You Won’t Survive Japanese Drinking Culture Without This Key Phrase: Toriaezu Beer

By Lisa Wallin
Updated: April 30, 2024

In the realm of Japanese drinking culture, where every sip tells a story and every pour holds significance, one phrase reigns supreme: toriaezu beer. This seemingly simple term encompasses a rich tapestry of history, social dynamics, and culinary tradition. Join us as we delve into the origins, evolution, and cultural significance of toriaezu beer, exploring its roots in post-war Japan, its role in workplace camaraderie, and its place in the vibrant tapestry of Shinbashi's izakaya scene.

The Origins of Toriaezu Beer

Japanese Drinking Culture

Toriaezu beer, translated as "beer for now" or “beer to start with,” emerged as a quintessential phrase in Japanese banquets during the nation's rapid economic growth in the postwar period of the 1950s. By the 1980s, the phrase was considered universal.

Unlike the traditional heated sake, beer offered a refreshing alternative, symbolizing a shift towards modernity and efficiency. Its popularity soared, becoming synonymous with the quintessential first round of drinks at gatherings because it could be served to large groups very quickly, ensuring an immediate start of the evening’s festivities. 

As refrigeration technology became widespread and post-war reconstruction fueled economic growth, beer cemented its status as the beverage of choice for the hardworking Japanese populace. 

The Cultural Significance of Toriaezu Beer


Beyond its mere consumption, toriaezu beer embodies deeper Japanese cultural values and societal norms. It fosters a sense of belonging and unity among groups, as everyone partakes in the same communal beverage. In workplace settings, toriaezu beer serves as a lubricant for social interactions, easing tensions and fostering camaraderie among colleagues. 

However, as societal preferences evolve and alternative options gain popularity — including low and non-alcoholic beverages — the rigid adherence to toriaezu beer has loosened, reflecting shifting drinking habits, especially among younger people. These days, it’s not uncommon for a group to order highball, chuhai (a shochu highball), or Oolong tea for the first round.

Exploring Shinbashi: A Hub for Toriaezu Beer

Japanese Beer

However, there are some areas where toriaezu beer culture still stand strong: Shinbashi, one of Tokyo’s bustling business districts, is a vibrant hub for toriaezu beer enthusiasts. The district boasts a myriad of izakaya, each offering a unique ambiance and culinary experience. 

Traditional establishments like DRY DOCK, a nautical-themed bar and restaurant where the fourth generation takes beer drinking to new levels, offer visitors the opportunity to compare the taste of crisp, dry beers served in different containers and learn how drinking vessels, temperature, and other factors can significantly impact flavor profiles. 

Pro tip: If you visit Japan, you’ll likely want to try Asahi’s Super Dry, the world’s first dry beer. Drink this history-defining beer at DRY DOCK, where it is kept and served in ideal conditions for the best drinking experience. 

Meanwhile, modern gastropub Brasserie Beer Blvd unveils a novel way to experience beer. Bartenders here demonstrate how the foam — sometimes considered superfluous or even a waste product to some beer drinkers — can enhance the flavor of the beer by removing the carbonation and creating a head with a thick, cream texture. The technique, colloquially known as the “Matsuo Pour,” was developed by Kohei Matsuo, one of Japan’s top beer pourers.

Those who want a chance to try the original Matsuo Pour, should visit BIER REISE 98 — also in Shinbashi — owned by Kohei Matsuo himself. Here, the counter seats offer a stellar view of this magical beer-pouring process in action. 

Shinbashi and its many izakaya beckons patrons with their storied history and convivial atmosphere, inviting visitors to partake in the timeless tradition of toriaezu beer.

Tip: If you’re specifically looking for beer, head to one of the many Japanese beer gardens that pop up in major cities around the country between May and September.  

Embracing Japanese Drinking Culture: Useful Phrases


As we navigate the labyrinth of izakaya and imbibe in the spirit of toriaezu beer, it's essential to familiarize ourselves with other quintessential phrases and customs. From the ubiquitous kampai to the gracious otsukaresama desu, each expression holds a unique significance in Japanese drinking culture. As we raise our glasses and savor the moment, let us embrace the customs and traditions of Japanese drinking culture by trying out some of these expressions ourselves.

Kampai: A simple toast that can be translated as “cheers,” the word literally translates to “drink your cup dry” and encourages everyone to drink up (though not necessarily chug their drinks down) and enjoy the night.

Otsukaresama desu: Most closely translated to mean “thank you for your hard work” in English, this is a great phrase to use with coworkers after a day at the office. It creates a verbal break between working time and drinking time. 

Sumimasen!: Most often used as “excuse me” to either make a light apology or gain someone’s attention, it’s perfectly alright to use it to call a server to your table. While less relevant at places with digital menus and convenient bell buttons on tables, it’s still a handy expression you never know when you’ll need.


Otooshi: Otooshi are small appetizer-like dishes that double as a table charge and are served to every customer. Most Japanese menus will indicate whether the restaurant serves otooshi, or the waiter might say, "Otooshi desu!" when bringing the dishes. This one is important to know in case you wonder why your bill has an extra charge. If you spot お通し on the menu or your receipt, then this is it. 

Osusume wa arimasuka?: Izakaya menus especially can be a little bit overwhelming to read. You can ask the staff for recommendations using this simple sentence.

Kore wo kudasai: If you’re not sure how to say a certain food in Japanese, simply point at the menu item and use this expression, which means “this, please.”

Torizara wo onegaishimasu: If you’re sharing dishes as a group, you’ll need some torizara, or small plates for individual use. Most places will provide a batch of these at the start of your meal, but it may need refilling as the night goes on.

Mizu wo kudasai or ohiya wo kudasai: In this context, both mizu and ohiya refer to drinking water, so use either of these expressions when asking for some rehydration between alcoholic drinks.

Get more tips on how to order at Japanese restaurants from our list of must-know Japanese phrases.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Lisa Wallin
Writing professionally for 10 years, Lisa first found her love for writing in Japan’s dynamic music scene. From there, she began to explore culture, travel, cuisine and craftsmanship. When not chasing stories and bleeding ink, she drinks entirely too much coffee, visit shrines, explore Japan’s music scene and eat her way through the country.
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