6 Ways to Say Cheers in Japanese (Plus Japanese Drinking Etiquette and History)
In an apartment, around a tiny table crowded with snacks. In a rowdy bar at the heart of Tokyo. In a company-sponsored party at a luxurious restaurant.
In any of these places, at some moment, you’ll be expected to raise your liquor-filled glass and participate in a loud, cheerful toast with your drinking buddies.
Here are six ways you can say “cheers” in Japanese and join native speakers in the festivities.
- How to Say “Cheers” in Japanese
- Japanese Drinking Etiquette
- History of Drinking in Japan
- Common Drinks in Japan
- And One More Thing...
How to Say “Cheers” in Japanese
1. 乾杯 (かんぱい) — Cheers, bottoms up
Derived from the Chinese word for “cheers,” the Japanese kanpai is composed of 乾, meaning “empty,” and 杯, meaning “cup” or “glass,” so the full saying means “empty glass.”
You can certainly down your drink in one go, especially if it’s contained in a small vessel like a お猪口 (おちょこ) . However, there’s no need to force yourself, and you can just take a modest sip after the toast has been made.
乾杯 works in nearly all contexts, formal or informal.
2. お疲れ様です — Good job / Thank you for your work
When お疲れ様です (おつかれさまです) is translated literally, it means “You are tired.” In Japanese culture, it’s important to celebrate achievements and victories, big or small. It’s showing respect to one’s efforts in completing a task.
When a grueling workday is over, お疲れ様です is always said by co-workers to each other. If you were to go out drinking with them later, this phrase is also a fitting and polite way to toast to everyone’s hard work.
You can also use the past tense: お疲れ様でした .
3. おめでとう — Congratulations
It could be your buddy’s birthday. Perhaps a couple is celebrating their anniversary. Maybe a co-worker finally got that promotion he’s been working for all year.
If there’s anything to celebrate or praise, then use the toast おめでとう to acknowledge one’s success.
If you want to be more formal, you can say おめでとう ご ざ い ます . This one would be more appropriate if you’re with seniors and workplace colleagues rather than friends.
4. 飲みましょう (のみましょう) — Let’s drink
Straight and to the point. This is a formal way to encourage everyone, without preamble, to get sipping.
If there’s nothing to really discuss or celebrate, and you’re all just hankering to start drinking, I’d wager this one is a good “cheers” choice for the situation.
5. カリー (かりー) — Cheers (Okinawan)
Lying south of Japan, Okinawa Island sports a rich culture and history that distinguishes it from mainland Japan.
The Okinawan dialect is known as 沖縄語 (うちなーぐち) and is quite distinct from standard Japanese. This, alongside Okinawa’s unique alcohol-crafting and drinking history, justifies the need for a special Okinawan cheers.
カリー is a friendly expression that wishes happiness and good fortune. You may also say カリーさびら .
6. 万歳 (ばんざい) — Banzai
You likely already know that 万歳 (literally “to last for 10,000 years”) can be a more general expression of “cheers” in Japanese. However, it can also be used in the drinking scene as a happy way to toast and encourage further celebration.
It’s not the best or most typical expression to use during the very first round of drinks. Rather, it’s better used when the festivities are further along and folks are more content and at ease (from the happy juice or otherwise).
Japanese Drinking Etiquette
If you know anything about Japanese culture, you’ll know that formality and respect are two things you’ll have to consider in basically any social activity. Yes, even when drinking (sorry to be a bit of a party-pooper).
When drinking with company, especially with work colleagues, it’s customary for everyone to get the same first drink. This is usually sake or beer, as opposed to a cocktail or hard liquor. The consistency makes the first round of sharing and pouring drinks easy and quick.
You should use both hands whenever you are pouring or receiving a drink. When holding the bottle, ensure that it’s properly balanced (so you may need to hold the bottle’s neck and belly at the same time). When holding your cup or glass, one hand is typically touching the bottom while the other is on the side.
Fill up others’ cups—and not your own. That’s right, your priority is to make sure everyone else’s glass—and not yours—remains filled. Someone else will return the favor and top off yours. Furthermore, if this is the first cup and expected toast of the party, don’t take a sip until everyone else has received their drink.
If you’ve had enough to drink, just let your cup remain full. Anytime someone else notices that your cup is empty, it’ll most definitely and promptly get filled again. A full cup will keep you safe from further pours. You may also order a non-alcoholic drink for yourself, to cue that you’re moving on to another beverage.
When it comes to peer pressure, be aware of how pushy you or someone else can come off. It’s typical for Japanese folks to initially refuse a drink or refill one or two times before acquiescing. If you’re attempting to pour for someone and they refuse insistently, then that probably means they’re done.
A good way to learn about Japanese drinking etiquette is to watch it in action. If you’re not in Japan—or you want some practice before actually heading out with friends or co-workers—try watching Japanese TV shows and movies. You may want to use a program like FluentU for additional learning support.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
History of Drinking in Japan
Not much is clear about the origin of Japanese alcohol. It’s assumed that the crafting of rice-based drinks was possible from around 300 BCE, when rice fermentation methods were brought over from China.
What we know generally as sake is called 日本酒 (にほんしゅ) in Japan. Originally, sake was a frequent, sacred offering to the 神 (かみ) , or “spirits.” It then became a drink reserved for royalty, before it later spread into the common populace.
Non-sake alcohol was introduced much later. While winemaking seems to have been accomplished in Japan prior to Western influence, beer and beer-crafting was introduced around the 17th century by Dutch traders.
In current times, drinking is very much ingrained in everyday Japanese culture. At surface level, it’s a time to “let loose” and not be so beleaguered by the country’s social customs and rules.
Japanese natives can drink in private and even some public spaces, but it’s popular to go to a casual 居酒屋 (いざかや) bar to nibble on snacks while sipping.
Drinking parties known as 飲み会 (のみかい) are essential in the Japanese workplace, as they’re seen as bond-building occasions for employees, bosses and business partners. It’s also common to hop along to an afterparty, known as 二次会 (にじかい) .
Common Drinks in Japan
While sake and beer are the usual drinks that mandate toasts and cheers, they’re not the only things you can glug down in Japan.
There are plenty of Japanese drinks that can quench your thirst in ways alcohol from other countries can’t. Indeed, even the ubiquitous beer has a special taste when brewed in Japan.
Here are just a few of the popular beverages commonly used for toasting:
- 酒 (さけ) — a general term to describe alcoholic beverages
- 日本酒 (にほんしゅ) — wine made from fermented rice; known to non-natives as Japanese sake
- ビール (びーる) — beer; popular Japanese brands include Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi Dry
- ウイスキー (ういすきー) — whiskey; popular Japanese whiskey manufacturers are Suntory and Nikka
- ワイン (わいん) — wine; popular Japanese winemakers include Hombo Shuzo and Sapporo
- 焼酎 (しょうちゅう) — shochu (distilled spirit made from rice, barley, potatoes and other ingredients)
- 梅酒 (うめしゅ) — umeshu (a brandy made by steeping Japanese plums in liquor for a period of time; tastes sweet and sour)
- 泡盛 (あわもり) — awamori (distilled liquor made from rice; originally created in Okinawa)
- 酎ハイ (ちゅうはい) — chu-hai (a highball made by mixing shochu, fruit juice and sparkling water)
With this post, you’ll be prepared to raise your spirits while sipping your, well, spirits!
But of course, while you’re having fun, make sure to observe any social formalities as necessary. Good impressions will help to keep things smooth and light-hearted.
And One More Thing...
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