Drinking norms in Japan: Seven commandments

In Japan, alcohol is considered to be an innate part of the society. Especially, if you are in the Japanese workforce, then going out for a work drinking party becomes a part of your daily life. Socialisation in Japan mostly happens when people are out drinking. If you are invited for one such party, then not going isn’t always the best option. Also, around the end of the year or spring time, a wave of such parties take place at various levels.  You are expected to follow certain rules when you are drinking formally or casually in restaurants or Izakaya. Because of the importance of these rules in Japanese society, I call them as commandments. Read along to know what these golden commandments are, which will help you to gain praise from your  Japanese co-workers or friends.

The seven commandments of drinking in Japan:

  1. Never pour your own drink

    This is a cardinal decree (unless everyone is too drunk), 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. The general notion is that, when you pour your own drink, you are being disrespectful and selfish. You should always pour drink for someone else, especially for your superiors. This rule will help you build good will, and the gesture will be immediately returned.

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

I did not know this rule, and looked like a dodo in my first drinking party. The senior guests at the party, will first make a Kanpai no kotoba or a toast. 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)  after your  first sip.

  • Keep an eye on your glass:

    This commandment is important if you want to avoid getting super sloshed and wretched the next day. Your 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 have reached your drinking limit.

  • Nijikai( 二次会)or Sanjikai(三次会):

    The first party Nomikai (飲み会) usually finishes in about two hours.  After the nomikai, your party group will probably break 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 the third party, when people are too drunk to remember what they say.

  • Be prepared to have a long night:

    I have seen and heard of 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, catch a taxi, public transport or if you drove to the party location, then use the Daiko service (if it’s available in your city). Remember, Japan has a zero alcohol tolerance policy. When caught, you will be convicted even for riding a bicycle drunk.

  • Keep cash and change:

    It is always best to carry enough cash and changes when you go out drinking. 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 .

  • What happens in Izakaya stays in Izakaya:

    After a few drinks, everyone starts to 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 their private information as well. Perhaps, you won’t remember any of it the next day if you were too drunk. If you do, its best to keep your mouth shut. Nothing about last night will be discussed at work the next morning. Things will go on business as usual.

Although you may get more advice from your Japanese friends, these seven 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 or any other points to share? Let me know by commenting below.

As always, thank you for reading ❤❤❤

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