Drinking in Japan

When you think of Japan, one would generally picture the historic temples or the futuristic urban landscapes, the snow-capped mountains or the cherry blossom trees, or maybe just anime. The nation is a mesmerizing combination of rich history and modern comfort.

What you wouldn’t typically associate as a part of Japanese culture, however, is drinking.

That’s right. Drinking is a deeply rooted, often glorified part of the culture in Japan.

If you are planning a trip to Japan then this might interest you as visiting one of the many bars can be a great way to enjoy your time.

Let’s take a deeper look at what role alcohol plays in Japanese society and some fascinating facts about drinking in Japan.

Drinking Culture in Japan

The way people drink in Japan differs quite a bit from how people drink in the West.

Japanese culture is generally quite reserved and rigid, and alcohol works as a catalyst to reduce inhibitions and allow people to get more comfortable with each other.

The cultural importance of drinking is also evident in the fact that bars and restaurants are open almost 24/7, or to be precise, they just operate according to the owner’s preferences. This is also why “bar-hopping” is so popular in Japan.

At the heart of Japan’s social life (and by extension its drinking culture) is the izakaya — a Japanese-style bar or restaurant serving food and drinks. Izakayas are a staple in Japan. They offer the perfect casual setting where friends and colleagues can get together and relax.

But what makes izakayas so different from your regular pubs in the West is that izakayas also offer a wide variety of small meals. Some of the most common foods you can expect to get in an izakaya include fried chicken (karaage), sushi, grilled fish, nabe, fried octopus balls (takoyaki), French fries, and salads.

Just like food, izakayas also offer diverse drinks from sake to beer to plum wine (umeshu) to whiskey.

The izakaya is perhaps the most fun and cheapest way to get drunk. In fact, the very purpose of going to an izakaya is to get drunk. The Japanese hold it in high esteem if one can drink large amounts of alcohol.

Nominication or Nomikai — Drinking For Your Job?

A combination of the Japanese word “nomu” (drink) and the English term “communication,” nominication literally means drinking to communicate or converse.

A highly prevalent practice in Japanese society, nomikai is a huge part of the work culture of the country.

Although it is not explicitly obligatory, employees are typically expected to engage to a certain extent in various nomikai as it is regarded as a major social aspect of the job. Such gatherings intend to emphasize the camaraderie among coworkers and are not seen as private or otherwise unrelated to business.

The Popularity of Nominication

In Japan, social hierarchies are rigid. Particularly in the workplace, many people like to be seen as professional and hardworking.

Drinking encourages people to lower their guard and forge closer bonds with one another, which is one of the major reasons why businesses view group drinking to be advantageous.

It enables coworkers to feel at ease with one another and makes them feel more than willing to discuss their issues and express their ideas to one other and their managers. Many people think that this transparency helps organizations develop and grow and believe it to be a constructive activity.

Nommikai is regarded as a crucial social etiquette in many workplaces, and failing to show up to such work-related social events can be considered disrespectful or a slight against the higher-ups. Many Japanese people also think that if they don’t attend these networking events with their colleagues and bosses, they will miss out on prospects for their career growth.

A typical workplace hosts numerous celebrations every year where booze is just as important as the food. These include welcome parties and departure parties in addition to the monthly drinking party, as well as an end-of-year celebration and a New Year’s Party every year.

In some places, nomikai are not only held at the end of the month but also at the end of each work week.

5 Interesting Facts About Drinking In Japan

Japan does not have any major restrictions when it comes to drinking. You can see people drinking just about anywhere, be it at railway stations, on roads, or in shops. Drinking in Japan is a habitual activity.

Take a look at some more interesting facts about drinking in Japan.

1. Drinking In Public is Legal.

A major way in which Japan differs from many other nations in the world is that alcohol consumption in public is not illegal in Japan. You can purchase alcohol in a convenience store and consume it on your way back home.

Every year, hanami celebrations are hosted in the spring when the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. There are also many traditional and religious events that involve drinking.

You may also be familiar with the Twitter hashtag #shibuyameltdown. Thai phenomenon is quite unique to Japan where people are seen passed out drunk on the train or on the roads, given that drinking in public is permitted.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing awareness of the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption among young people. The actions of youngsters partaking in intoxicated celebrations on occasions like Halloween, New Year, or sporting events are deemed harmful and are being addressed.

2. You Can Even Drink While On Public Transport.

Drinking in public includes drinking on public transport. People returning from work sipping on their bottle of beer or a group of friends inebriated and still drinking are common sights on buses and trains.

