Guide to the Japanese Spirit: Drinking in Japan

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Visitors to Japan who are open to enjoying a few alcoholic beverages are more than likely to enjoy Japan’s prolific drinking culture.

Travellers who are open to all aspects of the Japanese culture, especially those who are hoping to socialise with their Japanese counterparts will more than likely come into contact with the Japanese drinking culture.

Those who are travelling to Japan on business are definitely likely to encounter drinking situations as many work functions dedicated to strengthening team spirit and encouraging bonding between workmates will include dining out at restaurants, with alcohol almost always being present.

Japanese Drinking Etiquette

An important thing to remember when drinking with Japanese people, especially when out dining with bosses or other work colleagues is that one never pours alcohol for themselves. Instead, as a gesture representative of taking care of one another, people are meant to take it upon themselves to ensure the glasses of those around them are never empty. Politeness dictates that the person for whom the drink is being poured to hold their cup off the table.

When sake is being consumed, drinkers usually empty their cups before allowing it to be refilled by someone who has offered.

Common Alcoholic Drinks Encountered in Japan

Sake can be considered the national drink of Japan. It is a fermented rice wine which can be consumed either hot or cold. Sake is relatively easy to drink regardless of its alcohol content which usually ranges from 13% to 17% which is a little higher than regular wines.

Shocchu is a spirit similar to vodka with its 30% alcohol content. It is often added to sweet, flavoured soft drinks making a simple cocktail called chuhai. These are extremely easy to drink and can pack quite a punch in large doses. It is suggested that shocchu can produce quite the hangover but the truth in this argument may actually have more to do with the amounts consumed.

Beer is an extremely popular drink in Japan with the country making a few brands which are readily received in other countries such as Sapporo and Asahi. Because of its popularity, beer can be readily acquired from almost anywhere due to their availability in vending machines which are ‘open’ up until 11pm every night.

Wine is harder to acquire than other beverages as it is usually imported and present mostly in restaurants. Due to this, a high price tag often accompanies the bottles.

Japanese Beer Gardens

Those fond of beer, excessive drinking and putting the two together would be pleased to discover the existence of the Japanese beer garden. These are usually located on the rooftops of high buildings and are popular in the summertime. Large amounts of beer is usually consumed at beer gardens as explained by the existence of ‘bottomless’ jugs enabling guests to drink to their heart’s content.

In the wintertime, those craving for a beer garden atmosphere can try the Izakaya or Nomiya which are ‘drinking shops.’ These can range from small, family style bars usually frequented by regulars or large hall types which are usually reserved for rowdy groups of university students. These drink shops offer cheap snacks and beverages though they are of a small range. Most only offer beer, shocchu and whisky.