Bottoms Up! All You Need to Know About Drinking in Japan

  • Drinking and society

    The love affair with alcohol has long been the cornerstone of Japanese society. Japan has a fondness for drinking, any time, any day, any hour and the drink of choice, for the most part is beer.

    It’s been said that the ancient people of Japan excessively drank, sang, and danced at any event, including funerals. Today, I don’t think much has changed. Alcohol is a crucial part of daily life and is widely accepted. It is almost your duty to drink, even if you don’t like to, just to fit in. Social, business, religious ceremonies and traditional customs all have some kind of connection to alcohol.

    The Unspoken Rules

    At the beginning of any event, the first drink is the most important, like most countries, this “toast” marks the start for the festivities. I think this is a general rule. But did you know that in Japan, it is a common courtesy for guests to keep their glasses full! Full of? Alcohol. This is why, when you attend any event, someone is always pouring you a drink and making sure your glass stays full. If you are a visitor this shouldn’t concern you too much, try to enjoy the atmosphere.

    Another unwritten rule is that the junior person or the kohai pours the drinks for the senior person also known as the sempai. It’s always an act of respect to hold up your glass when someone is pouring your drink. No matter your level of intoxication, hold that glass up and let the drinks roll. Now that you understand the unwritten rules, maybe your perception of drinking in Japan will change. Drinking and alcohol not only connects people, it is also an excuse to have a good time.


    But if drinking isn’t your thing, and you are just there to enjoy the party, you can keep your glass full. A full glass means you have had enough, but try to pour for others, it’s a good gesture. By the end of the night, everyone should have poured a drink for someone else. I did not know this and learned the hard way. Consider yourself informed so you don’t make the same mistake. Bottoms up! Kampai! Salud!