Survival Japanese: Ordering A Beer!
A key language lesson to learn in Japan is how to order beers at a restaurant!
Are you coming to Japan but haven’t started studying Japanese yet? Well, here’s one lesson you should learn – how to order a beer in Japanese!
Step 1: Finding a bar
First, head out to a local izakaya (居酒屋), a casual restaurant that is perfect to order small dishes to be shared with your drinking companions. You’ll find izakayas all over Japan, ranging from cheap chains to classy establishments with private rooms.
As you enter the floor staff will welcome you with a very loud and enthusiastic いっらしゃいませ, which translates to ‘welcome’.
Step 2: Order your beer
Japan’s five domestic beer makers, Asahi, Kirin, Suntory, Sapporo and and Orion dominate 92% of the market, so you will have access to a lot of choices. Japanese people usually start by drinking draft beer as soon as they’re seated which you can order by saying:
とりあえず生ビルください。(I’ll start with a beer please.)
Toriaezu means ‘for now’, ‘nama biru’ is draft beer and ‘kudasai’ stands for please in this context. You can even shorten it to just ‘biru’ but the waiter might ask you what kind of beer you would like. If your Japanese is as good as your waiter’s English, you would better avoid this situation.
Most common chains make the effort to include a few English translated menus but if the menu is in Japanese you will have to take a leap of faith and make a random choice.
If you’re not a beer person, that’s perfectly fine, you’ll find that izakaya offer an array of beverages. Here’s a few sample words to use:
日本酒 – Nihonshu
梅酒 – Umeshu
焼酎 – Shochu
ハイボール – High ball
ウィスキー – Whisky
ジン – Jin
ワイン – Wine
コーラ – Coca cola
お茶 – tea
烏龍茶 – Oolong tea
ジュース – Juice
お水 – Water
Step 3: No toast, no beer
Fresh beers are on the table, you’re with your good friends, it’s time for a loud toast! In Japan, it’s important to cheer first with a loud 乾杯 and then have a drink. It’s considered rude to start drinking before doing so.
If we take a closer look at the etymology, 乾杯 is constructed with the kanji ‘to dry’ and ‘cup (of alcoholic beverage)’, so it literally means ‘let’s dry our cup’.
Step 4: More beer
Once you’re all set with your first beer, or any other drink, you can keep them coming with a very convenient expression:
お代わりください。(One more, please.)
Usually a quick look at your table should suffice for the waiter to know what to bring you. If they look confused, however, you’ll have to step in. ‘Okawari’ meaning ‘another’ can also be used for food too.
If you would like to switch to another drink, master the following phrase:
Bonus: Toilet break
Down a few drinks, and you will probably need to take a trip to the toilet. If you can’t find the sign anywhere, you can ask your way around with a very easy sentence:
すみません、トイレはどこですか。(Excuse me, where is the toilet?)
You might be interested to know that the Japanese language has three words for toilet. 便所, 手洗い, and the more common トイレ.
If you don’t feel like speaking Japanese at all, a simple “トイレは…” will do the trick as well.
Step 5 Paying for your beers
Time’s up! You’ve had your fin and are ready to head home, or maybe continue the party to a second bar called a 二次会.
Whichever path you choose, before you leave you will have to ask for the bill. To do that you can say:
お会計ください。(The bill please.)
In Japan, it’s common to split the bill equally and to avoid discussing over who ate what. Once you’ve settled up you can let the waiter know you appreciate the meal by saying:
ごちそうさまでした. (Thank you very much (for the meal).)
Photo: Nori Norisa