“Kanpai!!!” A Japanese toast

Nov 7, 2019


When you go out drinking , normally we say “cheers” in English. How do you say cheers in Japanese? What situations do Japanese people say cheers? To tell you the truth, Japanese people don’t often say cheers (Kanpai) when drinking.

The toast for Japanese people varies from situation-to-situation. Here’s a few common drinking occasions where you’d hear a toast.

  1.  Drinking with your partner
  2.  A night out with friends
  3.  Going out with coworkers
  4. On a date
  5. Drinking with family

Other sayings you might hear while drinking

Often times the first drink is made with a light draft beer. Japanese people say “Toriaezu, nama-de.” Toriaezu means ”Let’s just start off.” Nama means “draft beer.” Nama is formed by omitting “beer” from “nama beer.” De just means “that, please.” All together, “toriazu, nama-de,” means “let’s start off with a light beer.”

If you have lived in Japan for long enough, you may know that Japanese people love beer. Many Japanese people tend to buy the same drinks as their boss to give them the impression they have something in common. 

Commonly, a ubiquitous term used in Japanese is “otsukaresama desu.” There’s a younger generation of Japanese couples (around 20-40 years-old) who don’t say kanpai. Instead, they opt to say “otsukare-sama.” otsukare-sama means “good job today,” or “you must be so tired after such a long day.” Japanese people use this word to express care for each other after a long day of work. This is used in many situations such as: when you are done with work for the day, to someone who is raising children 24/7, or after studying for a tough exam.

 

Here’s an example of otsukaresama desu being used conversationally.

Husband: “I’ve had a long day. I’m exhausted.”

Wife: “You must be tired, good job today. Will you share a glass of wine with me? Let’s toast.”

Both raising their glasses, they clink the wine glass together and say:

Husband & Wife: “Otsukare-sama” (good job today for both of us)

When Should You say Kanpai?

 

When you go out drinking with someone, commonly you’ll hear or give a toast; in general, English speaking people say “cheers.” Living in Japan, perhaps you’ve thought, “what is cheers in Japanese? what do Japanese people say when they toast?” I’ll tell you.

Here in Japan, we say “kanpai(乾杯).” It’s the Japanese “cheers.” If you’ve toasted with Japanese people in Japan, you may be already familiar with this word, kanpai. What are you actually saying when you say kanpai? In the following sections we’ll discuss the several meanings and when it gets used.

“Cheers” originated in ancient Europe. Back then it was a popular belief that the devil existed inside your alcohol. To get rid of the devil, people started clinking their drinking glasses together; this is called a toast. It is also said that poisoning was common in ancient Europe; as such, clinking your glass during a traditional toast allowed one to split the poison between cups. If someone hesitated to drink, likely the cup was poisoned and they were the culprit. What about in Japan? What reasons do Japanese people have to toast their glasses?

It all started with a Japanese person called Kiyonao Inoue who was the vassal of Edo shogunate. When he attended a dinner party after the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty (between England and Japan) in 1854, he shouted “kanpai!” raising his glass to say something when the conversation stopped and everyone was quiet. Fortunately, this unique word kanpai was well-received, everyone laughed. Since then, it’s been common for Japanese people to say kanpai when they toast.

As there are several situations to make a toast in Japan, let’s see how Japanese people toast. Let’s figure out when, and when not, to say kanpai. 

2.Drinks with a partner

 

If you are dating or married, how often do you toast when drinking?

For Japanese drinkers, toasting depends on who you are and who you’re with. Take a look:

 

When do you say kanpai:

  • Younger couples tend to say kanpai when drinking.
  • Couples who are raised abroad tend to say kanpai or cheers as they drink.
  • Couples raised around parents who say kanpai are more likely to say it.

 

When not to say kanpai with your partner:

  • Older Japanese couples are often shy so they don’t often say kanpai. This is not always the case, but it is common.
  • Some Japanese couples who weren’t raised hearing kanpai won’t say it.

3.A drink between friends

 

When you go out drinking with your Japanese friends, do you say “kanpai” as you toast?

