The culture of Japan is so rich and diverse that you’ll find many facets to comprehend in just a few hours of sitting and reading.
When it comes to Japanese drinking culture, sometimes immersion is the only way to go.
People in such a country can leave you with a slight feeling of assimilation.
It is always prudent to know what to expect beforehand, and we’re here to help you learn the basics before you throw yourself out there.
Does Japan Have a Drinking Culture?
The drinking culture in the Land of the Rising Sun sits at a whole new level compared to other countries.
In fact, you’ll probably end up being entirely perplexed by the social norms associated with alcohol consumption in Japan.
1. Alcohol is everywhere.
In Japan, you can have access to a good amount of booze 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You can easily find a konbini (convenience store) or a vending machine having a wide range of alcoholic beverages.
Some places even have 24-hour stores that only sell booze.
The various types of bars in Japan are pretty similar elsewhere in cities around the globe.
They have nightclubs, beer halls and gardens, karaoke joints, cocktail bars, wine bars, hotel bars, and standing bars called tachinomi.
Their epicurean gastropubs are called izakaya, and their hostess bars are called sunakku or snack.
They also have yokocho, a general term for alleyways and sidestreets veering off busy vehicular access points.
Yokocho has pocket-sized establishments, sometimes tightly packed, offering food and drinks during after-office hours.
Among all of these sources of booze, you will find at least one izakaya, sunakku, or karaoke joint, even in the most rural areas.
2. Drinking in public is permitted.
In many countries, public intoxication is a crime.
However, in Japan, people have a lenient attitude towards drinking in public, which can be startling for many visitors.
It is legal to consume large amounts of alcohol out in the open, and it is alright to pass out drunk in the middle of a public street.
You will find people drinking in the oddest places where it is typically prohibited to consume or bring alcohol in other countries.
While it is frowned upon in a more ethical sense, you will find people drinking in commuter trains and city buses.
3. They like massive gatherings.
One of Japan’s most significant public drinking events is the annual hanami or the cherry blossom viewing celebrations.
During the hanami, large groups of families, friends, and colleagues gather in parks and consume vast amounts of booze and food under the cherry blossoms.
We even have personal experiences of drinking in the same cherry blossom park with different people each day for three consecutive days.
Other than the hanami, Japan also hosts a variety of massive gatherings where alcohol is freely accessible.
Do Japanese Drink After Work?
If you have never been to Japan, you would think that hours and days of merry-making and alcohol consumption do not mix well with work.
We can tell you now that drinking is commonplace in the work setting.
Drinking plays an essential role in Japanese society, as it is an avenue for initiating and solidifying relationships.
Drinking in Japan is a pastime so common that there is a Japanese-coined term for it, nominication.
Nominication is a blend word containing the Japanese word “nomu,” which means “to drink,” and the English word “communication.”
While getting drunk is generally a way to blow off some steam, it is actually the most acceptable way to act silly, vulnerable, or blunt around colleagues and superiors.
Restaurants and izakayas host a nomikai or a drinking party nightly.
They welcome employees from nearby business establishments to increase social bonds and enforce business deals over several rounds of alcohol.
More often than not, drinking with colleagues is part of the job for laborers in Japan.
What Is the Etiquette for Drinking in Japan?
Japan is a country featuring a plethora of customs and traditions.
Regardless if you’re visiting or migrating there, you’d want to learn the rules of engagement for daily social and professional activities.
As with many customs and traditions, you’ll also have to understand proper Japanese drinking etiquette if you plan to reside there.
The following rules will help you breeze through many after-office hours of drinking, primarily if your company practices nomikais daily.
1. Order food after the first round.
The drinking culture in Japan involves extending an ounce of respect before delving into the niceties of common ground.
When out in a nomikai, always wait until after the first toasting round before ordering appetizers, savories, or tidbits.
2. Get the same drink as everyone else in the first round.
In Japan, one way of treating everybody as equals is ordering the same drink as everyone else, especially in the first round.
Getting a beer is the most popular way to go.
3. Never drink from the bottle.
The Japanese people are huge on sharing, and drink serving sizes are much larger in Japan than in other countries.
Drinking directly from the bottle won’t match this culture of sharing.
4. Never pour your own drink.
If the first round reaches your table in a bottle and comes with several empty glasses, never pour your own drink.
Always pour for those around you and wait for them to return the favor.
There is no hierarchy for who should pour whose drinks, but you should show initiative to pouring for your superior.
5. Wait until everyone has been served.
Always wait to drink until everyone’s drink has already been served.
You shouldn’t drink ahead of anyone, especially your superiors or your boss.
Think of it as how you would start a meal, where you wait for everybody to be seated and for everyone’s food to come before you eat.
6. Kanpai before the first sip.
Toasting is the same in Japan as in other countries.
Before you take the first sip, always remember to kanpai by clinking your glasses with your colleagues.
Be careful about using drink-toasting terms from other countries, as they might be equivalent to offensive Japanese words.
While “cin cin” (pronounced “chin-chin”) is the accepted term in Italy, it is the colloquial term for “penis” in Japan.
As long as you remember all of these rules, you’ll always have Japanese drinking etiquette to spruce up your nominication.
Japanese Drinking Culture: Associated Issues
Since drinking in Japan is a highly-regarded culture, locals consider discussions of problems related to alcoholism taboo.
The following is a list of some issues associated with alcohol consumption and how the Japanese go about it with their daily lives.
1. Underage Drinking
The Japanese are known for their unwavering honesty.
However, they seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to underage drinking.
Although the law clearly states that the codified age for alcohol and tobacco consumption is 20, enforcement is muddled.
When you buy booze from a konbini, all you have to do is confirm that you are 20 by tapping on a screen by the cashier.
It’s ridiculously easy for teens to get beer from vending machines.
What’s more, they don’t really have to hide since public drinking is perfectly acceptable.
2. Alcohol Abuse or Dependency
Aside from a hangover, nausea, blurry vision, and impaired judgment, too much alcohol can lead to stress, addiction, and violence.
While some of these topics end up striking a conversation, the worst effects seem to sway away from any discussions.
If you want to be an alcoholic, Japan is probably one of the best places to visit.
With round-the-clock access to booze and a variety of places to partake, you’ll surely end up with alcoholism if you didn’t have an ounce of control.
3. Association to Low Birth Rate
Japan has had extremely meager birth rates in decades.
Although many economic factors directly affect the waning decision to start families, the absence of partners and parents at home can be an indirect cause.
Young mothers get tired of caring for their children while their husbands are probably dead drunk out on the pavement.
4. Driving Under the Influence
Fortunately, Japan does not seem to have a surge in DUI-related accidents and cases.
The laws concerning alcohol intoxication are a bit lax, and enforcement doesn’t seem to alter underage drinking.
However, most Japanese drivers are smart enough to know that once you get caught driving under the influence, you’ll never get the chance to drive any vehicle ever again.
You can drive to a bar and get drunk, but you better get a cab on your way home if you want to keep your driver’s license.
The Japanese drinking culture is one of the many drinking cultures around the world that requires some thought.
Embedding yourself into an utterly Japanese setting requires doing some things that are otherwise not normal where you’re from.
The drinking culture in Japan is a whole other topic with a similar uniqueness to it.
It sits between having a sense of community and battling the toxic culture that is somewhat part and parcel of a typical Japanese professional environment.