However, people are still expected to be able to keep their wits about them when they are on public transport. So, if you are planning to visit Japan, get drunk, and go on a train or bus ride, make sure you can handle yourself and not create a commotion.

Surprisingly enough, while driving under influence is prohibited, it is legal to consume alcohol if you’re in the passenger seat of a vehicle.

3. There Are Numerous Places To Have A Drink Alone.

Many would raise an eyebrow at someone drinking alone since most societies encourage drinking with friends. In Japan, however, having a drink by yourself is the norm. No one would look at you differently if you sat by yourself in the bar with a drink in hand.

There are quite a lot of izakayas you can visit to enjoy a drink by yourself. The environment in an izakaya also allows you to chat with other customers or keep to yourself. Apart from the traditional izakaya, Japan has a variety of bars from the modern cocktail and hotel bars to the street-side tachinomi and yokocho bars.

This habit of drinking alone is also normalized in Japan because eating alone at a restaurant is a common practice in the country. So, it follows that many individuals would enjoy drinking while enjoying a solitary evening meal by themselves.

4. You Can Purchase Alcohol 24×7 At Convenience Stores And Mini Marts.

In Japan, alcohol is not just sold in bars. Access to alcohol is quite literally everywhere. You could pop into the local convenience stores or supermarkets and buy yourself some beer or sake. Japanese convenience stores provide a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, including beer, whiskey, and various flavored drinks referred to as “sawa (sour).”

Even purchasing alcohol is exceedingly simple. In most stores, all you are required to do is tap on a screen at the register to hit the “age verification button.” Most of the time, the clerk may not even ask to see identification.

Although not as common anymore, there was a time when you could’ve even purchased alcohol from a vending machine. Today, you’ll find such vending machines with beer bottles in them in remote areas or installed in hot spring resorts called Japanese onsen ryokan.

5. Alcohol Is Almost Always Paired With Some Food.

Since the drinking culture in Japan largely revolves around the popular izakayas, food becomes an equally important part of the social habit. But, whether you are in an izakaya or an upscale bar, you will receive a small appetizer (otooshi) as soon as you are seated.

Apart from the appetizer, most Japanese people will almost always have some snacks to accompany their drinks. Especially, in an izakaya, you get as much of a variety in food as you do in your drinks.

6. The price of alcohol is quite cheap compared to places like the UK

The cost of living in japan can be high depending on the area you choose, however the alcohol is relatively inexpensive. The average cost of a can of beer is around 200 yen (1.23 GBP / 1.47 USD). This means many Japanese can enjoy a drink to unwind without worrying about the price being too high. Of course if you visit a high end hotel bar / restaurant then you can expect to pay a fair bit more.

Top 5 Japanese Alcohol Drinks

1. Beer

The most popular beverage on the market in Japan is beer. In an izakaya, you will often hear the expression “toriaezu biru,” which means “Let’s start with beer!”

In Japan, beer is always suggested as a starter if you’re seeking a go-to beverage. You can request Nama Biru, or draught beer, which is a big bottle of beer that is typically half a liter in size and is meant to be shared among those seated at the table.

Popular Japanese beer brands include Kirin, Suntory, Asahi, and Sapporo.

2. Whiskey Highball

If any other alcohol comes close to beer’s popularity in Japan, it’s whiskey. In fact, Japan produces some of the finest whiskey in the world.

Whiskey highball is a mixture of whiskey and sparkling water. It was a popular alcoholic beverage in Japan during the 1950s and is currently experiencing a rebirth in eateries in Japan. Whiskey highball is even available in cans.

It is advised to add ice to this blend if you intend to consume it out of a glass. You can also add a fruit variety or fizzy soda to enrich a whiskey highball.

3. Shochu

Japanese distilled liquor known as shochu is made by fermenting rice, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, barley, or buckwheat. The base ingredient used largely determines the taste and quality of the shochu.

It has a very high alcohol content (typically above 25%) and is commonly served with soda, ice, or juice. You will find shochu among the most popular drinks served in an izakaya.

4. Umeshu

Umeshu is a Japanese liqueur created by soaking unripe, green ume plums in alcohol and sugar. It has an alcohol concentration of 10-15% and a sweet and sour flavor. Umeshu comes in a wide variety of flavors, and Japanese restaurants often serve them as cocktails.

Given how smooth and easy Umeshu is to consume, it is often labeled as “dangerous” because one can often drink too much of it without realizing it.

5. Sake

A Japanese drink that needs no introduction, sake is synonymous with Japan. This alcoholic fermented rice drink has a brewing process that is quite similar to that of beer. Sake is made using polished rice, koji mold, brewing yeast, and water.

