The Social Power of IZAKAYA, the Japanese style Pub

COMFORT FOOD AND REFRESHING DRINKS.

INFORMAL PLACES FOR AFTER-WORK DRINKING.

THE MOST LOVED JAPANESE STYLE PUBS.

1. WHAT EXACTLY IS A JAPANESE IZAKAYA?

BJT IZAKAYA - Little Bar and izakaya in Tokyo, Japan.

Little road with Bar and izakaya in Tokyo, Japan.

Comfort food and Refreshing drinks.
Informal places for after-work drinking.
The most loved Japanese style pubs!

IZAKAYA

Such an appealing place! Where you can forget for a while the weight of a stressful life.
It’s pretty cool even though your life is not stressed at all! 😁

No idea of what I’m talking about?
Mmm… have you ever seen the Netflix serie “Midnight Diner”?

Yes? You already have an idea of what an Izakaya is about.
Never heard about that? Well, you should give it a try! It’s a nice Japanese show.

There are different ways to experience izakaya.

You can sit next to strangers to enjoy funny moments together, or chill in private rooms with your friends.
In any case an izakaya is a pleasant place to discover some genuine aspects of peculiar Japanese people’s attitude.

Truth is: any izakaya is a window onto Japanese society. We are what we eat, after all! Click To Tweet

2. WHY IZAKAYA PUB IN JAPAN ARE SO DAMN COOL?

BJT IZAKAYA - Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku. Tokyo, Japan.

“Omoide Yokocho” area in Shinjuku. Tokyo, Japan.

You might find table and chairs, tatami mats or standing bars.

But basically izakaya can be divided in 2 main categories:
1. Old fashioned-Retro izakaya
2. Chain izakaya

OLD FASHIONED-RETRO IZAKAYA

The old fashioned ones are usually individually owned.

It’s quite common to see skewers been grilled (yakitori) right in front of the Japanese pub entrance. The smoky fumes of the grilled meat are always the most powerful of marketing campaigns.

Many of those old fashion style izakaya can be family businesses, with a related familiar intimate atmosphere.

When approaching those izakaya and you start by drinking your o-sake, in no time you could find yourself enjoying a random conversation and having fun with the person next to you.

It has to be said, the social power of izakaya is something that you don’t actually get to do a lot with (in Japan), whether you are in other normal restaurant or even bars.

But you can sit in an izakaya and within a minute you will find yourself having unexpected meeting! Such a fun time!

CHAIN IZAKAYA

Chain izakaya style can be a very different experience from the previous one.
You usually choose it to enjoy time with friends and have a private table or an isolated room.

They’re often located in buildings, with a great variety of food shops, bars and other related stores.

It’s quite common to be guided to anonymous mysterious elevators.
Then ending up, when the doors just open, in unbelievably big and busy restaurants.

On your table you can find a touchscreen tablet that works as a menu.

It’s an engaging game! You place your order through the tablet and the waiter simply brings you everything you want!

The fact that’s so easy can be actually somehow dangerous!

You could enjoy so much food, drinks and ordering procedures, that you’ll find yourself repeating for dozen of times that process. Always ending by spending quite a lot of yen (Japanese currency)!
It’s super fun though! But pay.. attention!

For foreigner visitors, the digital menu can be easily switched to English or other languages.

Some of those izakaya offer an “all you can drink” special price (for a specific amount of time). This service is called “Nomihoudai”.

3. WHAT SHOULD YOU DRINK IN JAPANESE IZAKAYA?

BJT IZAKAYA - The famous "Highball" cocktail enjoyed in an Izakaya.

The famous Highball cocktail enjoyed in an Izakaya.

Most of the Japanese izakaya offer all sorts of drinks.
The main players, in izakaya style dinners, surely are alcoholic drinks, such as:

• Sake (nihonshu)
Indeed the king among all Japanese alcoholic beverages. This Japanese rice wine is made through treatment and fermentation of rice grains.
Example of Japanese Sake.

• Beer (bīru)
Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin, Suntory and other Japanese brands.
(Click on the beer name to check the price online, if available)

• Shōchū
A Japanese distilled beverage, usually obtained from rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, barley or brown sugar.

• Japanese Whisky
An high quality spirit proudly made in Japan and commonly drunk from many whisky lovers.

