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A question about pouring drinks

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I will appreciate if anyone could provide some insight into Japanese drinking culture. Specificaly it's pouring part.
Who would normally pour drinks in a senpai-kohai situation? What if there are many senpais? In a situation i had - a senpai poured me sake and i felt a bit awkward.

Who would normally pour drinks when drinking with friends? In a situation i had there were all types of pouring - young people pouring older people, gentlemen pouring ladies and vice versa. People also poured their whisky themselves, a teshaku they called it. Well i guess that's what i would expect from a friendly drinking party and it felt perfectly normal

And finally who would normally pour drinks on a date? In a situation i had - the girl poured herself wine after pouring me some first. It felt rather natural, but i am still a bit confused and want to know for sure.

Also while it is only natural to hold the bottle or tokkuri with both hands, how is one supposed to hold a glass or choko when being served? One hand? Both hands?
 

mdchachi

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Ah good questions. I've never mastered these subtleties. I don't know the formal rules but my impressions are that generally speaking the kohai should be attentive to the senpai. At least at the start of the drinking session it's usually the kohai who takes the initiative to fill the glass. After that I think it often becomes whoever runs out of the precious liquid. But they can't fill their own, not first thing anyway, so they fill the other glasses and then their own last (waving off feeble protests from others to do it).
For friends, it's anything goes. Some friends are particularly attentive and help keep glasses full because they are that type of person. Others are simply alcoholics and keep glasses full because they want to keep their own glasses full. And others show they are rebels breaking off the bonds of society by filling their own glasses.
No idea about dating though I would guess it's "natural" in Japan for the woman to be considerate and caring and the guy to sit there being a man, not lifting a finger. So by pouring her drink you may seem as caring, sensitive and attentive (a real catch) or not a man's man (not a catch). I don't know I'm just making stuff up at this point. :)

My impression is that both hands is the the polite way to hold it.

Next time you're out, try to observe what other tables are doing, especially when they first get their drinks.
 

Majestic

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Very well put.

These kinds of interactions are a way to show off how cultured or educated you are as both the doer and the receiver. Someone in an inferior position (kohai, newbie, younger person) should make an effort to support his/her superiors, or to at least make the lives of their superiors more pleasant by doing things like pouring drinks, clearing the table, arranging the shoes in the genkan, etc... So the kōhai should pour for the senpai.

Enter the foreigner, and the equation becomes slightly more complicated. If the foreigner is a guest, or is new to Japan, the senpai/kōhai hierarchy becomes unclear, and the Japanese hosts may default to a status where they treat you as a guest and pour drinks for you (and don't expect you to do anything in return because you don't easily fit into the structure - or you aren't even aware there is a structure). So for the host, it is a chance to show how cultured he/she is to the others in the room by treating you as a guest. Or, if the atmosphere is more casual, the host may just genuinely want to do a kindness for you regardless of the social structure.

In either case, it is natural for you to accept this kindness humbly and (as mdchachi puts it) somewhat reluctantly, with mild protest at being on the receiving end of such undeserved kindness. Mild is the key word here, as I find it embarrassing when people get into politeness duels, loudly and dramatically refusing these small gestures. One sees this on the train: a group of middle-aged people will energetically argue about who should take the empty seat, each trying to outdo the other in politeness. It ends up being annoying for everyone. Anyway, if the offer has been made to pour for you, regardless of the hierarchy, it is only fair and polite to at some point reciprocate the kindness, and offer to pour for your host/superior and others around you. This allows you to show that you are also cultured, and that you want to repay the kindness. It also gives a chance for your friends to receive the kindness, restoring harmony to the situation.

Dating becomes more complicated because you both (presumably) want to be on your best behavior. In this situation I absolutely would not go on a date with any expectation that a kindness would be done for me. It is the opposite - it is your chance to perform kindnesses for your date. In other words, pour the drink for the lady. It can become confusing because Japanese ladies may go into the date with different expectations. For example, a Japanese lady may not expect to have doors opened for her (well, to be more clear, Japanese ladies may be taught that it is polite for them to go through the door lastly). So it can be awkward if you hold a door open expecting a lady to walk through, and she doesn't quite know what to do since for her it is polite to go last. I still face this situation with my wife after (cough) decades of living with her. For me its natural to hold elevator doors open for her, and for her its natural to let me be the first to exit the elevator. At any rate, the attitude should be, "let me do this kindness for you". In Lomaster's date situation, where the lady poured for him first, then poured for herself, it was an opportunity for you to jump in and say, "let me pour for you" (thereby returning the kindness). If the whole thing was too quick, then look for the next available opportunity to pour for her.
 
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mdchachi

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For me its natural to hold elevator doors open for her, and for her its natural to let me be the first to exit the elevator.
I think the general rule is whoever gets to the elevator keep-open button first wins this battle. Holding the elevator open by blocking the door is something I rarely if ever see in Japan. But you have to think ahead and position yourself by the buttons when you get in and not go straight to the back out of habit.
 
