Japan has a lot of unique cultures thatmany foreigners find it difficult to understand, as for me, one of them is their ice water.
In Japan, the first thing they bring to your table is a glass of ice water, I am sure many of you can’t figure out the meaning behind it. When I first came to Japan, I had the same question too. It was cold outside, but the waiter still gave me a cup of ice water (some of them provide tea, but there is no option of warm or hot water). Later, when I was talking to my boss and I mentioned to him such phenomena, as a Japanese, he explained it to me, and the answer shocked me.
In the older days, it is not easy to produce ice, even if you successfully produce ice, the ice will melt away. In that period, ice was only used to treat guests and it wasn’t something everyone could enjoy. What about warm and hot water? Hot water is easy to produce, you only need to boil it, and after some time, you get warm water, hence it is not as precious. Ice is a solid object, while warm and hot water is「何でもない」 (has nothing), hence it is known as cheap products, usually not to be served to guests.
Even today, even though it is easier to produce ice now, but because of the reason that “ice is very precious” concept is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, hence they still serve their guest with ice water as a way to show their respect to the guest. After knowing the reason behind it, I no longer feel confused whenI am served ice water. With just a cup of ice water, I experience the hospitality of the Japanese people, this is such a unique Japanese culture.
However, if you still don’t want to drink ice water, you can request for a cup of hot water, the proper way to ask is 「お湯をください」(Please give me a cup of hot water，reading method: o yu o ku da sai). In Japanese, 「水」(mizu) means cold water, while hot water is「お湯」(o yu). As a Chinese, I was always confused with this concept, when I was first working in the hot spring hotel, a customer asked me if there is any water in the pot (cold water), and I answered him ‘of course’, luckily the lady boss was there to correct me immediately and told the guest, it is「お湯(hot water), then only I remember the difference between Chinese and Japanese. I think they don’t have a word for warm water too, only 「水」and 「お湯」, hence if you want some warm water, you will have to mix the both of them to get it.