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Cheers in Japanese

Simple Etiquette for Enjoying Drinks in Japan

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Japanese Sake

Drinking sake is an old tradition in Japan.

Michael Hitoshi / Getty Images

Whether sharing a drink for business, pleasure, or both, knowing how to offer a 'cheers' in Japanese is essential to the experience.

Just as the real business relationships are formed on golf courses in the West, business is frequently conducted over drinks in social environments throughout Japan. Luckily, the etiquette is simple: never drink alone and always offer a polite cheers!

  • First, see some Japan travel tips for saving money in what is notoriously considered an expensive destination.

How to Say Cheers in Japanese

The easiest way to say cheers in Japanese is with an enthusiastic kanpai! (sounds like 'gahn-pie')

Kanpai translates to 'empty cup' or 'bottoms up' and tradition once meant that you were expected to finish your small cup of sake (rice wine) in one go. Now that beer is more or less the drink of choice, you can certainly get by with just raising your glass and taking a sip each time someone offers a toast.

Drinking with Japanese Friends

The number one rule of etiquette to observe when drinking in Japan is to never take a drink alone. Always wait for the group to receive their drinks and for someone to offer a cheers or toast before you raise your glass and take a drink.

Beer is the usual choice for social and business settings in Japan with sake coming in a close second. Your Japanese cohorts may prefer to drink sake with you just for the experience. While not a requirement, ordering the same first drink as others in the group is considered extremely polite and makes sharing easier.

If possible, avoid even sipping from your glass alone throughout a meal. You don't necessarily have to offer a kompai each time; you can simply raise your glass and meet eyes with someone.

Japanese Drinking Etiquette

It is customary to allow others seated close to pour your drinks from their beer or tokkuri (sake bottle) and you should reciprocate, assuming that you are drinking the same thing. Typically, the younger or lower in status pour for the senior members of the group first.

When someone is filling your glass or sake cup, you can show courtesy by holding the glass and being attentive to their gesture of goodwill. Avoid looking elsewhere or talking to someone else when your glass is being filled. Keep a mental note so that you can return the gesture later -- remember to pour from your own bottle when filling someone's glass!

More Ways to Say Cheers

While sometimes used as a way to say cheers in Japanese, otsukaresama deshita (translated: 'you're tired') is most appropriate in a business context and when someone is leaving. Telling an associate that they are tired is an extremely nice way of saying that they are a hard worker, have given their all, and deserve a drink.

Don't be surprised to hear an occasional shout of banzai! (translated: 'to live 10,000 years') as the sake continues to flow late into the night!

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