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@mdchachi @Majestic Thank you for sharing thoughts on the matter!
I'll try to be more proactive in taking initiative to pour the drinks next time and see where it takes me.

So by pouring her drink you may seem as caring, sensitive and attentive (a real catch) or not a man's man (not a catch)
That tough choice between trying to impress her with knowledge of Japanese culture and trying to impress her with the culture of my own.

Of course one can always pull out the foreigner card and pretend not to care about such subtleties. But then one wouldn't start threads like this.
Anyway, i'll share the new observations when i have some.
 

Davey

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Interesting thread.

Another question: do you pour the drink by holding the can/bottle with one hand or both hands?
 

Majestic

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So by pouring her drink you may seem as caring, sensitive and attentive (a real catch) or not a man's man (not a catch)
Pro tip: pour the drink for the lady.

Another question: do you pour the drink by holding the can/bottle with one hand or both hands?
The important thing is the effort. If possible, it should be done with two hands. That is the courteous way to do it. If impossible to do with two hands due to space or distance or injury or whatever, make an effort to be polite with your one free hand, and the gesture will be appreciated.
(”片手ですみません”)
 

Lothor

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A couple of random thoughts.

First, on a date with a Japanese woman, be kind. So many Japanese people experience a lack of kindness and boorishness in their daily lives when having to deal with people higher up the food chain, whether it's customers with an enormous sense of entitlement or managers born without the gene for empathy, that a little kindness goes a long way. So unobtrusively pour the drinks and pay attention to her but don't make a big deal out of it and also let her pour them for you if she wants. (Are you reading this Muz1234? ;)).

Second, I always find this idea of pouring drinks for your seniors in a company in Japan rather sad and a real lost opportunity to create goodwill. I remember my first term (autumn) of full-time teaching in a British sixth-form college, which I found really demanding. At the end of the last lesson on the final day there was a staff party, and I wandered down to the staff room in a haze of exhaustion, and all the management were there busily opening bottles of wine and pouring out drinks and handing them to the staff. It was such a nice gesture that I really felt moved. Such an attitude could make the Japanese workplace a much happier place.
 

mdchachi

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I think in Japan a lot of goodwill can be created between management and staff because of the many opportunities there are to break bread and drink together.
How often did management at the college socialize with staff outside of the end of year party?
 

dogdays21

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What about when sampling a new bottle of wine in a restaurant group or date setting. Should the person who is most knowledgeable about wine tasting - regardless of their standing in the social hierarchy or gender - pour themselves a sample first in order to determine its acceptability, before it is consumed by the rest of the group?
 

Lothor

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I think in Japan a lot of goodwill can be created between management and staff because of the many opportunities there are to break bread and drink together.
How often did management at the college socialize with staff outside of the end of year party?
mdhachi - they never did, and I can confidently say that there would not have been the slightest desire of the staff for there to be any such organised socialising. And that's because of a desire to keep work and leisure absolutely separate rather than because of any personal dislike of the managers.
 

Lothor

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What about when sampling a new bottle of wine in a restaurant group or date setting. Should the person who is most knowledgeable about wine tasting - regardless of their standing in the social hierarchy or gender - pour themselves a sample first in order to determine its acceptability, before it is consumed by the rest of the group?
In a date, I would take the sage advice of the late Freddie Mercury from the song Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy - I will pay the bill, you taste the wine.
 

Majestic

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The waiter or sommelier will always pour your wine. I don't think I've ever been in a situation where the waiter opened the bottle and then just plopped it on the table. And I don't think I've ever been in a situation where anyone but the person ordering it has been offered the tasting - except for a few cases where it may have been vague, and then the waiter says (to someone who looks like they are in charge) "who would like to taste the wine?".

If I was in the bizarre situation where the waiter just put the opened bottle on the table without pouring any, I would ABSOLUTELY pour her glass first, then mine. The number of times I've had a bad bottle of wine at a restaurant are so few that it is hardly a concern. Better to pour for the lady rather than make her wait while you pass judgment on a wine that is 99.5% of the time going to be fine anyway.
 

Majestic

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Also, the ritual drink-pouring can become exhausting, and so after a while people may just order drinks that don't require constant pouring - or avoid it at the start and order nama beers. And it goes without saying that close friends can dispense with the formality altogether.
 

dogdays21

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I think in Japan a lot of goodwill can be created between management and staff because of the many opportunities there are to break bread and drink together.
How often did management at the college socialize with staff outside of the end of year party?
I recall an episode of NHK’s Lunch On where a weekly lunch was prepared by everyone in the office, managers and staff, one and all. One episode even featured the owner/boss of a small company making lunch regularly for his staff. I agree it helps bolster camaraderie, trust, and goodwill amoungst everyone - similar to Western companies use of team-building, social-work activities.
 
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