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Ultimate Guide; All about “Izakaya” in Japan. Vol.2 (Edited 2020)

Food & Drinks
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I hope you visit this page from “All about Izakaya in Japan vo.1”, of course, you can start here.

Visiting “Izakayas” is one of the things you should do in Japan.

“Izakayas” are Japanese-style pubs or tapas bars, where you can enjoy varieties of small dishes and drinks at the same place.

Also, Izakayas are like social clubs so that people gather their favorite one with their friends, colleagues or alone for having communication after work.

Japnese people call going to Izakayas after work “Nominication”(飲み二ケーション),

means “Nomi”(Drinking) + “Communication”

(it is kind of the old term…)

Izakayas, you may have already known because many Izakaya-like restaurants are all over the world, but it is a bit different from authentic Izakayas in Japan.

You can find “Izakayas” everywhere, but you might feel scared to open the Izakaya’s door.

Before you go to check out, better research,

  • Budget
  • Specialty food (Types of Izakaya)
  • Atmosphere
  • Opening hours
  • Location & Last train
  • English Menu

Today, I am going to tell you tips on choosing the Izakaya and how to order foods.

Nail down the Izakaya

There are countless Izakaya restaurants throughout Japan, especially downtown.

How to find the right one for you?

Here are some tips to help you.

Budget

piggybank

There is a wide range of prices depending on the izakaya concept.

If you like Izakayas which are special for fresh seafood, local cuisine, local sake or Shochu, the budget will be higher than Izakaya Chain.

If you don’t mind “OK” taste but want varieties of inexpensive food menus, the Izakaya chain will be best for you.

If you find private-owned, not chain, loved by locals, you will get comfort foods and good sake and the budget will be between above. (called “Aka Chochin”)

Signature menu

What is your mood to eat?

Do you have a specific food or drink you want to try?

You don’t have to hurt yourself to nail down where you should go,

you can eat almost everything at “Izakayas”, but still,

there are signature menu or specific concepts of each izakaya.

For example, my husband is a picky seafood eater, he hates most of the other seafood outside of Tuna and Shelfishes.

If he goes to seafood specialty Izakaya in Japan, called “Kaisen Izakaya” (海鮮居酒屋),

there are very few meat dishes and also he can’t stand the fishy smell in the restaurant.

Fresh seafood dishes such as Tuna Sashimi, you can eat most of Izakayas in Japan, so you need to consider the specialty of Izakayas.

The same thing is about drink specialty.

You can’t get as many as kinds of Sake if you go to Izakaya is the specialty for “Shocyu” ou like tasting Sake.


Specialty foods

  • Yakitori (grilled skewered chicken)
  • Yakiniku (Japanese or Korean BBQ)
  • Kaisen (Fresh seafood)
  • Kushikatsu (Deep-fried skewered food)
  • Nabe (Japanese hot pot)
  • Oden (Kind of Japanese hot pot )
  • Local cuisine

Drinks

  • Local Sake
  • Local Syocyu ( Japanese vodka)
  • Craft Beer
  • wine

I write about the type of Izakayas here…

Atmosphere

lively Izakaya in Japan

The atmosphere is important,

if you don’t like a lively atmosphere, you may need to be patient for the atmosphere a little at Izakayas.

Izakayas are generally where people come to get drunk and having fun.

For office workers, for husbands, for housewives,

Izakaya is the place they can vent out their complaints of daily’s with lots of laughs,( venting out their frustrations is Japanese culture for refresh)

Although the Izakaya restaurant is lively, the atmosphere is often comfortable and homey at the small local Izakaya.

Additionally, not so many Izakayas have a non-smoking table.


Yet, you need silence? or a mature atmosphere?

private room izakaya

There are Izakayas that private rooms (Koshitsu, 個室) are available ( better booking the table in advance), or go to fancy Izakayas.

Opening Hours

The average opening times of Izakayas are from 5 p.m. through 1 a.m., however, it really depends on Izakayas.

If you like going to Izakayas early evening or expect to drink till midnight, you need to check the opening time.

And don’t forget the “Last order” system.

Location

ekimae shinjyuku

Make sure the location you can catch a cab just in case you miss public transportations.

At The Entrance

tatamiroom

Once you nail down the Izakaya for the night, make sure

  • Carry some cash with you
  • Izakaya’s location
  • Hotel’s location
  • Last train or subways

At the entrance, the staff asks

  • how many people with you
  • where you prefer to take a seat (A counter table, table, Tatami floor, private room)
  • you have a reservation or not

shoe shelf, Izakayas, Japan

In some places, you may need to take shoes off.

