Do you like drinking?
Yes, I do.
Do you want to try Japanese foods as many as you like easily?
Why not going to Izakaya while traveling in Japan?
Izakaya is not an actual restaurant that serves full-meal, they serve varieties of small and inexpensive dishes and alcohol drinks.
Drinking at Izakaya is one of the Japanese cultures.
Izakayas offers comfort and a friendly atmosphere with plenty of laughs.
Japanese people change to be friendly although they are shy during the day.
(In other words, get trashed.)
There are so many types of Izakayas in Japan,
people enjoy to choose “Today’s Izakaya” depends on their feelings, budget.
Today, I am going to tell you what is Izakaya in Japan.
“Izakaya” For Japanese
“Izakaya” (居酒屋) is a Japanese-style casual bar or pub, which mainly serves alcoholic beverages and a variety of nibbles such as Yakitori, Sashimi, and grilled fish.
It used to be served Japanese Sake, Shochu, and beer only, but today you can drink more kinds between Japanese and Western.
Customers started drinking alcohol (Japanese sake) at the front of the liquor shop immediately and had chatting with the owner and other customers in the Edo period(1603 – 1868). “Stay and Drink” is called “Izake”(居酒) in Japanese, and it is said “Izakaya” began.
After a while, table and seats provided, a variety of food served, Izakaya had changed to the current style.
In these Days, Izakayas are places to drink, alone and with friends.
As Japanese drinking culture, keep eating nibbles while drinking dinner rather than order a full course.
The last main dish aka “Shime”(シメ) is generally ordered as the last dish,
and common dishes are used carbohydrate, such as noodles, rice to make you filled (and fat).
Also, “Izakaya” is the place where you are allowed to be trashed, I would say.
People go to “Izakaya” for refreshing through drinking and communication with the company or other customers.
Types of Izakaya
There are many types of “Izakaya” and people chose where to go depends on the feeling of the day.
- Aka Chochin
- Izakaya Chain
- Dining Bar
“Aka-chochin” (赤提灯) is the old nickname of Izakaya because the red paper lanterns, Aka chochin, have displayed outside instead of signs for many years.
“Aka Chochin” is also called “Taishusakaba”(大衆酒場), which means “the local, casual, friendly izakaya restaurant” serves inexpensive foods and drinks.
Although hanging up red lanterns is the old custom, and you can still find many Izakayas still display Aka chochin at the entrance and “Noren”(のれん), Japanese style door curtain written Izakaya name.
Today, all izakayas are called izakaya, so some people intentionally call “Aka Chochin” to separate from other Izakaya chains.
Yet, even modern izakayas hang up Aka chochin as decorations so you need to learn techniques to choose the right one.
“Tachi-nomiya”(立ち呑み屋) is a standing-style drink bar, which small space, only counter, good foods and inexpensive.
Generally, people stop for the quick drink and nibbles, and some local small places have an undocumented rule which is “Not stay for long”.
The social distance at Tachinomiya becomes naturally very close in such a tiny space, and it’s easy to make friends.
“Kakuuchi”(角打ち) is the original style of izakaya, in which customers enjoy drinking at liquor shops.
The name varies region to region, it is called “Tachinomi” in Osaka, “Mossari” in Tohoku region, “Tachikyu” in Sanin region.
“Yatai”(屋台)literally means food stall, so it is the same term as the food stalls that you see in festivals.
So in this article, it means “Yatai-style” izakaya.
Hakata(博多), in Fukuoka city, is the Sanctuary of “Yatai-style” izakaya, and 40% of them throughout Japan gather in the area.
Yatai Style Izakaya has hidden history behind,
Due to regulations of occupation of public streets and claims from residents, “Yatai-style” izakaya has been disappeared these days.
The association of Hakata Yatai protection has been negotiating with the government of the city to protect the “Yatai-style” Izakaya culture for a long time, and the current owners fight with strict regulations for people who love their ‘”Yatai”.
Now, it became a popular sightseeing spot for tourists, some Yatai has an English menu.
To enjoy “Yatai” for more people in other places where they can’t have business due to regulations, there are many “Yatai mura”(屋台村) in major cities.
