing.
Drinking alone sounds a bit, well, lonely, right? Not necessarily. It can become a whole product concept. Suntory in fact last year ran a campaign promoting its 3% low alcohol Chu-Hi Horoyoi (“tipsy”) as a drink for the young consumers to enjoy just by him or herself. It also started a community site to encourage people to go online and interact with each other. Horoyoi.com, did not, though, use a web cam, but instead provided you with a drinking avatar and customizable profile: importantly, drinking through a web campaign like this became a way simultaneously both to express and re-make yourself.
Scheduled to end on March 15, the site has only been a moderate success (70,000 registered users, 60% of whom are in their twenties). Suntory is hoping to keep building up word-of-mouth marketing through collecting tweets on a new Horoyoi site, Horotter.com. Though it doesn’t start till March 9, you can already see similarities. Again you get a cheerful avatar, through whom you post your tweets about Horoyoi drinking.
Actually nomikai-related tweeting has already been taking off too, it seems. Check out the tag #twinomi for what’s happening now.
While we can’t find any numbers to support this “boom”, it is interesting to see how drink companies are working with online and viral resources to try to generate young consumer- and recession-friendly trends.