Monday, May 23, 2005


Last Thursday I visited my friend who lives in a small village in this prefecture. The village is locally famous for putting up many koinobori (carp-shaped streamers) across the river in May every year. I’d always wanted to see the koinobori, and this year I finally had a chance to visit the village.

My friend picked me up at a “whistle-stop” train station and drove me to the koinobori place. The weather was perfect with a nice breeze that made the streamers look “alive.”

Then she drove me up to the hill-top where we had a nice view of the river, the koinobori and surrounding mountains. It was such a peaceful view of a small, quiet village.

At that night, my friend and her colleagues took me to a Yakiniku place. (For the details of the food we had, click here. ) They feasted me with wonderful beef and repeated “henpai.”

Henpai means “offering someone sake in return” and it’s a custom probably seen in other places in Japan, too, but overly emphasized here in Kochi. This custom obviously started with sake and sakazuki (tiny cup for drinking sake) before beer was introduced into Japan, but now people do it with glasses of beer in this prefecture. When they order bottled beers with small beer glasses, you should know that henpai will be inevitable and be ready.

When someone gives you an empty beer glass and pours beer in it, you are supposed to drink it up, return the empty glass to the person and fill it with beer again. That’s the henpai procedure. Pouring beer into someone’s glass is considered as a kindness, so you should return the kindness by doing the same thing back to the person. You see?

Of course not everyone is such a heavy drinker, so it’s OK for you to ask the person to pour just a little beer into your glass or ask for the permission to take time for finishing one glass of beer or to drink only some of it and empty the rest into another container or something. Either way, you have to give the empty glass back to the person, and not doing so is considered rude or inconsiderate. The person, of course, needs to drink it up, and then the henpai can just keep going. That’s how we kindly damage everyone’s liver equally here in Kochi. ;P

Well, I admit that this is a way to enhance intimacy and I might even miss it if we abolished this old custom completely, but I can’t say I’m 100% in favor of this henpai custom. You just have to know your limit and use tactics for politely taking an easy way out from henpai rushes.

Anyway, I had such a good time there. The memories of the time I spent in that small village with the sound of the river always being in the background will stay in my mind for a long time.

* I heard that in some areas in Kochi, henpai is not so popular any more. So you may or may not witness/experience this custom when you drink in Kochi.

posted by obachan, 5/23/2005 11:43:00 PM


Do you mean that if i want to offer some beer to someone, i have to use my glass?? Cant i just pour the beer into their glass?? 

Posted by emotionalistic
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 5/24/2005 9:15 AM  
Hi emotionalistic,
Welcome to my blog :)
You can just pour the beer into their glasses, even when the glasses are not completely empty yet, and henpai could start from there, but not always. They may just say thank you and that can be it. If you actually hand a person an empty beer glass -- it doesn’t matter the glass was yours or his/hers -- it’s more obvious that you are going to ask for henpai. An empty glass is considered as the one that is going to go back and forth between the two, or more people. Some people do prefer starting henpai with an empty glass, so when they have some beer left in their glasses, they first drink it up or empty the beer into another container, then make a fresh start for one round of henpai. But maybe this is something that only people in Kochi (and rather old fashioned people ) do…  

Posted by obachan
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 5/24/2005 10:44 AM  
Ic Ic....kind of complicated but very unique. Thanks for the info :). 

Posted by emotionalistic
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 5/24/2005 10:14 PM  
Your welcome ;)
Gee, I had too much drink that night... 

Posted by obachan
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 5/25/2005 10:21 AM  
Not assured.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 11/25/2005 4:20 AM  
Hi joaquin,
You just have to come to Kochi and do this a couple of times with local people. If lived here for about a year, it'd be your secound nature. ;)
commented by Blogger obachan, 11/25/2005 9:52 AM  

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