Dear visitor, if you know the answer to this question, please post it. Thank you!

Note that this thread has not been updated in a long time, and its content might not be up-to-date anymore.

Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 09:14
I am a young Australian female that will be traveling to Japan for the first time in a few weeks.

I would like to know to what degree it is a social convention to drink the same amount as others. (How rude is it to refuse alcohol in a social situation?)

I dont drink, not for any particular reason other than I dont like the taste and am just not interested in it.
However the male friends I'm going with are somewhat big drinkers and we will be visiting resturants and bars and obviously (hopefully) socialising with locals.
I have been told that on occasion it is convention to fill a round of drinks for everyone and to drink when your cup is filled and fill others in return etc.

Is it possible for me to simply say "I dont drink" ? without being too offensive.

I also dont think it would be a good idea for all 3 of us in the party to be drunk in a foreign country, so I would by far rather not drink.

by Lily 333  

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 09:26
I wouldn't worry about the last point ("all 3 of us..."), but if you don't drink, you don't drink :) Maybe order an "oolong tea" or (depending on where the social gettogether is) Perrier, or something. You can just state "I cannot drink alcohol," and that would be that.

The "round of drinks... and fill others..." thing doesn't happen unless it is at a relatively "closed" environment, meaning colleagues drinking together on their company trips or colleagues at year-end parties, etc. So as a traveler you would not have to worry about that :)
by ... (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 11:27
In many situations (specifically drinking in an izakaya) it's rude not to order a drink, but you can order an iced oolong tea as your drink and you'll be fine. Most people order a draft beer for themselves, so there's not really a lot of sharing unless you're all drinking sake.
by Umami Dearest rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 15:17
Its absolutely not rude to go to an Izakaya (or anywhere else) and not order an alcoholic drink, especially if you're in a group with others that are drinking (therefore racking up the bill). It would be a bit weird if no one was drinking, they might wonder why you came.

There's no need to worry about being offensive though. You're paying for the service of food and drinks (alcoholic or not) and as long as you pay your bill you're fine.

What these places worry more about is if you're not ordering much but taking up a table, the place is full and they could be making more money from seating the next customers.
by Jimmy (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 17:54
I didn't say you have to order an alcoholic drink, but you do have to order some kind of drink - it's the established custom in an izakaya. As I said, oolong tea is fine.

You might "get away with" not ordering a drink if you don't speak Japanese, but it's still rude.
by Umami Dearest rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 21:46
The occasion (fill a round of drinks for everyone) you have been told is the typical aspect you will seen on a business occasion. You will not be asked to do that if you are a tourist.

If someone offers you to drink alcohol, say "Thank you for the offer but I can't drink because of my health issues" is a polite response.

The main sales of bars and Izaka-ya are from providing alcohol. You can be there if you are with a group or enjoy at family restaurants where provide both alcohol and non-alcohol beverages and food.
by tokyo friend 48 rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/18 23:52
I don't think you have much to worry about as you don't have a relationship with the people you might meet. If someone insists, or looks at you strangely, say you are on medication. Or, since you don't have a relationship with them, just be honest.
by ChicagoMike rate this post as useful

Tips from a local experienced female drinker 2014/6/19 02:56
Well, it's not actually a "custom," but just as it is in most taverns around the world, most izakaya in Japan has a "policy" of a minimum of 1 drink per person, and that drink can be non-alcoholic but should have a price (so the free water or free green tea doesn't count). There's nothing difficult or unusual about it. You can even ask for what "soft drink" they have, and the waiter will be most happy to assist you.

Another thing is that in the recent years, it has been considered rude to force others to drink alcohol. It is even strictly considered so, as it may lead to critical health problems and accidents. Of course, here in Japan, we have our fair share of drunk geezers who try to do everything rude, but that's not the norm nor is it a custom, so just do whatever you'd do in your home country.

obviously (hopefully) socialising with locals.

Do you have plans to party with any specific local? If not, you don't have to worry, because pouring drinks between strangers just doesn't happen. In fact, that would mean you'll be drinking on other people's bills, and it's not at all common to buy strangers more than one drink.

If you do, however, get invited to a party where everyone is expected to know each other for some reason, then it would be a nice gesture to offer pouring drinks to each other. This doesn't necessarily have to be alcoholic drinks. It's just a nice gesture to show that you care about other people's empty glasses.

For example, if someone comes around with a bottle of beer, you might say, "No thank you, I'm drinking wine" or "No thank you, I'm drinking tea." Then that person might fetch you that bottle of wine or tea, and then it is polite to accept that drink, since that's what you said you are drinking. I think similar things would happen at a dinner table in your home country.

I suppose there are times when you don't even want your tea. Then you can decline any offers (apart from the minimum drink policies). But it's also a nice gesture to say, "Perhaps just a little." You can say when to stop having your drink poured, and you can take a sip of that new drink and then just let it stay. I think this is something people do when making a toast in most countries.

Anyway, there's nothing special about it, so no worries.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/19 11:26
You're right, "policy" is a much better way of describing the one-drink rule at izakaya than "custom."
by Umami Dearest rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/19 11:53
Thank you everyone.

You have confirmed what I thought.
by Lily 333 rate this post as useful

Re: Refusing alcohol in a social situation 2014/6/20 23:17
Not sure how old you are, but be aware that the legal drinking age in Japan is 20, not 18 like in Australia. Just in case your companions are technically too young
by zucchini (guest) rate this post as useful

reply to this thread