The word kanpai is a Japanese expression used to toast cups equivalent to “cheers” in English. Few know, but this word has a long history and a much deeper meaning. In this article we will try to understand a little more about the meaning of kanpai.
Kanpai is written [乾杯] where the ideogram [乾] means dry or drink and the ideogram [杯] means wine glass. Literally speaking means emptying the glass, a very literal and appropriate expression to say when we drink.
This word can also be used as the word toast or drink a toast. In Chinese it is written with the same ideograms and pronounced Gānbēi.
Where and when to say Kanpai?
Formerly kanpai was literally emptying the glass. That is, you would have to drink it all at once, but these days you don’t have to worry too much about it.
Nowadays it is a mandatory label for making a toast in Japan. If you start drinking before saying kanpai, you are being rude. And it is not only used for sake, but any alcoholic beverage.
There are no secrets, equals the word health or cheers in English. You often hear this word a lot at holiday events called bounenkai, where people gather.
This expression is also used in any gathering of friends where they will drink and especially if it is too much. When making the kanpai greeting, make sure your glass is lower than the glass of a person who is superior to you, such as your work boss.
We must show respect to the elders and bosses in Japan. For this reason when you meet with your boss or someone of age, unless he speaks kanpai, you can use the formal expression otsukare-sama. This word does not have the same meaning as kanpai, but is used to appreciate the work you have done.
Beware of Kenpai
At funerals it is common to use the word kenpai (献杯) to toast the deceased with respect. When you are at a funeral and if you have glasses of drinks, you can get up and say kenpai without toasting with other glasses.
So be careful not to speak kenpai instead of kanpai on drinking dates with friends. Another word that some may end up confusing for similar pronouns is banzai.