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Virtual Cheers! Japan's 'nomikai' goes online for coronavirus time

Virtual Cheers! Japan's 'nomikai' goes online for coronavirus time
Participants of the online drinking party service "Tacnom" are seen on Anzu's laptop screen at his house in Yokohama, Japan May 2, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

TOKYO - Launched amid the mounting scare over the coronavirus, a Japanese video chat website designed for hosting virtual drinking parties has soared in popularity while bars and pubs remain shut.

Nomikai, or drinking gatherings, are seen by many Japanese as central to building strong relationships among friends and workmates to bond.

Tapping into that culture, Tacnom - which means drinks at home in Japanese - has attracted 2.4 million users in its first two months.

"I really didn't expect this impact and I'm extremely happy," Takashi Kiyose, chief executive of Tacnom's operator 1010 Inc, told Reuters.

Tacnom does not require downloads or registrations unlike other online video platforms, but its users can create a URL link and share with their friends to join virtual gatherings of up to 12 people.

"I hope our service can help users meet people they cannot see now. I would be very happy if their time at home due to self-restraints from going out will be enriched," Kiyose said.

Japan remains under a state of emergency until the end of May.

The move allows local municipalities to urge people to stay inside, but without punitive measures or legal force. The country has reported about 15,000 coronavirus cases, and 633 deaths from the virus.

Adjusting to the times, and considering after-hours bonding as a key for socialising and team building in Japan, some companies are paying for their employees to get together virtually.

Japanese mobile gaming firm Gree offers a monthly budget of 3,000 yen (S$40) per employee from April for food and drinks at home, supporting online drinking parties among coworkers.

With their usual venues closed, like-minded friends have also latched on to Tacnom to express themselves over a drink.

On a call with nine friends who share an interest in cross-dressing, a Tacnom user who only identified himself as Anzu raised his cocktail toward the computer screen in a toast.

"My meeting party was initially planned at a karaoke parlour, but all of them are closed now so I had to cancel. I was looking for another way to interact," said Anzu, a 35-year-old school teacher in Yokohama, who wore full make-up, and a skirt for the virtual meet-up.

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