How to Say Cheers in Japanese (KANPAI & More!)

How do you say cheers in Japanese?


Cheers in Japanese is “Kanpai” or 乾杯. Kanpai represents a feeling of celebration and joy that goes beyond simple toasting. If you want to experience Japanese culture, you’ll want to remember this word. 

Press play to hear how kanpai is pronounced.

The Japanese like to go out to drink for fun, but drinking is also an important part of traditional culture. Sake, or Japanese rice wine, is often consumed as a symbol of purification in important events like weddings and new years celebrations. So, knowing “kanpai” is good if you’re out with friends…. or at more important events.

But, let’s learn a bit more about the word “Kanpai.”

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“Kanpai” Origin & History

The kanji characters that make up “kanpai” or 乾杯 show a deeper meaning to the word.

  • 乾 means dry
  • 杯 means a glass or cup.

These two kanji characters represent the idea that you will empty the cup or glass. This is why Japanese people say it before drinking. The idea is to finish the glass or cup of sake together.

Where does kanpai come from? The word for cheers in Mandarin is “ganbei” which sounds similar to “kanpai”. Since much of Japanese culture and language has come from China, this tradition and word is also likely from Chinese influence.

Within Japanese culture, toasting is not just a social gesture but has the connotation of expressing gratitude as well. Japanese people like to say a word before eating like “Itadakimasu” to show gratitude and this concept is also a part of drinking culture. The clinking of glasses and a shout of “kanpai” can be heard whether it is a formal gathering or a gathering among friends.

Now, kanpai aside, are there other ways to say cheers in Japanese?

Extra Ways to say Cheers in Japanese

1) お疲れさまです。

  • Otsukaresama desu.
  • Thank you for your hard work.

If you’re going out after a hard day at work or university you might want to say this phrase! Otsukaresama desu is one of the most common Japanese set phrases

In the drinking context, this phrase implies that everyone worked hard and now it is time to relax and enjoy the rest of the night. Japanese people tend to go out for drinks with their work colleagues, so drinking is an important part of socializing and partaking in company culture.

2) カリー

  • Karii 
  • Cheers

This is the regional equivalent of “Kanpai” from the Okinawa region. Okinawa has a distinct dialect different from mainland Japan. There is a strong indigenous native culture which has a special language separate from Japanese. These indigenous words have seeped into the vocabulary of Okinawans.

3) おめでとう

  • Omedetou
  • Congratulations

Instead of a typical “Kanpai”, you may also say “congratulations” instead. This could be an appropriate phrase for birthday parties or other important milestone celebrations.

So, now that you know how to say cheers in Japanese… it probably doesn’t hurt to learn a bit of drinking-related phrases, eh?

Let’s take a look.

Drinking-Related Phrases and Words

1) 飲もう

  • Nomou
  • Let’s Drink

The word for “let’s drink” is “nomou” in Japanese! Basically, the Japanese verb “nomu” (to drink) in the volitional form.

This is a very casual phrase that you can use with friends if you’re inviting them for a drink. As in, “let’s go drink!” “Nomou!” Make sure to use this with those of the same or lower social status as you. If you want to say the same phrase to a superior you can say “nomimashou” instead.

2) 酔っ払い

  • Yopparai
  • A Drunk

This is how you say drunk person in Japanese. It usually means that they are an alcoholic. It could work if you are joking around with your friends, but make sure not to use it in the wrong situation or it might be rude.

3) 酒

  • Sake
  • Alcohol

The word sake can represent the word “alcohol” or “rice wine” in Japan. In the past, there were few choices for alcoholic beverages.  This is why the word for alcohol and rice wine became synonymous in Japan. If you want to ask if something is alcoholic, you would say “osake desuka” even if it is a cocktail and it doesn’t look like rice wine.

4) 焼酎

  • Shochu
  • A distilled spirit made from grains

Besides sake, another traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage is shochu, a distilled spirit made from grains. It can be a lot stronger with an ABV of 20-30 percent and it uses ingredients other than rice like sweet potato and barley.

5) ウイスキー

  • Uisukii 
  • Whiskey 

Although not a traditional alcoholic beverage, the Japanese have become famous for its whiskey. Compared to Scotch, Japanese whiskey tends to be more mild and mellow.

6) ビール

  • Biiru
  • Beer

Beer is a popular drink in Japan with many people choosing to drink it over traditional sake. Japan has many old breweries like Asahi and Sapporo beer companies dating from the 1800s.

7) 居酒屋

  • Izakaya
  • Japanese Bar

This is a Japanese bar where you can find all kinds of food and drinks. The food menu is diverse with small dishes so that you can easily share. It’s designed to have dishes that go well with alcohol like small sausages, grilled skewers, sashimi, and more. It is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a vibrant and casual place to have some drinks.

8) カラオケ

  • Karaoke
  • Karaoke (sing-along)

During a night of drinking, karaoke is a popular place to go. There are small rooms equipped with karaoke systems where you can sing your favorite songs. The karaoke places also have drinks so you can continue your celebrations.

9) 二日酔い

  • Futsuka yoi
  • Hangover

In Japanese, a hangover is called “futsuka yoi”. “Yoi” means drunk and “futsuka” means two days. So the exact translation would be “drunk two days”. Japanese people believe that miso soup is a good food during hangovers!

10) 酔っ払う

  • Yopparau
  • To get drunk

This is the verb “to get drunk” in Japanese. If you are out drinking, this is a good word to know so you can describe how you or others are feeling! It’s also used in words like “yopparai” which means a drunkard.

Don’t Read This Last Bit…

Well… now that you made it to the end…

Safe to say you know how to say cheers in Japanese: kanpai.

Chances are, you just want to get plastered, hammered, smashed, trashed, wasted, sloshed, or bevvied while out in Japan, which is why you’re reading this.

But, on the off chance that you’re also interested in learning fluent Japanese… it wouldn’t hurt to know the Japanese drinking phrases I included above. Or, if you are looking for a good app or program… check out the P.S. down below.

Drink in moderation,

The Main Lingua Junkie

P.S. Interested in learning Japanese? This Japanese course for Absolute Beginners from JapanesePod101 is FREE for a limited time only. They plan to close it down in the future, but while it’s still open, give it a try. Click the image below.

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