What Is The Real Meaning of Kanpai?

Mar 12, 2024Shopify API

Here’s what you need to know to understand what is the real meaning of Kanpai?

Uncover the cultural layers behind "kanpai," Japan's spirited toast often heard at gatherings and celebrations.

More than just a signal to commence drinking, "kanpai" holds a deeper social significance, symbolizing unity, festivity, and good wishes among companions.

Join us as we delve into the real meaning of this cherished tradition.

What Is The Real Meaning Of Kanpai?

What Is Kanpai or Kampai?

The Japanese term Kanpai is written in kanji or Chinese characters as “ 乾杯”. The first kanji letter 乾 means dry while the second kanji letter 杯 means sake cup or alcoholic cup. 

When translating both the kanji letters (乾杯) to the English language it ultimately means “Cheers”. 

Now “Cheers” is a popular expression used in English when two or more people have a drink. Similarly, in the Japanese language, the word  “Kanpai” or “Kampai” is an expression used commonly when toasting to have a drink. 

Since kanji letters are ideograms, the meanings of the characters can differ. Therefore, the meaning of Kanpai can alter as well. 

Another popular meaning for Kampai is “making the alcoholic cup dry” which means emptying the glass containing an alcoholic beverage without a single remaining drop. 

Regardless of the meaning, we can conclusively say that Kanpai is an expression that’s frequently used when toasting to have a drink. 

If you’ve noticed your Japanese colleagues regularly uttering the word Kanpai, especially when having a drink, then they’re literally toasting before having a drink.

Now that you know what Kanpai means you can use the expression next time when you’re participating in an event in Japan or with your Japanese friends. 

However, the Japanese only say Kanpai on certain occasions and not on all, therefore let’s take a look at which occasions are ideal for you to express your respects when having drinks. 

When To Say Kanpai?

We all know that before we start a special event it’s common for the event organizer to toast the drink by saying cheers. And just like that, it’s also a regular practice in Japan where people say Kanpai when having a drink.

Some of the common events where the expression Kanpai is used are:

  • Business Meetings

It’s the usual norm for a business meeting to start or end with a drink. And when it’s time for drinks we’ve seen how the top-ranked member of the business meeting will usually stand up to toast. When doing so, he/she will eventually utter Kanpai and the others present at the meeting will follow them in a professional manner.

  • Parties and Social Gatherings

Whenever there’s a party that involves adults, there will be alcoholic drinks available. And the person who organizes these events will eventually share some good news during the special events and dedicate a toast. For instance, making a toast for a newly married couple to have a bright future.

  • Funerals 

It’s a common practice in Japan to toast a drink for the deceased as a depiction of showing respect. However, you should only do this if there are drinks available at the funeral. In addition, make sure to not be too loud or aggressive when toasting at a funeral. It’s considered mannerless and extremely disrespectful to the deceased person.

The Importance of Saying Kanpai

The Japanese people are very popular across the globe for sticking to their culture very intensely. Therefore, they take the act of showing respect and gratitude at any event seriously hence saying Kanpai before having a drink is considered very crucial. 

If you’re invited to a Japanese event and you find yourself drinking before anyone declares “Kanpai” then you would get a lot of disappointed looks thrown at you. Yes, it’s considered discourteous to not say Kanpai before having a drink in Japan. 

And if you’re sitting right next to a couple of Japanese people they can even get offended by your actions.

Therefore, make sure to say Kanpai before you begin to sip your alcoholic beverage. On the other hand, if you’re too shy about being the first person to say Kanpai you can always wait for someone to do it first thus you can avoid any embarrassing moments at the events. 

In addition, there’s a misconception that saying Kanpai is only limited to Japanese alcoholic beverages like sake. As we said this is nothing but a misconception and one can utter Kanpai before sipping any alcoholic beverage. 

Another thing you should keep in mind before making the kanpai tribute is to keep your glass lower when toasting with a superior person at work or an elderly person. This depicts the degree of respect and gratitude you have for them.

The Origin of Kanpai

How did an East Asian country like Japan come up with the idea of saying cheers before having a drink? The origin of the word Kanpai dates early back to the Edo Period in Japan. 

