How to drink like a Japanese millennial

Claire Heginbotham
3 min readAug 3, 2021
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

One of the first things I learned to do when I arrived in Japan was how to drink alcohol.

True, it’s not the hardest thing in the world to glug down, but it, like many things in Japanese culture, has a bunch of social nuances that you need to learn.

I learned this first lesson from a nice young guy who was visiting the Airbnb I was volunteering at. He’d arrived late from Tokyo after booking a last-minute room, and he seemed troubled. Naturally, we offered him a cup of sake, and through our conversation, my first lesson began.

How to avoid overdrinking due to peer pressure

In Japan, drinking parties (飲み会) are common. They even have all-you-can-drink restaurants! Held among co-workers and sometimes friends, there are two rules.

  1. Fill all cups: If your cup is near empty, someone else must fill it. That person is usually a junior or younger than you. If someone senior to you fills your cup, it’s seen as quite an honor.
  2. No point-blank refusal allowed: It’s a huge slap in the face to the other guy if you refuse to let your cup be refilled. It’s not something you do with acquaintances, and certainly not with your CEO.

So… how do you not get stupid drunk constantly?

It’s pretty simple in theory but a bit tricky in practice — you leave your glass full.

In Western culture, we’re used to finishing a drink and leaving it like that unless we want another. That kind of attitude is going to get you WASTED in Japan. It’s also going to get you wasted back home if you’re dealing with peer-pressure-induced drinking. There’s a better way.

Take the drink, say thanks, pretend to sip, and put it down on the table where everyone can see it. And leave it there. This is the easiest way to slow down your drinking and make sure you don’t end up over a toilet at the end of the night.

Of course, when you’re already tipsy, it can be pretty hard to resist picking that drink up again!

You drink with friends or colleagues, but never alone

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Claire Heginbotham

Tech and travel copywriter who writes content, kickass websites, and emails that convert. Low key Star Trek fan.