There is etiquette for enjoying sake.

Japan is a country that highly values courtesy and hospitality. The etiquette for sake drinking is also based on this set of values. However, these manners are by no means formal. Take them as hints for drinking sake in a more appropriate way.

  • -Pouring

    Pour with both hands by holding the tokkuri in your right hand and supporting the bottom with your left hand. When pouring for someone on your right side, do not turn your right wrist over to pour. Your right hand will be facing down and that is considered poor manners.

    • When offering sake to someone, offer it when their cup is less than one-third full. Do not offer when your companion is in the middle of drinking, or when there is enough sake in their cup.
  • -Receiving

    Hold the cup lightly in one hand, and support the bottom with the other hand. When the sake is poured, take a small sip before putting the cup on the table. If your companion's cup is empty, offer to pour sake for them in return.

    • When someone offers you sake, take a small sip of the sake remaining in your cup before holding it out to the person pouring (you do not need to finish all of the sake in the cup).
    • -Don't shake the tokkuri.
      It is poor etiquette to shake the tokkuri to check whether there is any sake left. If the sake has been warmed, shaking the tokkuri will cool it down.
    • -Don't peek into the tokkuri.
      It is poor etiquette to try to look into the tokkuri to check whether there is any sake left. It does not look good to onlookers.
    • -Don't drink straight from the tokkuri.
      A tokkuri is for pouring sake into smaller vessels. Even if you are the only one drinking sake, do not drink from the tokkuri directly as you would from a beer bottle.
    • -Do not blend the contents of several tokkuri.
      Do not combine the sake into one tokkuri even if there are several tokkuri with only small amounts remaining. This affects the temperature and flavor of the sake.

Pouring and receiving sake while spending time with someone is a great way to enjoy delicious sake together, and these become important moments for developing friendship.

  • Ask for water when you drink sake.
    Ask for water along with your sake, as you would when having achaser along with drinks with a high alcohol content or a strong flavor.The water drunk alongside sake is called yawaragi-mizu.'Yawaragi' is Japanese for a calm state of things.By drinking water at intervals, the next sip of sake is even more delicious.It's also very useful to avoid getting sick from drinking.

Useful Sake Terminology at Restaurants

  • How much sake is in there?
    The volume of containers used for sake are based on units of measurement that were determined in the early Edo period (early 17th century). Ichi-go is about 180ml, and this volume was used to determine the volume of everything from tokkuri, to one Issho bottles, to sake casks.

Words Related to Sake and Izakaya (Japanese Pubs)

  • Guinomi (ぐい呑み)
    This is a type of sake cup. Usually larger than cups referred to as choko, they hold a hefty amount of sake. They are typically made of porcelain or ceramic.
  • Katakuchi (片口)
    A bowl-shaped vessel with a mouth for pouring along the rim. A traditional Japanese vessel, it is also used in cooking. As with a tokkuri, sake is poured from the bottle to the katakuchi, and then from the katakuchi to the choko.
  • Morikiri (もりきり)
    This is a drinking style in which sake is poured to purposely overflow into a dish or masu placed underneath the drinking vessel. After the sake in the drinking vessel is finished, pour the overflow into the cup to drink it.
  • O-aiso (おあいそ)
    Asking to calculate the bill, this is also called okaikei and okanjo. Take your bill to the staff and say oaiso and they will calculate the total for you.
  • O-choshi (お銚子)
    A vessel with a long handle. Since it is used as a vessel for pouring sake into cups just like a tokkuri, some people call choshi to mean tokkuri.
  • O-hiya (お冷)
    Water. The same as yawaragi-mizu that goes along with sake, or a chaser drunk alongside whiskey, this term refers to water given freely at Japanese restaurants.
  • O-toshi (お通し)
    A snack given before you order your meal. It is also called saki-zuke. The type of food given depends on the restaurant.