Izakaya, or Japanese-style pubs, are not only good to dine in but also perfect to get a glimpse of Japanese culture. Why not try out Izakaya, which keep evolving all the time.
A great place to glimpse the Japanese at play.
If you have stayed in Tokyo for a while, you must have come across “Izakaya”. Liquor shops (酒屋) in the Edo Period sold sake by the measure, and gradually people started to hang out (居) for a drink whenever they came to buy sake. Soon, the shops began to offer appetizers to go with the drinks, and turned into izakaya (居酒屋), liquor shops where you can hang out.
A few hundred years later, izakaya grew into a trillion yen industry and developed a variety of styles. Thee most authentic of them is the Japanese-style izakaya serving sake, shochu and local dishes. Theere are also Western-style and Asian-style ones offering a wide variety of ethnic foods and drinks. The competition among the large izakaya chains got so intense that it brought down the prices of the menu;, which is great news for consumers.
When you visit izakaya, you will encounter the hidden side of “polite and reserved” Japanese people. It is where people can cut loose and talk about anything with their bosses and coworkers thanks to the unwritten rule that whatever is exchanged at izakaya must not be brought into the workplace.
In the country which values honne (true feeling) and tatemae (façade), this is one of the few places where businessperson can remove the tatemae and express their honne. Izakaya is indeed a great place to make friends as people are usually more open and will wish to either befriend you or to practice English with you!
Reasonable budget of around 3,000–5,000yen
Izakaya is a place where you can easily access and experience Japanese culture. It’s casual, welcoming and, most importantly, reasonable. Although the budget varies by the shop, you can enjoy drinks and food for around 5,000 yen per person on average. Most places have the menu outside with the price and recommendations for you to figure out the budget. To make the calculation easier, there are one-price-for-all izakayas, usually run by large chains, that sell dishes for 270 yen or 300 yen. Also, some Western-style izakayas specialize in one-price drinks, such as 500 yen glasses of wine, and are known as “one coin bars” since you can buy drinks with 500 yen coins. Don’t be discouraged by the rise of yen since dining here, with no custom of tipping, can be still reasonable and satisfying. Let us guide you through the izakaya system!
Once you find a nice izakaya and sit down inside, enjoy the ambience with tsukidashi and a glass of drink. For most Japanese, the first drink is beer as the classic phrase “toriaezu biru” (beer for now) is like a greeting. Tsukidashi or otoushi is an amuse-bouche that many traditional izakayas offer automatically as you first sit down. Since it acts as a table charge, you are required to pay for this 300~500-yen, so don’t get upset as they are not trying to scam you, but rather use this to break the ice with the staff by asking “kore ha nandsuka?” (what dish is this?)
Ordering at izakaya is usually quite easy. Most izakaya chains provide you a menu with photos, prices and often the English translation. At some, the menu is on an electric touch panel where you can simply touch the photos to order. Traditional izakayas, however, usually have a plain written menu but the staff will be happy to help you. Some old izakayas have special ordering procedures, like “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld, but let’s put them aside for now… If you happen to get close to the staff and/or regulars at an izakaya, you should ask if there is any ura-menu, or secret menu, only known by the regulars!
People usually share dishes and go Dutch at izakaya. When you need to get the bill, tell them “okanjo (bill please)”. At a traditional izakaya, you may get a piece of paper with only the total bill handwritten on it. It is unlikely that izakaya falsifies bills but if you are not sure about it, you can always ask them to break it down.
Lastly, when you leave izakaya, tell the staff “gochiso-samadeshita (thank you for the meal–, originally meaning thanks for running around to get foods),” showing that you’ve enjoyed and appreciated the food and drinks!
We hope that you want to try out izakaya now! Enjoy the evening Japanese style!
Cheers! Japanese-style pubs, "Izakaya"!
September / 2011