10 Expressions You Need to Know before Drinking in Japan

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media
Published in
6 min readFeb 13, 2024

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Gathering around food and drinks in an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) to smooth relationships (including and especially work-related ones) is an important part of Japanese culture. It is often nicknamed ”nominication,” a portmanteau word derived from the verb “nomu”(to drink in Japanese), and “communication”.

Joining Japanese people at the izakaya is a good way to break the ice and get to know them better. If you go to small, five- or six-seat places, you may even make new friends. However, there are some words that are useful in these situations that are usually not taught in school or in your typical Japanese language manual. Here are 10 useful expressions and concepts that may come handy for your first (or next) drinking experience in Japan.

1) Nomihoudai (飲み放題), Tabehoudai (食べ放題)

If you are going to an izakaya with Japanese people to celebrate something, chances are they will have made some research about the best courses and this often includes nomihoudai, and sometimes tabehoudai plans as well.

Nomihoudai (from 飲む [nomu]: drink, and 放題 [houdai]: as much as you want) is, as the name indicates, an “all-you-can-drink” plan. For a limited time (two- or three-hour plans are most common), you can order as many drinks as you want from a limited menu. Some places will ask you to finish your current drink before they bring you your next one.

Tabehoudai (from 食べる [taberu]: eat) is basically the same but for food.

2) O-tooshi (お通し)

O-tooshi is often a source of misunderstanding for foreign tourists. People unaware of it often complain that they have been charged for a dish they did not even order. It is a reaction that I can understand: most izakayas will serve you a small dish, called o-tooshi,” as soon as you are seated, before you even order anything. The dish is often underwhelming, and you may refuse it if you wish, but you will have to pay for it anyway: o-tooshi is the local way to express table charges, usually around 500 yen per person.

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Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media

Living in Japan since 2011. I love interviewing inspiring people.