You can have sake filtered, unfiltered, sparkling, or even serve it warm. It is best paired with a traditional Japanese meal and served at room temperature or chilled. Sake is available in nearly any store, pub, or restaurant.

Quick Tips On Japanese Drinking Etiquette

  1. Do not pour your own drink. Pour for others near you and wait for them to pour your drink.
  2. When pouring a drink for others, hold the bottle using both hands.
  3. Drink only after everyone has been served their drink.
  4. Do not drink directly from the bottle; it is meant for everyone at the table. Japanese culture is about sharing.
  5. Be aware of others around you. If you see your friend’s glass is empty, top them off. And wait for others to refill your drink.
  6. Toasting before you drink is common. Clink your glasses together and say “Kanpai!” (cheers/empty cup).

Conclusion

The Land of the Rising Sun functions at a whole new level when it comes to drinking. Alcohol is deeply embedded into the culture of Japan and makes for a really fun environment when you just want to enjoy your drink.

But the lax laws about intoxication and round-the-clock access to alcohol may also translate to a higher risk of addiction and other health issues. So, make sure you know your limits when drinking.

Enjoy your sake responsibly!


Common Questions about Drinking in Japan

Is drinking common in Japan?

Drinking is becoming less common in Japan. According to a survey by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2021,
about 30% of those who are in their 40s to 60s drink at least 3 times a week in 2020. However, only 7.8% of younger Japanese people in their 20s drink 3 times a week.

Do the Japanese like to drink?

There are many people who like to drink, especially over 40s. There are some famous nightlife districts including Kabuki-cho,
Susukino, and Nakasu across Japan. Japanese people like beer the most and they enjoy drinking beer outside at beer gardens during summer.

Does Japan have a big drinking culture?

Japanese drinking culture is still big, but younger people are less likely to drink recently. Around 20years ago, everyone was supposed to drink at
business drinking parties. Now there are many younger Japanese people who don’t drink alcohol and many of us don’t consider that rude.

Is drinking a problem in Japan?

For some Japanese people, drinking is a problem. According to a survey by Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2019, 14.9% of Japanese men and 9.1% of Japanese women drink amounts of alcohol that are likely to trigger lifestyle related diseases. Also it is said that around 1million Japanese people become alcoholics once in their lifetimes.

Is it rude to refuse a drink in Japan?

There are some elderly people who consider refusing a drink rude. But the idea of alcohol harassment(to force someone to drink) is
becoming common and many of us think it is no problem to refuse a drink.

What happens if you are too drunk in Japan?

If you are too drunk at a restaurant or a bar, someone is going to report it to the police. Police officers will put you in a police car and take you to a nearby police station. Then, they will put you into custody for less than 24 hours.

Are there a lot of alcoholics in Japan?

There are some alcoholics in Japan. It is said that 3.4% of Japanese people are suffering from alcohol use disorder. But compared to some
countries that have high rates of alcohol use disorder including Hungary(21.2%), Russia(20.9%), and South Korea and the United states(13.9%),
Japanese alcoholic rate is not very high.

Why can’t Japanese drink alcohol?

There are some Japanese people who are allergic to alcohol. As for those who have strong allergy, they have hives, hyperventilation, and headaches when drinking alcohol. It is said that
Japanese people tend to have inactive enzyme(ALDH) which helps get the alcohol out of our systems.

Is smoking allowed in Japan?

Yes, we are allowed to smoke in smoking areas. In 2020, the Japanese government enforced a new law that bans smoking in public places including schools, hospitals, restaurants, and offices and so on. The aim of this law is to prevent passive exposure to tobacco smoke.

Why do Japanese businessmen drink so much?

It depends on the person. Around 20 years ago, people tended to order a beer with the phrase “Toriaezu beer (I’ll start off with a beer.)”” especially at business drinking parties.
It was a kind of etiquette. Recently people order what they would like to drink. There are some people who don’t even order alcohol.

What is the etiquette for drinking in Japan?

First of all, we should not force anyone to drink. There are some etiquettes for drinking at business drinking parties. When younger people pour alcohol for their boss, they should hold the bottle with both hands. Also, younger people should have a seat that is close to the door of the room so that they can make an order for their boss.

Is drinking a big part of Japanese culture?

Drinking is still a big part of Japanese culture. But as younger Japanese people are less likely to drink, domestic shipments of sake, Japanese shochu (distilled spirit made from sweet
potatoes, rice, or barley) and beer have been decreasing.

