“Kanpai!” 5 Facts To Know About Saying 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 say “kanpai” when making a toast?

Have you ever wondered where the saying “kanpai” came from? If there is any history?

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

1. Why Do People Kanpai Before Drinking?

Before we start talking about the reason why Japanese people use the word kanpai first let’s find out why people make toasts in the first place.

It all came from the religious ceremony where people used to drink alcohol as a tribute to God and for people who have died.

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

To Exorcise Evil Spirits

In the middle ages, it was believed there were demons in alcohol, so an evil spirit would possess you if you drank the alcohol directly. To get rid of the evil spirits before drinking, people started making sounds by clinking two glasses together to exorcise evil spirits.

Why would the sound of two glasses clink together help to get rid of evil spirits?

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

However, you should be careful not to clink glasses together with too much force, especially for wine glasses which are easy to smash!

To Test Drinks for Poison 

It is said that people used to make toasts as a way to check for poison. In ancient Europe, murder by poison was surprisingly common. The idea was to knocking classes with others with vigor and spilling the alcohol intentionally into other peoples’ glasses. They watched closely the enemy take a sip of his own drink and were reassured there was no poison.

If the enemy takes a sip of their splash-filled drink, it’s obvious there’s no poison inside. Or that was the theory anyway!

2. When did Japanese People Start to Make Toasts?

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

In the year 1854, the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty was made between Japan and England. The British Earl of Elgin went to Japan for extra negotiations of the treaty. He met Japanese diplomatic partner, Kiyonao Inoue, who is an important person in the origins of “kanpai” in Japan.

During the party, the Earl of Elgin asked Kiyonao Inoue to make a toast since British people always did it in England. 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 Saying “Down It!”

We write in Japanese “Kanpai” with the Chinese characters “乾杯”.

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

Putting these 2 Chinese characters together makes the meaning “empty the glass you’re drinking.”

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

4. It’s Bad Luck to Toast with Water in Japan

Normally people make a toast before drinking, but you must be careful not to make a toast with water.

Generally, Japanese people give offerings of water to the dead in the hope that they don’t get thirsty in heaven. Related to this habit, Japanese people believe making a toast with water means saying goodbye to people who have died. In other words, it’s like a farewell to the deceased.

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. Essential Tips for Toasting at a Work Party

For those who need to attend your company’s drinking party, bear in mind Japanese business rules of who is in charge of making a toast.
Generally, the following person makes a toast for everybody:
・The person in the 3rd highest 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 who should say “kanpai” at your company’s drinking party.

Now you know it’s been 164 years since the word “kanpai” was created in Japan. Ordinarily, Japanese people make a toast only once at the drinking parties, but if someone joins late, people sometimes make a toast again for that person.

It may be interesting as well to check the history about toast making in your home countries

YAE
Japan

 

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