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Virtual kanpai!: Drinking parties go online as coronavirus keeps people at home

Kyodo

More drinking parties are being held online in Japan as people increasingly stay home in self-isolation to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and pubs operate for shorter hours at the request of local authorities.

With major Japanese cities set to remain under a state of emergency through May 6 due to the virus pandemic, such online parties are expected to become a new means of communication for those compelled to remain at home but who want to keep in touch and casually chat with friends.

On the night of April 8, a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency over the virus, Chiaki Michibayashi, 31, raised a glass of beer toward her computer screen at her home in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, in a “toast” with other online party participants.

Chiba is among the seven prefectures placed under the state of emergency.

“This party was organized because you can’t easily go out now,” said an organizer of the gathering. “So let’s enjoy.”

Japandemic Co., a brewery in Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime Prefecture, organized the party via Zoom Video Communications Inc.’s online conferencing platform. It was attended by about 10 people from Tokyo, Kanagawa, Hiroshima and other parts of Japan.

The company delivered its DD4D craft beer to the participants before the event.

At first the party over Zoom was awkward, with bad voice quality at times, but as people talked about their favorite types of beer, conversation, laughter and drinks began to flow.

“Everyone drinks the same beer and enjoys the same taste and flavor,” said Michibayashi, an office worker who has joined similar virtual parties with her friends and coworkers. “(Zoom) is an interesting tool for people who really love drinking to come together,” she said.

A 36-year-old male office worker from Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, used to meet friends a few times a month for drinks but has been organizing online drinking parties since late March.

“I wanted to support my favorite bars as much as possible but it has become difficult,” he said.

When relaxing with alcohol at home the parties can last more than five hours, and as some people disappear from the screen, “it feels like we’re bar hopping” with the remaining members, he said.

To keep the mood light without being weighed down by stories about the pandemic, the man said he proposes chatting about topics such as “your favorite movies.”

“I think there is little resistance to these types of gatherings because we use online communication like texting every day. Instead of being a real replacement (for conventional drinking parties), it may become a new way” of sharing experiences, he said.

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