I have always been impressed by the punctuality of formal parties in Japan. They start on time, open with a toast and accelerate into a mingling session whilst people circulate with bottles, pouring for each other. Politeness dictates that you take a drink from anyone who offers to pour for you, which invariably means that you consume beer, wine, sake and sometimes whisky in the same session. The saving grace is that there is normally a plentiful supply of food on the table or the side buffet to soak up the alcohol.
Japanese drinking parties end with the same attention to the clock with which they begin and are normally scheduled to run for a set time, often just one hour. The chalenge therefore is to find time to meet everyone, make the rounds with your own bottle and to do justice to the delicious food provided.
At some events, participants are expected to make speeches or take a turn at providing entertainment, performing karaoke, or worse, singing unaccompanied. For the British who are typically slow starters, this can be a daunting task, particularly as the need to switch from serious to fun mode is almost instant. For the busy Japanese, these parties are packed into tight work schedules, and the ability to step from a businesslike to a “let your hair down” personae in seconds, is part of the expected package of social skills.
In the UK our approach to social gatherings is very different. We thrive on the concept of being “fashionably late” and drift in and out of parties at will. We tend to start slowly, and only the most polished partygoers are up to “working the room” shortly after arrival. Instead we tend to stick with our close friends and only branch out after being suitably softened up with alchohol. For some, anticipation is the most important part of the occasion, and I know a number of young ladies who will spend two or three hours getting ready for the event with friends and a bottle of wine. In this case there is no guarantee that they will arrive before the others leave.
Our approach to timekeeping can be trying for party organisers who sit anxiously with a kitchen full of cooling food waiting for guests to arrive. It can be even more annoying when you are sitting in your pyjamas at three in the morning waiting for the last departures.
For Brits in Japan, the key is to programme your own on/off switch which instantly takes you from serious mode to fun mode.