Don’t fret or sweat: How to master your visit to an Izakaya like a Japanese
|Foreign tourists fall in love with Japanese Izakaya||Types of Izakaya|
|Must-know rules of Izakaya|
From long time ago, izakaya has been a place where Japanese come to enjoy drinking. It is equivalent to pubs in Western countries. Only difference is that izakaya serves a variety of Japanese side-dishes and many types of alcoholic drinks. Because it is such a relaxing place to drink, many foreign tourists fall in love with it after visiting one for the first time! I also heard some restaurant owners opened a Japanese-style izakaya in their own country after being inspired in Japan!
If you still haven’t been to an izakaya and wish to go, please read this article. You will know everything there is to know about an izakaya!
Various types of izakaya exist in Japan. Here, we present some of the major categories of izakaya. Choose the right one depending on how many people you are going with and how you feel like drinking.
◆ Big Izakaya Chain
There are so many massive izakaya chains in Japan: Watami, Uotami, Domadoma, Ikkenme Sakaba, Tengu, Ikkyu, Tsukada Nojo, Shoya, etc. You can find these chain izakaya everywhere. Some buildings have turned into “Izakaya building,” containing several izakaya chains.
An izakaya chain has many stores all over the country and all usually have the same menu. Because most izakaya chains are cheap, they are always filled with students and workers. Since the stores are quite spacious, it is a great place to have a big party with more than 10 people. In Japan, people celebrate the end of the year party with their colleagues (called Bonenkai) or a welcoming party for new employees in these izakaya chains. Sometimes a party can go up to 50 people.
Most stores are clean and fashionable.
◆ Privately owned izakaya
Some izakaya are owned privately or by a family. Therefore, it is a unique eatery in all of Japan. Here, you will be served homemade dishes or dishes made from fresh fish that are caught on the same day. These izakaya usually have regular customers who come all the time. Most are usually small. Some only have counter seats. Even though these are small, it is a relaxing and homely place to have drinks.
◆ Specialized izakaya
These izakaya specialize in select food such as yakitori (grilled, skewered chicken), fried chicken wings and seafood. Torikizoku is an izakaya chain that specializes in yakitori all over Japan.
（Source：left ホットペッパー, right この美しい地球に生まれて）
Isomaru Suisan is an izakaya that specializes in seafood barbecue.
（Source：left ぐるなび, right 東洋経済）
There are many other specialized izakaya such as Sekai-no-Yamachan serving fried chicken wings in Nagoya style. These izakaya are perfect for those who know what they want to eat, like “I feel like having seafood barbecue today!” Since they serve only specific dishes, the quality is usually good. Because each store is special, you will feel like you have been to a specialized restaurant. It would be a great memory of your trip.
Many tourists from all around the world love going to izakaya, where service is good, price is reasonable and a large variety of dishes are served. Yet it is quite different from pubs and bars that you are used to going in your country. Here, we tell you everything that you need to know before going to an izakaya for the first time!
1. Take off your shoes in case of zashiki (Japanese-style room)
In some izakaya, you need to take off your shoes before entering inside and sitting on the floor. In other izakaya, tables are in hori-gotatsu style, so that there is a space under the table where you can put your feet.
In any case, you need to take off your shoes at the entrance and put them inside a shoes locker. In izakaya chains of this type, each individual space has a lock on it, so that other people won’t mistakenly take your shoes! On the other hand, some people lose their keys by putting in in their bag or dropping it under the seat when they get drunk. If you lose the key, some stores may ask you to pay a fine, so please be careful. You can put all the keys in the center of the table so as not to lose them!
（Source：left 新藤学ブログ, right 楽天市場）
2. Order drinks right after getting seated!
As soon as you are seated in an izakaya, a server will come and ask you, “what would you like for a drink?” Don’t be surprised when a server comes and asks for a drink so soon. It is quite normal in an izakaya. Therefore, you should first check the drinks menu and decide what you want to drink before ordering other things. We recommend you try typical Japanese cocktails such as Chuhai, shochu mixed with soda or fruit juice, or Hoppi, shochu mixed with sweet wort! Many Japanese usually start with beer as soon as they are seated.
3. What exactly is “otoshi”?
In Japan, it is common to serve an appetizer called “otoshi” when customers order drinks. It resembles an “amuse-bouche” or an”entrée” that is served before course meals. Each store serves different dishes, including simple boiled green soybeans or cooked vegetables. This custom started because many people wish to have something to eat with their drinks. Yet some appetizers are not free. In some izakaya, you need to pay about 300-500 yen per person!
Don’t be mad if they serve something that you didn’t order and ask you to pay for it. In fact, many foreign tourists have problems in izakaya because of this otoshi. In Western countries, people pay tips for a service. Yet you don’t pay tip for service in izakaya. Therefore, instead of thinking that you will pay for something you didn’t order, you should think of it as paying for a service that is offered. Do as the Japanese do when you are in Japan!