Generally, there is a wooden shoe shelf in the entrance hall.

Don’t forget to take out the key after putting your shoes.

(You also can share the box with your company.)

English Menu

izakaya menu

You want to ask they have English menus and credit card payment is available or not before seating.

Some private-owned Izakaya, they have a menu on the wall instead of individual menus. (probably not in Engish.)

Make sure to download translate apps. (Goole translation is useful to scan and translate the Japanese menu. It also supports vertical writing.)

After seated

Once seated, you’ll be offered a hot (cold) towel (Oshibori, おしぼり) or a wet wipe.

Do not wipe your face with a hot towel, gentlemen. Well, you can, if you don’t mind people think you are “Oji-san” ( the middle-aged male).

Then, the server might ask you for the first round of drinks.

Order Drink First!

At the Izakaya, order drinks first.

Here is the famous Japanese term for the first order;

today's phrase 4

means “Anyway Draught Beer!!!”.

You don’t have to order beer of course.

Highly recommend “Japanese super chilled (sometimes with a frozen glass) draught beer” to drink at Izakaya though.

(Japanese popular beer brands; Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory, and Yebisu )

Aside from beer, the menu displays sake, shochu, wine, highball, fruit sours, and some cocktails.

*fruit sour is a mixed drink with Shocyu, fruits syrup, and sparkling water.

At Izakaya chains, don’t expect high-quality alcohol.

Also, it could be not many selections at local small Izakayas. (Beer, Sake, Shochu, highball, hoppy only)

Otoshi

otoshiizakaya

When the first drinks are served, you will get a small appetizer too.

It is called “Otoshi” or “Tsukidashi”, which is a Japanese custom as same as table charge in other cultures.

It is going to be charged(even though you like or not) at the payment but It is a small amount like ¥300 to ¥500 ($3 to $5).

Especially to small Izakaya business, it is one of the ways to collect benefits and keep serving inexpensive comfort food customers.

Be nice to spend the small charge, you may find the new favorite food.

If Izakaya double-charge you “Otoshi” AND “table charge”, it may be considered as ripping off.

You may want to ask the server before you have “Otoshi” if you don’t want,

but “Go to Rome, Do as Roman’s do”.

Order Dishes

small bell on the table

At the popular Izakaya chain, there are small bells on each table to call the staff.

Moreover, they have tablets, or touch-pen to order additional food directly.

It is kind of fun to order food with touch-pen, just touch pictures of dishes and “Order” on the menu.

In the place, you can’t find these gadgets,

You can call the staff with raising hands, eye-contacts, or saying “Excuse me”.
In Japan, is OK you can call them loudly.

“Excuse me” in Japanese in this case, “Su i ma se n“(すいません).

If you seating the counter, you can order the master or the chefs behind the bar directly, but if they look busy, it will be better to order the staff.

To have communication, you can ask recommendations to the staff or happy campers around you.

Nomihodai: All you can drink

beer tap

“Nomihodai” (飲み放題 ) one of few Japanese words that My American husband never forgets.

It is the all-you-can-drink system that you pay a fixed price (generally ¥2,000 – ¥4,000) and you can drink alcoholic beverages from the list for a limited time or endless.

Generally, the alcoholic beverages on the list are not high-quality. (in Izakaya chains)

If you get sick when you have cheap alcohol, I don’t recommend doing this,

but it is much-saving money if you drink more than a few shortly.

Last Order

lastorder

Usually, between an hour through a half-hour before the closing time, the staff ask “Last Order” around each table.

“Last order” means you can’t order any dishes and drinks after the “Last order” call.

It depends on Izakayas, the”last order” of food and the “last order” of drinks are separate.

Payment

Ask the staff “check out”, so they will bring a bill.

No table check in Japan.

You have to bring the bill to the cashier and pay.

No tipping is required.

You don’t have to pay for the tip, even for the staff.

Conclusion…

“Izakaya Experience” will be one of the memorable pages of your journal, if you choose the right one!

Even if the first Izakaya is not suitable for you, quit drinking and go next!

Izakaya is very casual, they don’t mind you will be done a quick drink.

Moreover, many tiny Izakayas and bars in a local hidden alley such as “Shinjuku Golden Alley”, the quick drink is more welcome rather than slow drinkers.

Try several Izakayas, several Japanese cuisines, and have a communication with happy campers!

all about izakayas in Japan, 2020

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