Japanese Drinking Culture

Japanese Drinking Culture

Drinking culture has deeply rooted itself in societies worldwide. More than just a recreational activity, it stands as the heart of social interaction. Hence in Japan, whether college students are joining new clubs or individuals are starting a new job, they will inevitably participate in a '飲み会' (nomikai or drinking party). For a traditionally oriented and introverted society like Japan, drinking serves as a social lubricant, allowing for open and deeper conversations.

 The drinking culture in Japan boasts a long history and holds an irreplaceable status in society. Undoubtedly, there are nuances and traditions that many of us might not be familiar with. Let's delve deeper into Japanese drinking customs!


The typical venue for these drinking sessions in Japan is called 'いざかや' (izakaya or Japanese tavern). Reflecting the deep-rooted respect for seniority in Japan, the seating arrangement in restaurants is paramount. The seats furthest from the entrance and those at the center are reserved for the most senior individuals, such as elders, bosses, or seniors – known as '上座' (kamiza or honored seat). Conversely, the seats closest to the entrance are designated for those with lower seniority – termed '下座' (shimoza).


Once seated, the staff will first inquire about drinks since dishes take time to prepare. Beer, being readily available in almost every establishment and having a low alcohol content, is the go-to choice to kick off drinking sessions. This has given rise to the Japanese phrase: 'とりあえずビール' (Toriaezu Bīru) – "Let's start with a beer."


'かんぱい' (Kanpai), translating to "Cheers" or "To good fortune!", signals the commencement of the drinking party. During this toast, the height at which one holds their glass is vital. Out of respect, one's glass should not be raised higher than that of a senior.


Let's familiarize ourselves with common phrases used during these drinking parties:

- これは何のお酒ですか? (Kore wa nan no osake desu ka?) – "What drink is this?"

- お酒が強い (Osake ga tsuyoi) – "This drink is strong."

- 飲み物は何にしますか? (Nomimono wa nani ni shimasu ka?) – "What would you like to drink?"

- どれがおすすめですか? (Dore ga osusume desu ka?) – "Any recommendations?"

- 水をください (Mizu o kudasai) – "Please give me some water."

- お酒の種類は何ですか? (Osake no shurui wa nan desu ka?) – "What types of alcohol do you have?"


By understanding the Japanese drinking culture, we not only expand our Japanese vocabulary but also draw closer to the heart of the beautiful cultural essence of Japan.