What Is The Legal Drinking Age In Japan? You Would Not Expect The Answer!

By Alice Ross | FOOD & DRINK

Jul 17
legal drinking age in japan

In Japan, age matters. From the first day a person goes to school until he gets his first job and reaches retirement, age is connected greatly with their status. In Japan, 20 is when a person is considered to be an adult and is honored in a special celebration known as "Seijin no Hi”. So, does it mean this age is also the legal drinking age in Japan?

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For those who are from countries where drinking starts at the 18 or even 16 like Spain and Italy, Japan’s age restrictions for drinking may be quite surprising. Yes, 20 years old is the legal age for drinking in Japan and one must have a valid ID. 

buying alcohol japan

When buying alcohol, showing your ID is required. Just like in other countries, one might be stopped for buying alcohol if they look too young – an awkward situation but could be flattering for some!

The underage drinking law in the country made official in 1922. Most countries reduced their consumption of alcohol since WWII. Japan was able to increase it that they had to control it as early as 1922. Alcohol, generally, is huge in Japan. With it increasing on younger people as well.

​Drinking Culture in Japan

Japan is a great place for those who like drinking; one reason is that public drinking and intoxication are acceptable. So, to say that alcohol is a big part of their culture shouldn’t come as surprise.

However, this is not to say that you can drink uncontrollably and anyway you want while in Japan, learning some drinking etiquette goes a long way!

Kanpai!

kanpai

There are some rituals that have you consider before getting the bottoms up. Don’t pour a drink for your own glass; a host or your friends have to do the honor and you must do the same thing in return! You’ll hear kanpai often, which means "cheers" in Japanese.

Different from the countries in the west, going out to simply drink alcohol is not very common in Japan. Drinking usually comes with a meal or a light snack called orotsumami. Otsumami is normally served on a plate and made of beans, small rice crackers, or dried squid.

Japanese beer

While the country’s national food is sake or rice wine, the most commonly ordered in bars is lager-beer. The most popular brands include Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory. They’re worth trying out!

Look out for brands that are cheaper – many of them are not a real beer but a malt-flavored drink. While they may taste and look like cheap beer, they will not give you the same experience! When it comes to sake, going for a cheap part would be a great option.

Drinking On the Streets and Out In Public of Japan

As mentioned earlier, it’s common to see people drinking and drunk in public. However, you have to keep in mind that some parks may apply some rules about how people can drink or eat in their facilities, but generally it is okay to pop open the bottle almost anywhere in the country – but then again, make sure you’re not in a private property where there are rules to follow.

Japanese salary man drunk on the train

There are times when you will see people getting drunk inside a moving train in Japan. Normally, it is older men and they are usually wearing suits and holding a bag as they normally just came out from work. That being said, as a tourist, it is best to avoid this kind of situation. 

Good Places to Drink in Japan

Most restaurants offer alcoholic drinks, so, if you’re not very comfortable to drink in front of the public’s eyes, then you don’t have to do it. One of the most popular and most fun places to have some drink if you are with a group of friends is in a karaoke box. Not only you can drink but, of course, you can sing your heart out.

The drinks options at karaoke box are normally broad and filled with brightly colored beverages, some spirits, and of course a selection of beer. Western-style drinking places are usually limited to some high-priced mock pubs normally found in the bigger cities and not always the best option.

karaoke box

A great selection of alco-pops known as chu-hai is also widely available. You can get them from a convenience store like 7-Eleven, Lawsons, Family Mart, and Circle K, or in a bar or restaurant. Chu-hai is made from barley-distilled spirit, rice, or sweet potatoes.

Whiskey is popular among Japanese men, while scotch, on the other hand, is considered to be the best and is extremely desirable. A lot of Japanese whiskeys are continuously becoming more and more popularity in western countries. Suntory and Nikka are two popular brands. Yamazaki and Yoichi are considered to be two of the best whiskeys in the whole world.

Serving the Drink in Japan

Depending on where you choose to drink, whether it is in a bar, restaurant, or izakaya, you will either get your drinks poured by the waiter for you, or you are the one going to be in control of pouring your drink. If the latter is the case, then you have to know that there is a process that you need to follow.

pooring drink

When drinking in Japan, it’s considered polite to fill the glasses of everyone else and not yours. You are supposed to wait for someone to pour a drink in the glass, normally after you doing the same thing for them. When you fill the glass of your companion, don’t be surprised if they refuse. This indicates traditional Japanese humbleness or a form of formality. Unless someone is repeatedly and fervently refusing you to pour a drink on them, they are only being polite and you must pour them a drink anyway.

And as mentioned earlier, when you fill your companion’s glass, they will normally do the same thing and pour you a drink. So, be careful if you want to stop drinking already, be careful in filling out your friend’s glass and again, you can always leave the glass half full to indicate that you no longer want to drink.

​Partying Like a Local in Japan

japan salary men

It is also pretty common for locals in Japan to party way late when it involves drinking. It’s common for many salary men to stay out very late with their bosses and coworkers. So, don’t be surprised to see them sleeping on the train. Many of them spend a short at home before they have to leave to return to work in the morning only to do the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t matter whether it is weekdays or not.

The bottom line is that you have to be ready to stay out later than you would are probably used to when if you really want to experience the nightlife and local scene in Japan. Of course, this should depend on the people you are going out with and what kind of people they are, but it is definitely not rare to be out on a very late night when having some nice drink at night.

japan night life

Considering that you are in legal drinking age in Japan, and you actually enjoy drinking, you will be happy to know that the night scene in Land of the Rising Sun is one of the best in the world. By knowing some tips and important information, you are just a step away from having some of the best travel experiences you will ever have.

Hopefully, this article has been helpful for you and if you enjoy this article, then browse through our blog to read more other helpful travel tips. Also, don’t forget to share this with your friends on social media! If you have other questions or any tips we forgot to add in this content, let us know in the comment below!

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    About the Author

    Hi, I’m Alice Ross, a long-term traveler who left the corporate world to travel the world. I chose to live life on my own phase and live day by day while immersing myself in new experiences, new knowledge, and new people in a different walk of life I met along the way.

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