In the early 1850s, Japan and England signed the Anglo-Japanese friendship treaty and the British Earl was present in Japan for the historical event. 

The British Earl met with Kiyonao Inoue who’s one of the Earl’s diplomatic partners in Japan. 

Once the treaty negotiations were over, the party commenced and the Earl requested Kiyonao to make a toast before drinking since it’s a common practice followed in England. 

Kiyonao stood up with his glass and yelled the word “Kanpai” which caused a spread of laughter across the room. This incident enlightened the Japanese people and since then Kanpai has been widely used when making toast. 

However, the word Kanpai at the time of the incident was only a made-up word that Kiyonao suddenly thought of as he reminisced about how the people in China also made toasts during events.

In Chinese Mandarin, the word Kanpai is pronounced as “Ganbei” and it’s safe to assume that Kanpai is a word of Chinese origin and the meaning of the word still remains the same.

Interesting Facts About Kanpai

Knowing the origin of Kanpai is by itself an interesting story but there are other intriguing facts about the usage of the word Kanpai in Japan you ought to know. 

  • Did you know that it’s deemed bad luck to make a toast with water in Japan? This is because water is offered to a deceased person during the funeral with a belief that they won’t get thirsty in heaven. Hence, making a toast with water in Japan is presumed to be saying a final goodbye to the dead.
  • It’s also a fundamental rule in Japan that making a toast while saying Kanpai must be initially done by a senior person. This could mean a senior person at the workplace or an elderly person at the gathering. This is another way for the Japanese to show respect to their superiors.
  • If you don’t prefer consuming alcohol you can opt for a soft drink or fruit juice at a gathering when making a toast although it’s only common to say Kanpai when having an alcoholic drink. It’s still acceptable to say Kanpai if you’re having any kind of drink except for water.
  • Since Kanpai means “emptying the glass”, the Japanese literally empty their glass with the alcoholic drink in one gulp. However, you should only follow this if you’ve already tried gulping the whole drink. 
  • When making a toast with a group of people make sure you keep your glass lower than the elders or your boss at work and wait till they utter Kanpai so that you can follow afterward.

Is It Kanpai or Kampai?

Another minor confusion among non-Japanese speakers is the right way to pronounce Kanpai. And a lot of them still want to know if it’s Kanpai or Kampai. Let’s solve the dilemma with a simple explanation. 

The kanji letters 乾杯 literally transliterate to English as “Kanpai” and that’s the correct Japanese pronunciation for the word as well. 

However, in Portuguese, the word is transliterated as “Kampai” hence some people are doubtful as to which word to use. 

Since the Japanese say Kanpai it’s also best for us to follow them and use Kanpai instead of Kampai. 

A small change in pronunciation can alter the meaning of the word hence it’s wise to stick to the original Japanese pronunciation to avoid any confusion.

Real Meaning of Kanpai: FAQs

What does Kanpai mean?

Kanpai is the Japanese expression for cheers and it means “emptying the cup” or “making the cup dry”. The meaning implies that when one person utters Kanpai they’re literally making a toast and intending to drink the entire alcoholic beverage without leaving a single drop remaining.

What language is Kanpai?

Kanpai is a Japanese word and a popular Japanese expression used before drinking. The English equivalent of Kanpai is “Cheers” and is an expression mostly used by Japanese before consuming alcohol. The origin of the word Kanpai is probably of Chinese origin and it’s pronounced in Chinese Mandarin as “Ganbei”.

Which is correct kampai or kanpai?

Kanpai is the Japanese term for saying cheers before drinking and it’s written in kanji as 乾杯. The word is transliterated to English as “Kanpai”. However, in Portuguese, the word is transliterated as “Kampai”. The right transliteration from kanji is “Kanpai” hence Kanpai is the correct word.

Does Kanpai mean cheers?

Kanpai is the Japanese phrase for cheers and it’s popularly said by the Japanese before the consumption of any alcoholic drink. The meaning of the word Kanpai means “emptying the cup” or “making the cup dry” which indicates that the cup of alcohol should be finished.

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