Drinking in the United States is so relaxed and so much fun that sometimes I forget how important it is as a social ritual in Japan. And like any good Japanese ritual, drinking has a bevy of lovely words that float around it, providing a lesson in language as well as culture.

One of my coworkers recently moved back to Japan from the U.S., so we arranged to get drinks before he left. As we were in the process of setting up a time and location, he asked me this question via email: "You belong to which faction: beer, wine, no-thank-you-alcohol or any-alcohol-welcome?"

For a moment I delighted in the non-native construction of his English, but then I noticed something else: The use of the word "faction" is a transparently direct translation of the Japanese word ha (派, faction), which often gets used with booze. I have my feet firmly planted in the bīru-ha (ビール派, beer faction), but I have been known to hang out with the shōchū-ha (焼酎派, shōchū faction), the uisukī-ha (ウィスキー派, whiskey faction) and the nihonshu-ha (日本酒派, rice wine faction). Try as I might, I haven't developed a taste for wain (ワイン, wine).