Here in Japan, saying kanpai during a toast depends on the following situations:

 

When is it appropriate to toast (kanpai!)?

  • Friends in Japan say kanpai to celebrate their friends accomplishments. Here’s a few examples:
    • When your friend is newly engaged, kanpai to that!
    • Your friend has found a new partner.
    • A friend of your’s is pregnant.
    • Your friend bought a new house.
    • Your friend got promoted, toast to that.
    • It’s your friend’s birthday.

 

Note: Close Japanese friends with often say kanpai as they drink. If they are drinking with foreigners, “cheers” would be said in replacement of kanpai.

 

When not to say kanpai with friends:

  1. If your friends are sad or depressed, don’t say kanpai when making a toast–drink quietly instead.

4. Drinking with coworkers

 

Like the previous examples, when and when not to say kanpai is largely dependent on the situation. At work, there are a few situations where saying kanpai is acceptable:

  • At a welcome party or farewell party say kanpai.
  • After a long day’s work, say kanpai over drinks with your coworkers
  • When a work project is successful, say kanpai to that.
  • If your coworker gets a promotion, toast to them with a kanpai.

 

Don’t say kanpai when:

  • If something bad has happened to your coworker, don’t say kanpai. Instead drink quietly.

5. Drinking on a date

 

Drinking at dinner with your date and when to say kanpai:

When Japanese people have a dinner date and there is good chemistry between each other, they tend to say kanpai when making a toast.

When Japanese people have a lunch or a dinner date and want to celebrate their date officially, they tend to say kanpai when making a toast.

 

Drinking at dinner with your date and when to not say kanpai:

When a Japanese person goes out for a dinner date or blind date with people they are not close with or the date looks like it’s going badly, they tend to say just “otsukare-sama” as noncommittal word instead of using the word kanpai or cheers.

 

Of course, not all Japanese would react the same, but since the word kanpai express the happy or satisfied emotional feelings in general, Japanese people naturally select the word for cheers.

 

6. Drinking with family

 

Drinking with a Japanese family and saying kanpai:

When Japanese families have something to celebrate, they tend to say kanpai when drinking.

 

・Celebrate a promotion.

・Celebrate a family member’s birthday.

・Celebrate dad’s retirement.

・Celebrate admission to new school.

・Celebrate recovery from illness.

・Celebrate New Years.

・Celebrate an engagement.

 

Drinking with a Japanese family and not saying kanpai:

 

Most of Japanese families don’t say kanpai for a daily lunch or dinner. They just say “itadaki-masu” which means “let’s eat” instead of saying kanpai.

Japanese families don’t say kanpai when something unfortunate happened related to the family and they need to drink.

 

Do you know that there is a special way to make a toast after funeral?

Japanese people normally have dinner and drinks served after a funeral by the chief mourner. When people start drinking, the major chief mourner make a speech and lead people to lift their glass. Instead of saying kanpai, Japanese people must say “kenpai(献杯)” to departed soul. Kanpai and kenpai sounds very similar so please be careful of the pronunciation. Also, when you lift the glass in this situation, you must not lift the glass too high but instead lift it at around chest height.

 

When out drinking with different people, what do we say? Kanpai? Cheers? Or nothing?

 

Saying kanpai depends on the situation. When you go out drinking with Japanese people, please think carefully about what the “gathering” is for. Is it just a cozy gathering with your Japanese friends? Did someone get promoted in your office? Or is it to cheer up some Japanese people after an something unfortunate happened? When Japanese people say kanpai it normally means something happy, same as cheers. However, if you say kanpai after someone experienced an unfortunate situation, it’s not polite and rude so you should be really careful.

 

If you’re saying cheers unconsciously in your daily life, many of you may be surprised that we all need to be careful in saying kanpai or cheers in Japan for each situation. Do you think it’s way too complicated? Don’t worry. Just remember that Japanese people tend to say kanpai for happy occasions. If something unfortunate happened, just say nothing and watch what your Japanese friends, colleagues, partners, etc. would say for that situation or you can directly ask someone close to you if it’s appropriate to say kanpai or not.

 

Hopefully you all can say kanpai this weekend!

YAE

Japan

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