I just went out for lunch with a friend and when the waiter asked what we want to drink, I ordered 'お[水]{みず}下さい' whereas I noticed my friend asked for 'お[冷]{ひや}下さい'.

Which expression would be more common or is there some distinction on who, where or when to use either one?


  • I used o-hiya left and right in Kansai and never had an issue, and then I was once in Tokyo and I asked for O-hiya, and people gave me funny looks. Someone corrected me and said "O-mizu", I couldn't tell if it was because it was more a Kansai thing, or more that they thought I didn't know omizu as a more standard term.
    – Andrew
    Mar 26, 2020 at 21:00

4 Answers 4


Both are used. お冷 is a bit more chic and it is only cold water (to drink) while お水 is just water in a general meaning.
You will never be repressed for using お水 instead of お冷, vice versa.

  • 2
    AFAIK, お冷や specifically refers to cold, possibly iced, water, whereas お水 does not. In most places, the two are interchangeable, but some places might serve you room-temperature water if you ask for お水.
    – Dave
    Jul 6, 2013 at 1:04
  • 1
    In my experience, you'll come across as more authentic (although, possibly more informally) if you use お冷.
    – istrasci
    Jul 8, 2013 at 2:16
  • @istrasci more authentic? More authentically what, Japanese, restaurant waiter, or...?
    – ssb
    Jul 8, 2013 at 23:43
  • 1
    @ssb: More authentic as in looking like someone who is genuinely more interested in the language and culture, as opposed to just a "tourist" who happens to be in the restaurant and knows a few words.
    – istrasci
    Jul 9, 2013 at 2:58
  • @istrasci I would think tourists would be using fancy words on purpose.
    – oldergod
    Jul 9, 2013 at 3:00

As already mentioned, "ohiya" is originally jargon used only inside sushi restaurants to mean "cold drinking water poured in a yunomi (cup)". Another word categorized in this class is "agari", meaning "hot green tea".

While the use of "agari" is still limited to sushi restaurants (and I personally never use it), the word "ohiya" is now very widely used among many types of restaurants and izakaya in Japan. I believe the majority of people consider "ohiya" as just a bit more elegant synomym for "omizu", not considering its origin. You can safely use "ohiya" even in McDonalds or French restaurants, at least here in Tokyo.

However, there are also a few people who worry about its origin and avoid "ohiya", especially as a customer. Such people consider this word as unnecessary, old fashioned, unofficial, or even impolite when used in high grade restaurants. I personally use both "ohiya" and "omizu" without consciously thinking about them, but when in doubt, always stick to "omizu" and you'll be perfectly OK.


Apparently the use of 'Ohiya' should be limited to the staff who are serving their customer at traditional eateries because it is actually a traditional code.

So, you can ask for a 'Omizu' then your sushi chef would serve a glass of water and may say "Here is your 'Ohiya', Sir." But apparently not the other way around - I didn't know this but the other way around somehow sounds wrong.

But if you must:

I'd only use 'Ohiya' at traditional Japanese eateries (hence "chic" as prev. comment), not in a French restaurant or McDonald's.

Also, if I were invited to my friends/families house, or they are serving food & drink as the host, I'd use 'Omizu'.

Given that 'Ohiya' is a code amongst catering staff, asking for an 'Ohiya' is the equivalent of calling your host "waiter/waitress" - sounds a bit pretentious.

Another thing is that 'Ohiya' has more subtle nuances than 'Omizu'.

For example, you can use 'Omizu' to mean 'bottled water' whereas 'Ohiya' can only be used when you mean a single portion of water in an open container like a glass/Yunomi, not in a pitcher or a bottle.

Anyways, unless you are working at a bustling sushi restaurant, you don't have to worry about it - it's like walking into a supermarket and asking for a 'code 300' which is an internal code for a 'manager'. If you are just a customer, you don't need to know such thing and if you use it, that won't impress anyone.

The only difference here is that you'd better to know what 'Ohiya' is, but that doesn't mean you have to use it.

'Ohiya' is a reserved (and quite archaic) code for the people who are serving you. Stick to 'Omizu' and you'll save yourself from minor embarrassments ;)

  • 1
    Quite different from what others have said. Might this be a regional thing? Jul 8, 2013 at 22:18
  • 2
    @ZettaSuro might be a wrong thing?
    – oldergod
    Jul 9, 2013 at 0:54

It's more of historical authenticity and many modern Japanese don't know about it (incl. myself) - a bit like if you are greeted with "How do you do?" the correct (traditional/educated) response should be "How do you do?" NOT "I'm fine, thanks" - although the latter response is getting common and very small number of native English speakers would appreciate the difference.

If you want to be very pedantic about Japanese language, use only 'Omizu' (unless you are the serving chef/waiter) but it won't cause you huge damage if you use 'Ohiya' at an eatery.

I'd still avoid using 'Ohiya' to my friends/family - sounds a bit too commercial for a private setting.

  • 1
    Did you lose access to your account? If you log in you can edit your own posts...
    – Earthliŋ
    Jul 16, 2013 at 14:19

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