Category Archives: Drink

5 essential Japanese table manners

Dinner at a sushi restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo,

Do you you really want to disappoint this guy? (photo by Joe deSousa)


The self-proclaimed aficionado parked at the sushi bar adds more wasabi to his little soya sauce bowl turning the mixture into sickly green mud. He then drops a piece of sushi in the mixture. I see the delicate construction brake apart as the rice soaks up more and more of the sauce. The sushi chef, neck veins twitching, his expression frozen in an impossible display of self-control, as he watches his guest with a smile. Sushi and other imported Japanese foods have gained much popularity in recent years. Discovering new food horizons is more than just sampling the exotic, it is also respecting the culture around which it developed. The best strategy to do so is to quietly observe Japanese people around the table learning from your own mistakes. For the less fortunate, here are a few useful pointers in order to not offend a Japanese host.

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Understanding the Japanese Izakaya

Neighborhood izakaya (photo by Fabian Reus)

Neighborhood izakaya (photo by Fabian Reus)

Japanese cuisine first went global when sushi shops spread throughout the urban dining landscape. Today, ramen shops are rapidly taking over the restaurant scene of large cities across the world. The next big thing to come out of Japan is the izakaya. Izakaya is spelled 居酒屋 in Japanese which translates to sake shop where you can settle yourself. The first izakayas were nothing more than extensions to sake shop where people could sit down and drink the sake they had purchased. As drinking always involves some eating in Japan, these places soon became as renowned for their food rather than their drinks. Izakayas or aka chochinas they are sometimes referred to by the red lantern that hang outside the entrance, are an ubiquitous part of Japanese culture that needs to be understood in its Japanese context.

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Surviving a night of drinking in Japan

A hard day's night (photo by Kitty)

A hard day’s night (photo by Kitty)

A commonly used expression in Japanese is futsukayoi, or second day drunk which means having a hangover. Drinking is an important part of the cultural fabric of Japan. It is done to socialize with friends and family, to forge bonds between co-workers, to seal business deals and to determine the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. Some Japanese love to drink, others might enjoy the occasional drink, while others simply cannot tolerate a drop of alcohol. Yet, there comes a time when all need to partake in this traditional aspect of Japanese life. In fact, people who choose not to drink at all may be looked down upon with mild suspicion. Drinking might be be felt as a social obligation but is also one of the rare moments when these same social rules can be broken.

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Snacking and Drinking on the go in Japan


Tidy shelves at the konbini.

Everyone will tell you, it is rude to eat while walking in Japan. However, it does not mean that the frantic pace of Japanese life slows down during meal times. From experience, Japanese people, salary men in particular, tend to eat very fast. Moreover, snacking throughout the day instead of observing formal meals is quite common in Japan. During the Edo period, street food, chief among them sushi stalls, occupied a large place in growing cities landscape. This tradition is still alive in Japan’s largest cities where people often seek a quick bite during the few minutes of respite they have from the day’s work. Continue reading

What in the world is shochu?


Sato: premium Shochu from Kyushu.

When it comes to Japanese alcohol, there is a lot of confusion about the use of the term sake. Sake in Japanese is a generic term that designates alcohol and does not refer to Japanese rice wine in particular. In Japan, rice wine is called nihonshu which means Japanese alcohol. Japan also traditionally distills alcohol from various fermented starches in ways similar to the one used to make vodka. The product of this distillation is called shochu (lit. burned alcohol) and it has, in the last few years, taken a growing place in Japan’s drinking habits.

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