Poppy has been living in Japan for over six years. She likes to read novels, write, and play video games.
Japan is a country that just loves alcohol. On any Friday night in the cities, you can see pubs and izakaya inns packed with people and suit-clad businessmen eagerly getting off work to go drinking with their colleagues for a good old nomikai, or drinking party.
Japan has loved alcohol ever since its two-millennium production of sake, rice wine, and umeshuu, plum wine, as well as other varieties. Beer got a foothold in the country not long after World War II and now in this booming first-world country, getting your hands on your favorite alcoholic beverage has never been easier.
If you are visiting Japan and you love to drink as much as the Japanese do, then chances are you're going to take an evening to check out nearby izakaya pubs, sample some varieties of sake, and mix with the locals.
The Rules of Drinking in Japan
- The drinking age is 20 years old.
- It is illegal to drive a vehicle or ride a bicycle after consuming any alcohol at all.
- Unlike some other countries, it is perfectly fine to drink in the street.
When it comes to ordering, it's nice if you can do more than just point at the menu. Here are ten essential words when you're out drinking in Japan.
1. Bi-ru (ビール)
English meaning: Beer
You can't go out drinking without knowing how to order a beer! To say "One beer, please," you can say "bi-ru wo hitotsu kudasai." There are also words to specify what kind of beer you'd like.
- Nama bi-ru (draft beer)
- Bin bi-ru (beer from a bottle)
Popular brands of beer in Japan include Asahi, Sapporo, and Kirin. In the cities, you'll likely find imported beers as well, though keep in mind they might be more expensive than their local counterparts.
2. Kanpai! (かんぱい！)
English meaning: Cheers!
If you're drinking with a group of people, it's customary to wait until everyone has a drink before taking a sip of yours. Hold your glass and shout "kanpai!" before clinking your glasses together and taking a collective gulp.
One of the reasons nama bi-ru is a popular first drink choice is that you can safely clink your glasses together before taking a giant sip. Kanpai tells everyone it's time to relax and start drinking.
3. Koime (濃いめ)
English meaning: Make it strong
Literally meaning "dense," koime is a word that you should use when you'd like the server to give you a little extra alcohol in your drink. This doesn't work every single time, but many izakayas will happily give you a double instead of a single for the same price, especially if you make an effort to use the correct word.
When ordering, say "(drink name) koime de." Be sure to say it discreetly so the server understands that you understand that they're doing you a service.
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4. Okawari (おかわり)
English meaning: Refill
If you're sitting in a small bar and you know the server knows what you had to drink, you can ask them for the same thing again by saying "okawari." This word can also be used in restaurants that offer free refills of rice. "Gohan okawari kudasai" will get you a new bowl.
5. Yopparai (酔っぱらい)
English meaning: Drunk
When you've had a few too many koime drinks, you might start to feel a little yopparai. You can say this when you're feeling a buzz or apologetically if your drunk friend falls over or makes a mess.
6. Futsukayoi (二日酔い)
English meaning: Hungover
After being too yopparai, you might find that you're suffering from futsukayoi the next day. The characters of these word literally mean "second-day drunkenness" and this word was likely coined not longer after sake became a hit.
If you'd like to say "I might be hungover tomorrow" you can say "ashta futsukayoi kamo."
7. Nonde (飲んで！)
English meaning: Drink!
This imperative can be used to urge your friends to drink more! A bit more about how to say "drink" in Japanese:
- Nomu: to drink
- Nondeimasu: drinking
- Nomimashita/nonda: drank (formal and informal, respectively)
- Nomitai: want to drink
- Nonde kudasai: please drink
8. Ikki (いっき)
English meaning: Neck it
Students or hard partyers might recognize the idea of quickly drinking your drink as a race or for a bet. If you find yourself playing a game like this with Japanese friends, saying "ikki shiou!" to say "let's neck our drinks!"
9. Chanpon (ちゃんぽん)
English meaning: Mixed drinks
You might feel a little yopparai if you did chanpon, which is drinking many kinds of alcohol. Did you start with beer, try some sake, and end with wine? You chanpon shimashita. Enjoy your futsukayoi!
10. Kaikei (会計)
English meaning: Bill/Check
Say "kaikei wo kudasai" when you're done drinking and ready for the bill. This can, of course, be used in restaurants too. Pay exactly what is shown on the bill; Japanese businesses do not accept tips.
The Japanese love to get together for a couple of drinks and sometimes for some karaoke! Despite the country's love for alcohol, it remains an exceptionally safe place to visit and things like bar fights and mugging is rare. That being said, drink responsibly! Be sure to try to use these ten words when you're out and you might find yourself getting stronger drinks and making new friends.
© 2022 Poppy