What is the number 1 beer in Japan?

According to a survey by CCC Marketing, the number 1 beer is Asahi’s “SUPER DRY”in Japan. SUPER DRY is the most popular beer in all generations. Suntory’s “Kinmugi” comes next. Recently, low-carb beers are popular among Japanese people over their 30s.

What do you say when you take a shot of sake?

When it is the first drink, we say “Kampai (Cheers)”. Other than that, there is no particular phrase we should say when drinking sake. We just enjoy conversation over sake.

Is it rude to pour your own sake?

No, it is not rude. But some people consider people who don’t pour alcohol for their boss rude. When we find the boss’s glass empty, we should ask him/her “Would you like another drink?”

What is the drinking age in japan?

While drinking is extremely common in Japan, there is an age restriction in place, like in most other countries. The drinking age in japan is 20 years of age and over to buy or consume any sort of alcohol legally.

The drinking age in japan has been set at 20 since the end of world war 2 and is mostly followed by the Japanese youth (same as any other country, sometimes youths will drink sooner).

In convenience shops, you will be asked to confirm your age simply by tapping on a screen when purchasing alcohol. You will not be asked to provide any ID unless the owner suspects that you are below the drinking age of 20 years old. However, if you are a foreigner, you may be asked to present your ID card/passport.

For young Japanese people, particularly salary men who are renowned for working hard and drinking hard, drinking occurs all year long, from after-work gatherings to Hanami picnics.

If you are a foreigner in Japan and are considering drinking, make sure you adhere to the local rules. Know that drinking and driving is strictly prohibited and incurs significant fines. If you are caught intoxicated and underage, you risk being severely punished, expelled, and maybe facing a ban on returning.

Japanese police can hold anyone for 28 days without charges, this means if you get caught drunk and are under the drinking age in japan then you could end up spending a few weeks doing nothing but talking to police before being kicked out and forced to pay a high fee for the flight and fine.

What kampai means?

Kampai is just a greeting that we say when we start drinking. Because Kampai is written “”乾杯”” in Japanese and these two Kanji characters mean “”To dry a glass””, there were some people who
thought drinking up the first glass is a etiquette. Now most Japanese people consider that alcohol harassment.

Why do Japanese over pour sake?

Over pouring sake is called “Morikoboshi” or “Mokkiri”. They used to sell sake by measure and used glasses that were not large enough to contain 1Go(180ml) of sake. That is the reason why they started placing a plate or a wooden box under a glass so that they could catch the overflowed sake. There are still some Izakaya restaurants that offer sake in the “Morikoboshi” or “Mokkiri” style as a part of our culture.

When do Japanese drink alcohol?

Most Japanese people drink on Friday nights as the next day is a day off for them. There are some Izakaya restaurants that open until morning for people who should work at midnight including
nurses, construction site workers, and truck drivers.

Can foreigners drink in Japan?

Yes, of course foreigners can drink in Japan. Some restaurants, especially restaurant chains offer English menus for them. There are some foreigners who can drink alcohol a lot more than ordinary Japanese people. That is because Japanese people tend to have inactive enzyme(ALDH) which helps get alcohol out of our systems.

What is age of consent in Japan?

The age of consent is the minimum age to have a consensual sexual relationship. The age of consent is 13 in Japan. This has never been changed since 1907. Considering many developed countries set their age of consent over 15, Japan should discuss about increasing the number. (Like America prefectures (states) can set their own legal age of consent which is 16 years old).

What country has the highest drinking age?

The world high drinking age is 25 in some regions of India including Delhi. In India, people are not allowed to bring alcohol in public transportation. There are some regions in India that ban drinking itself.

What country has the lowest drinking age?

The world lowest drinking age is 15 in Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. Many countries set the legal drinking age 18 including some European countries. Even though the Japanese
government has enforced a new law that lower the legal age of adulthood to 18, people should be over 20 to drink alcohol in Japan.

What is the smoking age in Japan?

People over 20 are allowed to smoke in Japan. According to a survey by National Cancer Center Japan, 32.7% of Japanese males were smoking more than 21 tobaccos a day in 2003. In 2019, only 11.2% of them were smoking more than 21 tobaccos a day. As many Japanese recognize smoking as a bad health habit, there are some people who go to a smoking cessation clinic.

What alcohol is popular in Japan?

According to Minnano Ranking, the most popular alcohol is beer in Japan. Sake comes next. Japanese highball(whisky with soda) made a huge hit around 10 years ago. Japanese highball is still popular and ranked number 4.

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