4. Advanced technology for ordering, especially in izakaya chains!
Don’t be surprised when you are handed with a tablet at the table. Recently, many izakaya chain stores are equipped with tablets for ordering. It is very practical because you don’t need to call a server to order. On top of that, you can check what you ordered and how much you need to pay directly on the tablet. It is also very easy to use. All you need is to touch the screen. Of course, if you are not used to advanced technology, you can always ask a server to take your order!
5. All-you-can-drink menu is perfect for a large group of people
When we have a party in izakaya, we call it “enkai.” If you come in a big group, you can choose a special menu for enkai, which is all-you-can-drink menu. If you love drinking, you should definitely choose this menu! In other countries, it is rare to see pubs or restaurants that offer an all-you-can-drink menu for alcohol, because it isn’t profitable for the house. Therefore, it is one of the great aspects of izakaya that we are proud of!
In most stores, you can order as many drinks as you want during two hours. You usually need to order the last drink 30 min before the end of the two-hour period. Furthermore, you need to order a course with all-you-can-drink menu in most izakaya. You also need to make a reservation few days before, because izakaya staff has to prepare the dishes for the number of people coming. In fact, each store has different rules for all-you-can-drink menu, concerning types of dishes served and its price. Therefore, we recommend you check the website for further details before making a reservation. This menu is not recommended for people who just want to have drinks without meals, who want to choose what they want to eat or who don’t drink too much.
6. Try calling 1-2 hours before the opening hour or after closing hour
You might need to call an izakaya to ask about all-you-can-drink menu. If you need to make a phone call, we recommend you to do it 1-2 hours before the opening hour or after closing when they are cleaning up. Izakaya are usually very busy between 18:00-22:00. It might be frustrating for you and for Japanese servers who don’t speak English well to communicate smoothly when they are busy. It is also easy to misunderstand each other when the staff is stressed. Therefore, avoid calling during peak or busy hours.
7. Make a reservation early if you want to go to an izakaya on Friday or Saturday!
Izakaya are filled with many businessmen or students, who don’t work on weekends. Because they want to have drinks when they don’t have to work on the next day, Friday and Saturday are the busiest days of the week in an izakaya. Therefore, you might not be able to find a seat if you go to an izakaya on those days. If you really want to have drinks in an izakaya, you should make a reservation beforehand. Since Monday and Tuesday aren’t so busy, you will be able to get a seat without reservations. If you are traveling in Japan, we recommend you to visit izakaya on a weekday!
8. You can choose the temperature of nihonshu (Japanese sake)
When you come to Japan, you might want to try Japanese sake. In fact, there are many different types of Japanese sake depending on how the rice is cleaned or how the rice is turned into sake. Since each type of sake is different, some sake are delicious in cool temperatures while others are delicious slightly heated. Therefore, it would be interesting to ask a server for the best temperature when you order sake. In general, dry Ginjo or Daiginjo sake are usually served Hiya (cooled). On the other hand, sweet and tasty honzojochu are usually served Atsukan (heated). In some izakaya, you can drink sake at “room temperature” or “nurukan,” which is mildly heated to around 35-40 degrees. Ask servers to serve your sake at different temperatures!
9. You can ask to keep a bottle for your next visit!
When you order a bottle of shochu or whisky, it would be such a waste if you can’t finish the bottle by the end of the evening. In that case, you should ask the store to keep the bottle for you until you visit again. If you see bottles of shochu or whisky with someone’s names on them, that means they will keep a bottle for you in that izakaya. If you know you will come to the same izakaya during your stay, ask a server to keep a bottle for you. It would be nice to know that your drink is waiting for you in the izakaya! Because some izakaya ask for an extra fee or have a limited period for keeping a bottle, you should ask what are the conditions of keeping a bottle in the store!
10. Things you should never do in an izakaya
Lastly, we inform you of things you should never do in an izakaya. First, you should never cancel or arrive late for your reservation without calling the store in advance. Because the store asks your name and phone number when you make a reservation, they can ask you to pay, if you cancel without calling in.
If you need to cancel a reservation, you should notify the store no later than the day before. Yet you might have to cancel your reservation on the same day, if something has come up at the last minute. In that case, you must call the store and explain your urgent situation for cancelling your reservation. Especially if you cancel a reservation for the all-you-can-drink menu, the store may have already paid for all the ingredients to prepare dishes for a group! Therefore, it is understandable that you might need to pay when you cancel at the last minute.
If you want to go to an izakaya for the first time in Japan or if you have been there several times before but didn’t understand the rules, we hope you understand how it works after reading this article. People will admire you as someone who knows Japan well if you know these rules! Happy Drinking!
Hideaki Nakayama Reporters