How to Drink Sake The Right Way

Learning how to drink sake
Jin Kichi, Hampstead, London" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Ewan-M

According to Shintoism, the national religion of Japan, sake is a sacred drink gifted to us from the gods and should, therefore, be prepared, served, and consumed as per tradition. Downing sake shot glasses at your nearest cheap sushi restaurant is the wrong way to go about things, and so is drinking it out of a wine glass. So let us show you how to drink sake the right way.

The Sake Handbook: All the information you need to become a Sake Expert!The Sake Handbook: All the information you need to become a Sake Expert! – In this 248-page book you will learn everything there is to know about Japan’s national drink.
5 Piece Osaka sake set from Oenophilia5 Piece Osaka sake set from Oenophilia – Includes 1x tokkuri bottle and 4x ochoko cups. Made from quality and durable ceramic.
Sake glass set with warmer/coolerSake glass set with warmer/cooler – This glass set includes 4x ochoko glasses with a holding vessel that can keep your sake either warm or cold.

How to drink sake in a social setting

Drinking sake straight out the bottle late at night when no other people, or gods, are watching is perfectly fine and acceptable but not when in a Japanese social setting. While being a foreigner does give you an occasional free pass from the good people of Japan and the gods themselves, you should still know and adhere to sake drinking etiquette as much as possible.

Learning the proper way of drinking sake starts with familiarizing yourself with the components of a sake set, followed by utilizing said set in a social setting, as I will explain below.

Pouring etiquette

The first rule in learning how to drink sake in a social setting is that you never pour your own drink. Always let someone else pour for you.

A Japanese girl drinking sake from a masu.
Perke from Tokyo, Drinking masu zake by perke in Tokyo, CC BY 2.0

If among friends, you can hold your ochoko with one hand while someone is pouring for you. On the other hand, if the person pouring for you is of senior status, such as your boss or your wife, hold your ochoko with both hands as a sign of respect. Also, don’t look around while the other person is pouring.

The same set of rules applies to the person doing the pouring as well. If pouring for someone of senior status, hold the tokkuri with both hands as a sign of respect while not looking around.

Drinking etiquette

When your ochoko is full, first wait for the others to be topped up before drinking. And remember, that ochoko you are holding looks like a shot glass, but that doesn’t mean that it is a shot glass. In other words, don’t down your drink with one shot – instead, take sips.

Toasting etiquette

If making a toast at a work function, then it’s important to remember that the rim of the cup of junior employees should always touch underneath the lip of senior-level employees’ cups.


Learning how to drink sake the correct way is not difficult. Not only does it impress your Japanese friends but also the gods. More importantly, it shows respect for Japan and its culture.

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