“Mura” literally means “village”, and “Yatai mura” is generally inside buildings or open space to enjoy various foods in one place.
“Yokocho”(横丁-alley) style is very popular, it is similar to “Yatai-style”.
Tiny Izakayas in a row on an alley or inside of buildings, open tables outside like cafe.
“Yakitori-ya”(焼き鳥屋) is an izakaya that particularly serves “Yakitori”- grilled skewered chicken. Generally, the master grills skewered chicken inside of counter, in front of you, after ordering.
If you want to eat authentic Yakitori, you should go to “Yakitori-ya”.
In some places, you have to order at least two skewered chickens (2 sticks) for one order but the price is one stick.
Especially, old authentic Yakitoriya has a rule like that,
I get confused too.
“Robatayaki”(炉端焼き) originally started northern Japan, generally referred to as the restaurant serving charcoal-grilled vegetables, meats, and seafood with the big wooden spatula.
“Robata-yaki” restaurant is two-types today.
The one is that the master or chefs cook and serve for you,
another is self-style, which you grill foods you ordered at your table.
Some Robata-yaki restaurants have an attractive cooking performance, especially in the Tokyo area.
Kushisage / Kushikatsu
“Kushikatsu”(串カツ), “Kushiage”(串揚げ), is a panko-breaded deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables.
The dish is well-known especially in Osaka, but you can enjoy “Kushikatsu” and beer throughout Japan.
In Osaka, “standing-style” is very common and eating varieties of fresh-fried foods with a dipping Worchester Sauce-like sauce.
The dipping sauce is shared with other customers so that you see the sign says
“Strictly prohibit second dipping!!”
There are self-deep-fried style Izakayas due to getting popular among young people.
You can pick up ingredients from the counter or order them,
and you can deep fry them in a fryer on the center of the table.
“Kushiyamonogatari”(串家物語) is poplar chain for this style.
There is countless “Izakaya chain” in Japan.
Generally, inexpensive and variety of foods and drinks, fast services, lively (or noisy), and you can find them easily in popular cities, especially around stations.
Each “izakaya chain has each unique concept, like focus on the taste of dishes, fresh seafood, all same reasonable price, or fun attractions and funny food menus.
Popular Izakaya Chain in Japan.
“Dining Bar”(ダイニングバー) is modern, stylish, western and international Izakaya style.
Also, it is used when the drink bar has more variety of food menu.
Avoid to trouble
Otoshi: the cover charge
You should know the custom of the “Otoshi”(お通し) system at the Izakaya.
You will get surprised by a small dish served in front of you even you don’t order, but it is too early to be happy!
It is A NOT COMPLIMENTARY dish, and it is going to be charged (even though you like or not) at the payment.
but It is a small charge like ¥300 to ¥500 ($3 to $5)
“Otoshi” or “Tsukidashi”, originally means the hospitality appetizer for the first drink until a dish served and also means table charge for customers who have drinks only.
It’s a Japanese custom in the history which hesitates to charge for a table obviously.
It is one of the ways for small Izakaya business to collect benefits and keep serving inexpensive dishes for customers,
please understand they are not trying to rip you off.
However, there are some troubles between international customers and Izakaya restaurants because most international visitors don’t know the “Otoshi” custom.
Can you refuse it?
It depends on Izakaya, some Izakaya accept the rejection, other won’t.
If it doesn’t make sence to pay for Otoshi,
you should ask them whether you can refuse it or not before tasting it.
But it will be a chance to know your new favorite taste too.
I think it is just nice thing to pay for it to help their business and show your application.
Moreover, you don’t have to pay tips so…
what is the difference?
At Izakaya chain, Robata-yaki, some Izakaya have English menus in popular cities, but not always at especially locally-own Izakaya.
Ask if they have an English menu and also available credit card payment if needed.
Izakayas are one of the unordinary experiences during your Japan trip.
If it’s your first trip to Japan, enjoy an icy chilled draught beer and find local friends!
I am missing hopping Izakaya with my friends,
we stopped by Izakayas every after dance class, maybe we went to the class almost for it!
But Izakayas, wherever you can have a party?
It is not true.
The atmosphere is a very important tip to pick up suitable Izakaya for you,
I will tell you some tips to nail down in the next article.