The first drink is beerAfter a long day at the office everyone is eager for that first beer at the local izakaya.
In Japanese culture, it feels better when everyone has the same drink for kanpai (cheers). When you're drinking in a large group it's best to join the group order for beer (or sake) – at least of the first round.
Non-alcoholic ChoicesBars and restaurants have a wide array of non-alcoholic beverage choices. If you don't drink or don't feel like drinking it's recommended to state this upfront to the group. Otherwise, it may be assumed you're joining in the first round.
Order your first drink quickly. Everyone must have a drink in hand for cheers to commence. This all happens quickly. Restaurants get the first round out within seconds. People are usually eager to get the evening started.
Pouring beer & sakeBeer and sake are by far the most popular drinks in Japan. They both come in bottles that groups can share. Glasses are small and have to be refilled constantly.
It's polite to fill everyone's glass but your own. As you're filling – you're usually hoping people will notice and fill your glass as well. When someone fills your glass you should hold it up at an angle for them.
In theory, subordinates should be attentive to the glasses of superiors. It is also considered feminine charm for women to fill glasses for the guys. It's gentlemanly to promptly reciprocate.
PayingIn large groups – its common to split the check (betsu-betsu). Restaurant staff won't split the bill – you must figure it out amongst your group. Often woman pay a little less than guys (because men tend to consume more).
If a superior from your company is along – they may pay the check (or a large part of it). Amongst coworkers, one person often volunteers to pay the check and collect money the next day.
On a date – it's common to go betsu-betsu. Sometimes the man will pay the check.
The EscapeWhen you go out in Japan it's important to keep an eye on the time of your last train. In large groups it's common to have 2nd and 3rd parties that may go past last train. Keep in mind that taxis are expensive in most Japanese cities.