Kanpai - What does kampai really mean?

The word kanpai is a Japanese expression used to toast cups equivalent to “Cheers" in English. Few people know, but this word has a long history and a much deeper meaning that we'll examine in this article.

For some reason they write kampai (with M) in the Portuguese language ... This is just a transliteration from Japanese to Portuguese, but I think it’s ugly and I prefer to write the original kanpai form a thousand times.

Kanpai is written [乾杯] where the ideogram (乾) means dry or drink and the ideogram (杯) means glass of wine. Literally speaking it means emptying the glass, a very literal and appropriate expression to say when we are going to drink. This word can also be used as the verb toast or drink a toast. In Chinese it is written with the same ideograms and is pronounced Gānbēi.

Kanpai - what does kampai really mean?

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 currently you don’t have to worry about it too much. 

Nowadays it is a mandatory etiquette to make a toast in Japan. If you start drinking before saying kampai, you are being rude. And it is not only used for sake, but any alcoholic beverage.

There are no secrets, it is the same as the word health or cheers in English. It is common for you to hear this word a lot at end of year events called bounenkai, where people come together.

This expression is also used in any gathering of friends where they will drink and especially if it is a lot. When doing the kanpai salute, make sure your glass is lower than the glass of a person who is superior to you, such as your boss.

We must show respect to elders and bosses in Japan. For that 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 kampai, but it is used to appreciate the work they have done.

Kanpai - what does kampai really mean?

Watch the 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 dates to drink with friends. Another word that some may end up confusing because it has a similar pronunciation is banzai.

What do you think of that expression? Have you had the opportunity to use it? We appreciate the comments and shares! We also recommend reading:

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