It’s time to wrap up what the Japanese media is referring to as コロナ一色の年 (korona isshoku no toshi, the year that was singularly colored by the novel coronavirus).

We’ve seen a lot of COVID-19-related jargon spring up and take root this year, among them: コロナ禍 (korona-ka, coronavirus disaster), コロナ疲れ (korona-zukare, coronavirus fatigue), コロナ休業 (korona kyūgyō, suspension of services due to the coronavirus) and, of course, the 自粛要請 (jishuku yōsei, request to practice self-restraint).

Reflecting the changes taking place in everyday Japanese parlance is another notable change: the way people interact with each other over some 酒 (sake, alcohol).

お酒の飲み方が変わりました (O-sake no nomikata ga kawarimashita, I’ve changed the way I drink) is something a friend of mine told me. She says that, nowadays, she’s more likely to indulge if she’s on a Zoom catch-up with friends or family. Gone are the days when meeting people for drinks was a matter of course. 最近は、直接会えるどうかという話をすると眉をひそめる人もいるかもしれません (Saikin wa, chokusetsu aeru ka dōka to iu hanashi o suru to mayu o hisomeru hito mo iru kamo shiremasen, These days, there are people who are likely to frown upon being asked to meet up in-person).

Rather than take that risk, 缶ビールとつまみを買って宅飲みしたほうがいい (kan bīru to tsumami o katte takunomi shita hō ga ii, it’s better to buy a can of beer and some nibbles and just drink at home). Don’t worry, supermarkets have you covered in that regard and the つまみ are often cheaper than what you get in most 飲み屋 (nomiya, bars).

Another change is that 一人飲み (hitorinomi, drinking solo) is no longer a social faux pas, even at this time of year when, under normal circumstances, one’s calendar would have been dotted with 忘年会 (bōnenkai, year-end drinking parties). As we’ve been told a million times, 今年は特別な年です (kotoshi wa tokubetsuna toshi desu, this year is a special one) and companies across the board have canceled all 忘年会.

I’ve yet to hear of anyone having a 忘年会 online, even though オン飲み (on-nomi, online drinking) has changed the idea of the traditional 飲み会 (nomikai, drinking parties). オン飲み have also changed the idea of 一人飲み (hitorinomi, drinking alone), which is no longer as taboo as it used to be. I guess that’s because 一人飲み isn’t necessarily drinking alone, you may get a text from a friend that reads, 今夜は一緒に1人飲みしよう (kon’ya wa issho ni hitorinomi shiyō, tonight, let’s drink alone together). The catch for this one? カメラはオフでも大丈夫 (Kamera wa ofu demo daijōbu, You may not have to turn the camera on for it). Sometimes, it’s good just to know someone is there with you.

オン飲み are a different animal altogether. They can be a bit more formal, require the full use of your webcam and you talk, drink or play games like a traditional 飲み会.

自粛期間中にギターを始めた友だちとのオン飲みが一番印象深い (Jishuku kikanchū ni gitā o hajimeta tomodachi to no on-nomi ga ichiban inshō bukai, An online drinking [session] with a friend who started learning guitar during the stay-at-home period is my most memorable). Some of my friends have gotten so good, our オン飲み feels like a little concert — complete with applause (remember the days of concerts?!).

A lot of 居酒屋 (izakaya, Japanese pub) owners are feeling the effects that COVID-19 has had on the economy, so some people are heading to their favorite places to support them. In those cases, 小池百合子都知事 (Koike Yuriko tochiji, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike) — who hit viral stardom with the 3密 (sanmitsu, 3 Cs) campaign — wants us to remember the 5つの小 (itsutsu no shō, the “five smalls”), meaning five things that contain the kanji, “小,” for small: 少人数 (shō-ninzū, a small number of people), 小一時間 (ko-ichi-jikan, a small amount of time that’s less than one hour), 小声 (kogoe, [talk in] small voices), 小皿 (kozara, [distribute the food in] small plates) and 小まめ (komame), which literally means “frequent” but refers to the frequent washing of hands, wearing of masks and so on.

In any case, だらだら飲み (dara-dara nomi, drinks that drag on and on) are definitely not the way to go anymore. Unless, you’re at home where you don’t have to worry about catching COVID-19 or 終電 (shūden, last train).

来年は良い年になることを願って、乾杯!(Rainen wa yoi toshi ni naru koto o negatte, kanpai!, Let’s raise a toast in wishing that that the coming year will be a good one!)

The Bilingual feature will be moving to the Friday edition of The Japan Times starting Jan. 8. We hope to see you there!

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