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Drinking Culture in Japan: Seven commandments

Japan has a big drinking culture. Alcohol is considered to be an innate part of the Japanese society. If you want to be successful and climb up the ladder at work, then going out drinking with your colleagues will become a part of your daily life. Japanese workforce socialise only when they go out drinking. Work rules, strict hierarchy and the shyness of Japanese people takes the funny bone out of them. Making a joke about your boss can put you in big trouble, unless the boss is too drunk to remember. If you are invited for one such party then, not going isn’t the best option, as drinking parties are used to enhance bonding and settle differences. When you are drinking formally or casually in Japan, you are expected to follow certain rules. I call it commandments because of the importance of these rules in the Japanese society. If you follow these commandments, you can avoid getting embarrassed and may even earn praise from your colleagues.

  1. Never pour your own drink :

    This is a cardinal decree, irrespective of drinking in a formal or casual set-up. I was told by a Japanese friend, that pouring your own drink brings bad luck. However, there is more to it than just hard luck. Pouring your own drink is very disrespectful and makes you look selfish.  Always pour drink for someone else (especially for your boss). This will build good will and the gesture will be immediately returned.

  2. Do not drink until the formal Kan-pai no kotoba (toast) is done :

    I did not know this rule, and looked like a dodo on my first party.  Parties start with a Kanpai no kotoba (かんぱいのことば), usually said by a senior guest. Join the toast and have a sip or two. If everyone claps, put your glass down and go for it. Don’t forget to say Umai (うまい) or make a sound after your sip.

  3. Keep an eye on your glass:

    This is important if you want to avoid getting super sloshed and wretched the next day. Your beer or wine glass will be refilled before you ask. To top it all, if a senior person is pouring it for you, it will be rude to turn it down. If someone is holding tokkuri (Sake flask) to pour for you, finish your drink and hold the Ochoko (Sake Cup) with respect using both hands. Switch to non-alcoholic beverage or let your glass stay full if you don’t want to drink any more.

  4. Get ready for the Nijikai 二次会)or Sanjikai(三次会) or may be the 4th Kai

    The first party Nomikai (飲み会) finishes in about 2 hrs. . After the nomikai, the party group breaks into further smaller groups for a second and third party. Similar to what pub crawl is to the western world this is Izakaya crawl. Avoid drinking too much at the first party, the real fun begins in the second and third party when people are too drunk to remember what they say.

  5. Be prepared to have a long night

    I have seen my Japanese friends drinking until the last train in the night or the first train next morning. It is common to see the Sarariman man/ kyariaūman (terms for salaried men and women) napping on the trains. After your night out, it is better to catch a taxi, public transport or if driving use the Daiko service (if it’s available in your city). Japan has zero alcohol tolerance policy and if caught, you will be convicted for even riding your bicycle drunk

  6. Keep cash and change:

    You can pay separate (べつーべつ/ betsu- betsu) at the Izakayas. If it’s an all you can drink Nomihoudai (のみほうだい), you pay the full amount irrespective of how much you drink. If your boss or any senior person offers to pay for you, then show your gratitude by bowing a couple of  times .

  7. What happens in Izakaya stays in Izakaya:

    After a few drinks, people in the party will loosen up like a pot of melted cheese. They will not shy away from discussing anything or everything under the sun. Sometimes people even end up revealing some private information as well. Perhaps, you won’t remember any of it the next day if you are drunk. If you do, its best to keep your mouth shut. Nothing about last night will be discussed at work the next morning.

Although you may get more advice from your Japanese friends, these 7 rules will certainly help you and might as well bring you some fame and glory among your colleagues and friends.

Have you had any experience with Japan’s drinking culture? Let me know by commenting below.

As always, thank you for reading ❤❤❤

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