Are You Breaking These Basic Drinking Rules?

Is there proper etiquette for drinking sake?

Drinking is easy, right?

Just fill up your cup, gulp it down and get the party started!


While it may not seem like it on the surface, in Japan, there are customary rules to follow when drinking in a social setting.  And this not only applies to sake, but any kind of beverage.

Here are a few things to keep in mind so as not to offend anyone while drinking:

Pouring: In Japan, it is normal to pour drinks for others.  Usually, as part of their culture, women pour for men and lower ranking individuals pour for senior ranking ones to name a couple of situations. You should not let your drinking mates pour their own drinks. Make sure to hold the bottle with both hands while pouring and fill the glass all the way up. If you run out, get another bottle and top it off. Over-pouring, especially when there is a glass placed into a wooden masu升(wooden container for drinking sake), is a gesture conveying prosperity to the cup holder. Only partially filling the glass would be an insult. Also pouring your own drink could make you seem greedy and self-centered. So if you want more to drink, just go and pour for someone else. They will then reciprocate the gesture.

Receiving a drink: When someone offers to pour you a drink, you should take a sip from the cup first to make space that will allow the offeror to fill it and convey goodness to you, then both hands should be used when raising your glass to receive the pour. You can slightly tilt the cup to make it easier for them to pour. It is impolite to refuse someone’s offer to pour for you. You should at least take a small sip from your glass so that they can pour a little into your glass. Planning ahead is good idea, because if you know you’re nearing your limit, you should keep the glass a full as you can. That way you don’t have to drink as much.

Starting: Knowing when you can start drinking is a key factor in showing respect to others.  First, check to see that everyone on your table has a drink in front of them. If someone does not have one, make sure to wait until it arrives, or if you’re really thirsty, order one for them.  Ok, now that that’s taken care of, you need to know who the most senior person is in terms of age or status on the table. Once you determine that, you wait. That’s right, you wait.  Don’t even touch your glass. No one starts drinking until the highest ranked person reaches for his or her glass, says “kanpai” (乾杯 – cheers; technically mean “dry glass”) or “otsukaresamadeshita” (お疲れ様でした – used as a toast, but technically means “I am tired” or “Good job”), and starts drinking. This could be challenging for those of us who just want to start drinking. So if you know it’s going to be big office event where the wait could be long, or you’re too impatient, go somewhere before the party where you can get some practice “renshu” (練習) drinks and maybe even some snacks in beforehand.

Stopping:  After you have had enough to drink, make sure to leave your glass full. You need to resist the urge to drink it because you feel it would be a shame to waste your drink. I had a hard time with this at first, but after experiencing some wicked hangovers after trying to finish every last drop, I learned my lesson.  And trust me, if someone sees that you are holding an empty cup, they will make it a point to fill it. It’s not that they want you to get sloshed, but they just want to make sure that you're a part of the party and can enjoy the event.

Hopefully, this information was helpful and will give you a better understanding of what to expect so that you won’t offend anyone…And don’t let the small size of the glass fool you.  That small glass filled up multiple times can do some damage if you are not aware of the drinking customs.

After reading this I know you are thirsty.

Now go out and use what you learned!

(Otsukaresama deshita ~ Thank you for your hard work)


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