Party Line: Having a Good Time with Your Japanese
By Matthew Coslett
On August 31, 2017
One of the first cultural experiences that most visitors first experience when they come to Japan is the drinking party. Most workplaces will have a party within the first month of their new staff beginning work. For the Japanese, this is often seen as a good way to get to know the new worker without the inconveniences of the rigid Japanese formality rules getting in the way.
Most parties are held in the local 居酒屋 (Japanese pub) that are so beloved by Japanese workers. Everyone will sit down with the more important crowded to the top of the table, then to start the party someone will yell 乾杯 (cheers) and the party will get into full swing.
As a guy who is interested in kanji, one of the things that always intrigued me about this toast is that it is made up of the kanji for dry (乾) and the counter for glass (杯). Here’s to having a dry glass not filled with any of that wet beer!
Big drinkers would do well to remember the second character in 乾杯. The ～杯 counter is a really useful one for ordering drinks. For example, ワイン一杯飲もう, is a simple and common way to say let’s drink a glass of wine. Naturally, this is an essential phrase to know at a party!
Of course, if you drink too many 杯, you may hear another word being used: 酔う (getting drunk). This is another incredibly useful kanji to learn as there are lots of interesting words created from 酔. Some of these have some really colorful imagery such as 酔っ払う (to be drunk) and 二日酔い (hungover).
If you drink far too many, you may even come across my favorite Japanese word: 千鳥足 (so drunk they can’t walk properly). As this word literally translates to one thousand bird legs, it always conjures up a hilarious image of a bird with a beer in hand tottering on its gangly legs to me.
With all these words for drunkenness, it is not surprising to discover that Japanese culture genuinely frowns on not having a good time.
If you drink way past the point of being千鳥足, you may come across another word 泥酔 (absolutely wrecked). This is a word to dread, as some people post up images of really drunk people doing stupid things on social media with 泥酔 as the title!
With all these words for drunkenness, it is not surprising to discover that Japanese culture genuinely frowns on not having a good time. Regardless of whether one actually is having fun or not, it’s best to put on the appearances of having a blast. You will often hear generic words like 楽しい (fun), 面白い (interesting) or even stronger words like にぎやか (full of energy) or 盛り上がる (thrilling) used even when the party is a total blowout.
If, however, you do need to let rip and express your displeasure, make sure you have the right audience. くだらない (dull), ださい (lame), うんざり (fed up with it) or むかつく (sick of it) are all useful ways to talk about a party that is not going so well. Be forewarned that the final two can be considered really disrespectful, but if you are going to break protocol, why not go the whole way?
Ultimately, regardless of whether the party is 面白い or ださい and whether you are 泥酔 or not, isn’t really all that important. For many Japanese, the party functions as a means to let off some steam that can be built up at work. There is even a word for the type of free communication that goes on at these parties after a few drinks: 飲みニケーション made up of the Japanese word for drink (飲む) and the Japanese katakana version of communication (コミュニケーション).
So time to dry that glass, practice your strong Japanese and get some 飲みニケーション done. Who knows? At last train when you drunkenly sing your way to the karaoke bar with a coworker who had seemed cold and indifferent until that night, you may have taken your first step towards truly understanding Japanese culture.