5 Facts You Must Know about “Kanpai” for Cheers in Japan

Apr 1, 2018

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When you go out for drinking with your Japanese friends, have you ever wondered why all the Japanese people are saying “Kanpai” for making a toast?

It may be a small issue  that in Japan people use the word “Kanpai” instead of cheers. However, are there any facts about why or how the word “Kanpai” came in to existence to be used in saying cheers?

This article will show you why Japanese people say “Kanpai” for making a toast and the history of the word “Kanpai”

Maybe most of Japanese people don’t know this fact so if you have chance to make a toast with your Japanese friends at the bars, you can share your new trivia to your Japanese friends.

1. Why People Make a Toast Before Drinking?



Before we start talking about the reason why Japanese people say “Kanpai” for making a toast, let’s find out why people make a toast anyway.
It all came from the religious ceremony that people used to drink God’s alcohol for God and also for the people who have died.

People say there were 2 main reasons to make a toast and let’s see what these are.



1. Trying to exorcise the evil spirits



By the middle ages, people believed that there was a demon in  alcohol, so people would be possessed by an evil spirit if they drink alcohol directly.In order to get rid of the  evil spirits before drinking, people  started to make a sound by clinking 2 glasses together to exorcise evil spirits.

Why would the sound  of 2 glasses clinked together help to get rid of evil spirits?

People believed the sound of “Ting!” by clinking 2 glasses would scare away the evil spirits.

However, you should be careful not to make too much sound while clinking 2 glasses, especially for the wine glasses. These glasses are very sensitive and could easily  crack all th.



2.Make sure the drinks are safe without any poison


People used to make a toast as well trying to check if both glasses don’t have any poison inside. In ancient Europe, many people tried to kill each other by poisoning so people tried to clink 2 glasses hard to spill the alcohol intentionally to other peoples’ glasses trying to avoid getting poisoned. They checked if others were not enemies by watching them to first put their mouths to the glasses.

If they drink, it’s obvious there’s no poison inside the glass.
As a part of self defense, people took extra care at that time.


2. When did Japanese People Start to Make  Toast?



It was around the end of Edo Period that Japanese people  first started to make  toast.

In the year of 1854, Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty was made between Japan and England. British Earl of Elgin went to Japan for extra negotiations of treaty and met Japanese diplomatic partner, Kiyonao Inoue and he was the key person of the word “Kanpai” in Japan.

During the party, Earl of Elgin asked Kiyonao Inoue to make a toast since British people always did it in England. Somehow Kiyonao Inoue suddenly stood up and said “Kanpai” loudly, all the British people liked the word  he used, and everyone couldn’t stop from laughing. It was a hit.

Why did Kiyonao Inoue create the word “Kanpai” for making a toast? Since he already knew about the manner of making a toast before drink from China at that time,  he was able to think quickly and came up with a new word.

Let’s see more about the word “Kanpai”



3. Japanese Way of “Drink It Up Please”



We write in Japanese “Kanpai” by Chinese characters as “乾杯”

”乾” means empty the glass
”杯”means sake cup

Putting these 2 Chinese characters together makes the meaning as “Empty the glass what you’re drinking”

Kiyonao Inoue created this word “Kanpai” as a manner to drink everything for making a toast.


4. Bad Luck for Making a Toast with Water in Japan



Normally people make a toast before drinking but you must be careful not to make a toast with “Water” in this case.

Generally, Japanese people try to make the people who have died to drink water  with the hope that they don’t get thirsty in heaven.
Related to this habit, Japanese people believes making a toast by water means saying good bye to people who have died. In other words, it’s like to announce the farewell to the deceased.

It’s obviously bad luck to choose water for making a toast in Japan. If you’re at the drinking parties with your friends or attending business dinner with clients but can’t drink any alcohol, make sure to order soft drinks before people make a toast.

5. Important Tips of Making a Toast at Company’s Drinking Party



For those who need to attend your company’s drinking party sometimes, bear in mind about Japanese business rules of who is in charge to make a toast.
Generally, the following person make a toast for everybody:
・The 3rd high position of the company
・The CEO of the company

It may depend on the rules of each company so if you’re curious about it, ask your colleagues of who should say “Kanpai” at your company’s drinking party as a record.



Now you know it’s been 164 years since the word “Kanpai” was created in Japan. Normally Japanese people make a toast only once at the drinking parties, but if someone would be joining late, people sometimes make a toast again for that person as part of consideration.

It may be interesting as well to check the history of making a toast at your home countries.

Fast learners are always curious about everything and never stop learning, like you are!



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