Would It Be Funny in Japan?

December 4, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Chris Uggen posted this New Yorker cartoon on Monday.
The funny thing is, in Japan, nobody would get the joke. To begin with, a Japanese cartoonist probably wouldn’t even consider the idea of choice. So Chris’s “I’m in” comment on the cartoon, which I smiled at, wouldn’t be amusing in Japan. Of course you’re in.

Besides that, in Japan, the idea of work after work isn’t a comic possibility. It’s reality. The distinction between work and after work is much fuzzier, mainly one of setting. You leave the office and go out to a bar, but you’re with the same group of people that you work with. There’s more liquor and less formality, but it’s still the same work group.

The Japanese equivalent of the office party is the nomikai (飲み会), though it’s rarely held in the office. Kai is a general term for get-together, and nomikai is usually translated as “drinking party” But “drink meeting” might better convey the idea that the drinkers are also co-workers. More to the point, co-workers often go for drinks together as a group though not at the level of an official nomikai. It’s more like the situation in the cartoon.

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