You Shouldn't Be Pouring Drinks For Yourself At Restaurants In Japan

Culture shock happens to everyone when they travel somewhere they have never been. Even places as spiritually linked as the United Kingdom and the United States experience certain amounts of cultural surprise when citizens of each visit the other. However, Japan is one nation that Westerners frequently associate with culture shock, and not without foundation. There are a lot of rules and etiquette that need to be followed in Japan, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. And though it may seem innocuous to Westerners, one Japanese food rule is that you should never pour yourself a drink at a restaurant.

While it may seem strange not to be able to fill your own glass in a culture that openly encourages slurping when eating noodles, it is nevertheless considered quite rude to serve yourself a drink, especially if there are those around you whose glasses are empty or close to it. It is considered polite in Japanese culture to keep an eye on the level of everyone's drink as the meal progresses. If you notice that someone's glass is nearing empty, offer to refill it for them.

This kind of etiquette is deeply rooted in another component of Japanese culture, which centers around seniority and elders. It is from this foundation of respect that the offering to fill another's glass comes.

A matter of seniority and respect

Respect and dignity for elders is a major component of Japanese culture, especially within the family. There is an order of hierarchy in families that runs down from grandparents to parents to children. This also translates to the respective ages of those in your dining party. The youngest members of a group are typically viewed as subordinates to the older members. This is important to remember when dining out because it directly impacts who fills whose glass.

The younger members of the party should put forth the effort to fill the glasses of those senior to them. This is a sign of respect and goodwill. In return, the senior will fill the subordinate's glass in recognition of the subordinate's effort to maintain etiquette. It is also important to accept the gesture of an elder to fill your glass, even if your glass is full. Instead of politely refusing, as is common in Western culture, the polite thing to do in Japan is to take a small sip of your drink and allow the elder to top it off. It is seen as acceptance of a kind gesture.

So, if you are traveling, or even moving, to Japan any time soon, keep this food rule in mind. You will at least be armed with one area of knowledge in a culture that can be more than befuddling to Western travelers.