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Exploring Team Building Activities in Japanese Companies



Team building activities in Japanese companies play a crucial role in fostering connections among colleagues and creating a positive work environment. In Japan, these activities are a blend of tradition and modernity, reflecting a commitment to teamwork and harmony.


Let's take a closer look at how Japanese companies encourage team building, understanding that a harmonious team is the foundation of a thriving workplace.


Team Building in Japanese Companies

While the concept of team building is recognized in Japan, the direct transliteration translation of "team building" is often used. The term "チームビルディング" (chīmu birudingu) is commonly employed in Japanese to refer to team-building activities.


Additionally, the term "チームづくり" (chīmu dzukuri) may also be used, where "づくり" (dzukuri) means "making" or "building," emphasizing the creation or development of the team. In a more casual context, the phrase "チームイベント" (chīmu ibento), meaning "team event," can also be used to describe activities aimed at fostering team unity and collaboration.


Despite not having a dedicated term in Japanese, the commitment to building harmonious relationships among employees is evident in many Japanese companies. Harmony, or "wa," is a fundamental aspect of their corporate culture. Therefore, they actively create company-sponsored social activities, such as outings, parties, and gatherings.


Here are some examples of team-building activities in Japan:


1. Bonenkai

Bonenkai (忘年会) is a Japanese tradition that translates to "year-end party." It is a social event held towards the end of the year, typically in December, where colleagues, friends, or acquaintances come together to bid farewell to the past year and welcome the upcoming one. Bonenkai serves as a way to reflect on the challenges and successes of the year, express gratitude, and strengthen social bonds.

Izakaya is common place for company's parties


During a bonenkai, participants engage in various activities, such as sharing meals, toasting with drinks, and participating in games or entertainment. The atmosphere is generally festive and relaxed, providing an opportunity for people to unwind and socialize outside the formalities of the workplace. This tradition is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, emphasizing the importance of fostering positive relationships, expressing gratitude, and starting the new year with a fresh perspective.


2. Shinnenkai

After Bonenkai, comes Shinnenkai. Shinnenkai" (新年会) is a Japanese term for "New Year's gathering" or "New Year's party." It refers to a social event held in January to celebrate the beginning of the new year. The primary purpose of Shinnenkai is to welcome the new year with positive energy and a sense of camaraderie. Participants use this occasion to express good wishes for the upcoming year, both personally and professionally.


The nature of shinnenkai is similar to bonenkai. However, it is slightly more formal due to its forward-looking nature. Senior staff members often take the opportunity to make speeches about the company's future direction and goals, contributing to a thoughtful and contemplative ambiance.


3. Hanami Parties

"Hanami" (花見) is a traditional Japanese custom that translates to "flower viewing." Specifically, it refers to the practice of appreciating the beauty of cherry blossoms, or "sakura" (桜), during their brief blooming season. Hanami is a significant cultural phenomenon in Japan and is embedded in the appreciation of nature, the changing seasons, and the transient beauty of cherry blossoms.


People doing picnic under sakura trees


Hanami typically takes place during the cherry blossom season, which usually occurs in spring, from late March to early May, depending on the region and weather conditions. People gather in parks, gardens, or along riversides where cherry trees bloom abundantly. They often participate in picnics, enjoying food and drinks with friends and family under the cherry blossom trees. Coworkers also go to hanami parties together, making it a team bonding activity.


4. Shain ryokou

In Japan, a company retreat is referred to as "社員旅行" (shain ryokou), where "社員" (shain) means "employee" and "旅行" (ryokou) means "travel" or "trip." A company retreat in Japan typically involves employees taking a break from their regular work environment to participate in activities aimed at team building and promoting a positive work culture.


Company retreats are not as common in Japan as they are in some Western cultures, but their popularity has been increasing in recent years. Large and multinational companies are more likely to organize company outings or retreats due to their resources and the emphasis on employee engagement. Smaller companies may also have such events, but they might be less frequent or elaborate.


Company retreats in Japan can range from a one-day outing to multi-day trips. Longer retreats often include a mix of team-building activities, leisure time, and sometimes workshops or training sessions. Retreat locations can vary, but they often involve natural settings such as hot spring resorts (onsen), beach resorts, or rural areas with scenic landscapes. These locations provide a break from the urban work environment and contribute to a relaxed atmosphere.


Onsen in Gunma, Japan


Team-building activities are a key component of company retreats in Japan. These activities can include outdoor challenges, workshops, games, and cultural experiences designed to strengthen teamwork, communication, and collaboration among employees. Some company retreats also coincide with specific milestones, anniversaries, or seasonal events.


5. Nomikai

"Nomikai" (飲み会) means "drinking party" or "drinking gathering." Nomikai plays a significant role in Japanese corporate culture and social life. It usually takes place after working hours, allowing participants to unwind and socialize in a less formal setting. Drinking alcohol while engaging in conversation and activities is a central aspect of nomikai.


Nomikai is often organized to celebrate various occasions, such as the completion of a project, welcoming new employees, saying farewell to departing colleagues, or marking milestones and achievements. It is common for nomikai to include speeches or toasts. The frequency of nomikai can vary widely among companies. Some organizations still have regular drinking parties, while others may opt for more occasional gatherings.


Although it seems like a casual gathering, nomikai are still considered as working activities. Employees may feel obligated to attend social gatherings even if they prefer to spend their evenings differently. There are specific manners and etiquette such as pouring drinks for others, how to receive drinks, seating arrangements, and so on.


In modern Japanese companies, nomikai continue to play a role in workplace culture, but the dynamics have evolved to reflect changing attitudes and trends. It can be less frequent to ensure the work-life balance of the employees. Some companies are also aware of the need for inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. They consider alternative social activities or provide options for employees who may not be comfortable with traditional nomikai settings.

 

Team building activities in Japanese companies are like the secret sauce that adds extra flavor to the work experience. They're not just about work—they're about bringing people together, making connections, and having a good time. Whether it's through company outings, parties, or other bonding activities, the goal is to create a happy and harmonious workplace. So, if you find yourself in a Japanese company, get ready for some fun team-building adventures that go beyond the usual work routine. Cheers to teamwork and good times!

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