Japanese Don’t Know What Sake Means

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Don’t be surprised if you order sake in Japan and you receive the “look,” because Japanese don’t know what sake is. Let us explain:

Everywhere else in the world, and so in English, “sake” refers to alcoholic fermented rice drink from Japan, but not in their home country. In Japanese “sake” means all alcoholic beverages. So, you simply ordered “alcohol.” To avoid embarrassing yourself, ask for nihonshu.

Nihonshu, the rice wine, is enjoyed only during appetizers such as sashimi, and it is never combined with big and heavy meal. It can be served at room temperature, warm and chilled, depending on the season or your preference. The traditional nihonshu is poured into smaller vessels or ceramic flasks called “tokkuri” and small drinking cups “choko” or wooden box named “masu.”

According to Japanese etiquette, you always pour nihonshu for others, but do not fill your own cup. Wait for somebody else to pour your rice wine.

Another thing, it is very impolite to drink before everyone is served. After everybody has its own drink, raise your glass for a toast and say “kanpai!” aka cheers.