Understanding Japan’s drinking culture

27 Mar 2019 in Discover Japan

Master the rules of Japanese drinking etiquette with an insider bar tour!


Did you know you should never refill your own sake cup? That it’s frowned upon to take a sip before everyone has a drink in their hand? Or that the art of drinking is seen as an essential communication tool for advancing careers?

In Japan, having a drink is a unique chance to get to know people outside formal relationships – especially for work colleagues, who engage in less workplace chit-chat than in the West.


If you’re looking to build closer links with Japanese business partners or you’d simply like to get to know the locals, you’ll need to master the art of nominication. This hybrid word combines the Japanese word for drinking “nomu” and the English word “communication” and it’s viewed as a precious skill in Japan!

First-hand experience

This spring, Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka is offering guests a special insider’s introduction to nominication, with a local guide offering you tips and advice as you tour different drinking joints in the northern Tokyo neighborhood of Otsuka.

Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka


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Guided by your OMO Ranger, you’ll enter local bars unknown to most tourists, learn the subtleties of social drinking, and have plenty of opportunities to practice your new-found communications skills with locals!



Drinking with others

So, what are the rules of thumb you need to respect when drinking with Japanese people?

Most importantly, it’s considered impolite to fill up your own glass. In Japan, drinks such as sake or even beer are often served in a big bottle or jug and each individual is given their own small cup or glass.



It’s customary to pour a drink for others in your group but never pour your own. If you’d like a refill, simply offer to pour for your neighbor, who will reciprocate by filling your cup. If you don’t want to drink anymore, leave your cup topped up, although it’s polite to take a small sip if your neighbor insists. Another tip: a senior person within the group (such as your boss) will expect you to fill their cup first.

Other faux-pas to avoid? Make sure you wait until everyone has been served before you take your first sip. It’s traditional to kick off the evening with a toast of “kampai” and for everyone to take their first drink together.


Note that the Western toast “chin-chin” is to be avoided at all costs as it’s a euphemism for male genitalia in Japanese!

A range of drinking dens

When you sign up for the nominication tour at Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka, you’ll learn more than Japanese drinking etiquette; you’ll also get an insight into the different types of drinking establishments in Japan.


Otsuka is one of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets, a place of narrow streets lined with small bars, sake joints and craft beer specialists. Throughout the evening, you’ll discover 3 different places, including a tachinomiya, a stand-up bar where drinking takes precedence over sitting down, and a typical Japanese izakaya pub.

The latter are famed in Japan for their nomihodai, 2 to 3-hour sessions during which you can drink as much as you like for a set price – although you won’t have time to sample these on your guided tour!


In most izakaya, alcohol is accompanied by light snacks. These are the Japanese equivalent of tapas, with common dishes including wasabi green peas, surume dried shredded squid and spicy edamame soy beans.


Alcohol in all its forms

During your tour, you can also taste a range of different Japanese alcohols. Why not start with a beer? While the lagers Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi are household names, Japan has a burgeoning craft beer scene, and you’ll be able to sample the like of dark ale, bitter and IPA.



No drinking night would be complete without sampling sake, better-known as nihonshu in Japan. The famed rice-wine can be served warm or chilled. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not order shochu, a distilled liquor often made from sweet potato or barley. Or how about umeshu plum wine or a Japanese whisky?

Spring season

OMO Rangers will be running the nominication tour at Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka until the end of May to coincide with spring, the season when Japanese people traditionally begin careers or change jobs. It’s a unique chance to sample Japan’s drinking culture from the inside.

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If you can’t make it, you can still experience insider tours of the local bars, sake joints and restaurants any time of the year by signing up with an OMO Ranger.



The concept at the heart of Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka is to let you discover Tokyo as only the locals know it!

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