Drinking in Japan

Japanese drinking culture is deeply rooted in the country’s traditions, customs, and social norms. It is characterized by a sense of camaraderie, respect, and enjoyment. Here are some key aspects of the Japanese drinking culture:

  1. Social bonding: Drinking in Japan is often a social activity that helps to strengthen bonds among friends, family, and coworkers. After-work drinking sessions, known as “nomikai,” are common for colleagues to unwind, celebrate, and build relationships.
  2. Etiquette: Politeness and respect are essential in Japanese drinking culture. Some common practices include waiting for everyone’s drink to be served before starting, pouring drinks for others (especially for seniors or superiors), and raising your glass for a toast, or “kanpai,” before taking the first sip.
  3. Variety of drinks: Japan is known for its wide range of alcoholic beverages, including sake (rice wine), shochu (a distilled spirit), beer, and whisky. Each drink has its unique production process, taste, and cultural significance.
  4. Pairing food with drinks: In Japan, it’s common to enjoy alcoholic beverages with a variety of small dishes, known as “otsumami.” These dishes enhance the flavor of the drinks and create a balanced, enjoyable experience. Popular otsumami include yakitori, sashimi, and edamame.
  5. Responsible drinking: While drinking is an essential part of socializing in Japan, moderation and self-awareness are encouraged. Public intoxication and causing a disturbance are frowned upon.

Legal Drinking Age in Japan

The legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years old. This age limit applies to both Japanese citizens and foreigners alike. Violating this law can lead to serious consequences, including fines, deportation, or imprisonment.

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A World of Japanese Bars: From Izakayas to Whisky Lounges


Izakayas are casual, after-work drinking spots that offer a relaxed atmosphere. They serve a wide range of food and drink options, such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) and draft beer. These establishments are perfect for socializing with friends or colleagues.

Tachinomiya (Standing Bars)

Tachinomiya, or standing bars, are informal and affordable places to enjoy drinks and small dishes. These establishments often serve popular drinks like sake and shochu, accompanied by appetizers like edamame or sashimi.

Whisky Bars

Japan’s growing reputation for producing high-quality whiskies has led to the rise of dedicated whisky bars. These bars offer a sophisticated ambiance and an impressive selection of both Japanese and international whiskies.

Themed Bars and Cafes

Themed bars and cafes in Japan cater to a variety of interests, such as anime or video game-inspired establishments. While these bars can offer unique experiences, some may find them too niche or gimmicky.

Tips For Enjoying Japan’s Drinking Culture Responsibly

Experiencing Japan’s drinking culture can be a unique and enjoyable aspect of your visit. To truly make the most of it, being mindful of the customs and practices is vital.

  1. Learn Basic Japanese Phrases: Before heading out, acquaint yourself with a few essential Japanese phrases for ordering drinks and giving compliments. For instance, knowing how to say ‘cheers’ in Japanese – ‘kanpai’ – can be a great icebreaker.
  2. Understand Local Etiquette: It’s customary in Japan for someone else to pour your drink, and vice versa. So, wait for someone to fill your glass and ensure you return the favor. This small gesture can go a long way in building rapport.
  3. Breaking the Ice: If you’re a foreigner, showing genuine interest in Japanese culture can be a conversation starter. Complimenting their local brews or asking for recommendations on which drinks to try can engage your Japanese counterparts. Additionally, talking about your travels in Japan and asking about local must-visit spots can also be a great way to break the ice.
  4. Stay Connected: While bar hopping or trying different izakayas, it’s essential to have reliable connectivity. Determine which is the best pocket wifi in Japan for your needs to share moments or navigate through the city seamlessly.
  5. Consume Alcohol with Care: As with anywhere, it’s crucial to consume alcohol responsibly. Know your limits and ensure you’re not disturbing others. Public drunkenness, though sometimes seen in busy nightlife areas, is generally frowned upon.
  6. Stay Safe: Always remember to keep an eye on your belongings, and be aware of your surroundings. Stick with your group, and if you’re traveling solo, let someone know your whereabouts.
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