Japanese Booze Jargon: Part 1

July 18th, 2013By Category: Food & Dining

Like anything technical or grand, a special jargon has evolved with the art of imbibition. It’s true in Japan as it is back home. Some words have a well-worn history and, like 晩酌, point to how booze has seeped into the fabric of Japanese culture. More recent words tend to be wasei-eigo hybrids. Today, let’s start with some basic vocabulary that will help you indicate your drink preferences and successfully navigate a night on the town. I’ll throw in some fun ones at the ends too.


Photo courtesy of Blood and Wasabi

1. Deciphering the menu

居酒屋 (izakaya) : Traditional Japanese bars that serve tapas-style dishes. Many have tatami rooms, or 座敷 (zashiki), which may or may not be separated with sliding shoji doors.

ジョッキ (jokki) :  The Japanese equivalent of a pint glass, jokkis are the non-standard restaurant standard. That is to say, while the jokki is ubiquitous, volume varies from place to place. In addition to these variations, some places divide into 小 (shou), 中 (chuu), and 大 (dai), while other places simply carry a smaller グラス (gurasu) size. I know, right.

生ビール (namabiiru) :  Draft beer

瓶ビール (binbiiru) :  Bottled beer

缶ビール (kanbiiru) :  Canned beer

お通し (otooshi) : When you sit down and order beer or sake, an otooshi, or small appetizer, sometimes tags along. Not always free, don’t be surprised if there’s an extra ¥100, 200 or, at nicer izakayas, 500 bump on your bill.


Belgian beer with salad otooshi

つまみ (tsumami) :  In more traditional drinking establishments, tsumami (which stems from the verb meaning “to pick up” or “to pinch”) follows the otooshi. These are side dishes that go well with drinking. Edamame is the staple.

とりあえずビール (toriaezubiiru) : This is an expression you’ll hear from many an izakaya-goer. Meaning “I’ll have a beer for now” or “Beer for starters,” it’s the first thing that comes out of many people’s mouths upon sitting down.


2. There’s more than Asahi

クラフトビール (kurafutobiiru) :  Craft beer, microbrew

地ビール (jibiiru) :  Local beer, microbrew


ALT craft beer found in Tohoku


黒ビール (kurobiiru) :  Literally “black beer,” these are dark beers like porters and stouts.

ブルワリー (buruwarii) :  Brewery, most often of the yeast and barley variety

醸造所 (jouzousho) :  Brewery, more generally


3. Miscellaneous

飲酒 (inshu) : The consumption of alcohol

晩酌 (banshaku) :  This is an alcoholic drink that accompanies dinner, though I’ve also heard it used to describe a post-work drink more generally. It can also refer to the act.

キッチンドリンカー (kicchindorinkaa) :  “Kitchen drinkers” are those who drink while cooking. Historically, these were women, so it’s sometimes translated as “alcoholic housewife.” To be sure, kitchen drinkers of the male variety are on the rise.

迎え酒 (mukaezake) :  Alcoholic drink used as a hangover cure

「人を知るは酒が近道」(hito wo shiru ha sake ga chikamichi) :  This is a Japanese proverb, which translates to “Sake is the nearest way to know a person.”


Anyway, just a few key words and expressions to help with the flow of future booze-spiked nights. Next time we’ll delve into the lexical world of craft beer. If you’d like to share any of your own, join me in the comments section. Kanpai!

Author of this article

Shaun Jiro Smith

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