• Cocktails

• Japanese Wine
Wines with its unique fruity flavors

 

Some Japanese bars and izakaya offer a bottle keep service, where a patron can purchase an entire bottle of liquor (usually sake, shōchū or whisky) and store the unfinished portion for a future visit.

4. WHAT CAN YOU EAT IN JAPANESE IZAKAYA?

BJT IZAKAYA - Japanese chef in Shinjuku Market, Tokyo

A Japanese chef in Shinjuku Market, Tokyo

A big part of the izakaya appeal is home-style cooking.
Each pub has its own specialities (most of the time a loooot of them).

• Grilled Skewers with every imaginable part of Pork, Beef, Chicken (give a try to the grilled chicken hearts or neck yakitori!).

• Raw, grilled, steamed, simmered fish, or even boiled in volcanic water (nostalgic memories from Beppu, a famous Onsen place in the north part of Kyushu area).

• The Magnificent seven (or more) vegetables in tsukemono (the Japanese way of pickles).

• 50 shades of tempura, with its tempura dipping sauce made starting by dashi (the famous light Japanese fish broth).

• Incredibly fluffy Tamagoyaki.

• And tons of other tasty comfort dishes!

Ok, ok! It’s not actually easy to list the whole food choices.
I mean, there could be literally everything written on each customized izakaya menu. It depends by the city or the area it’s located and, of course, the chef unique will!

E.g. A bizarre dish Just popped-up in my mind .
I was able to taste it only once in Kagoshima (south of Kyushu).
The Sashi Tori.
Raw chicken, freshly marinated and quickly seared on the skin side with a flame torch.

A unique dish that surely goes against a lot of culinary etiquette rules,.
But, as you probably know, in those kind of travel explorations the right thing to do was to face it with brave.

That’s part of the moltitude of unexpected scenes you live when your idea is to fully explore and understand a different (sometimes exotic) culture.
(Although, let’s say … maybe I wouldn’t eat it again)

In conclusion…
There’s an infinity of unique dishes out there to be enjoyed.

That’s why I’d say the best thing to do is to try as much izakayas as you possibly can!

5. ORIGINAL IZAKAYA IN JAPAN. WHERE TO GO?

BJT IZAKAYA - Fun time Japanese style in a little izakaya

Fun time Japanese style in a little izakaya

Well, izakaya are basically everywhere in Japan, from the biggest city, to the quieter countryside towns.

When in doubt, follow your instinct or ask to locals, they’re always keen to help a lost (and hungry) foreigner.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll find new friends to enjoy your dinner with.

If I can suggest just a few…

TOKYO

If you’re wandering around Tokyo, you should give a look to Omoide Yokocho area, in Shinjuku. Walking through the little streets, plenty of old style bars and izakaya, here it feels like to be back in the ‘50s.
It’s a time travel, where you can still taste of the old days (a yummy taste!).
So.. why not to start from izakaya in this unique area in Tokyo?
| Check it on Google Maps |

Again in Tokyo, again in Shinjuku area. If you’re looking for a place to party with friends (and have buckets of beer for a modest amount), I recommend you go to “Medaka” izakaya.
Be careful, if you are looking for a classy izakaya where you can taste exquisite food, this place is surely NOT for you.
At Medaka you go to drink a lot and party with friends!
| Check it on Google Maps |

SENDAI

Oh, by the way! I’ve just remembered a nice spot from my first Japanese backpacker adventures!
If you’re visiting Sendai, stop by for a snack, a nama biru (draft beer) and a talk (if you speak Japanese) in a tiny crazy izakaya named “Bonten Sakaba”.
It’s a standing bar, but a nice place if you want to spend time with the local fauna for a couple of hours. Especially if you like old local Japanese people’s stories.
| Check it on Google Maps |

OSAKA

Another personal recommendation. If you’ll be trying all the fun stuff in Osaka and maybe you’ll be already out of your budget, give a try to a place called “Okuman“. Nice friendly atmosphere, good drinks and food at an affordable price!
| Check it on Google Maps |

The list of Japanese izakaya I enjoyed is long.
Do you like the topic? I’ll probably should make a list.
Something like:

the 25 best izakaya in Japan to eat and drink
(all around Japan, from Kyushu to Nagano).

Let me know with a comment if you’d like to read this kind of post. And subscribe our Newsletter to receive (very few) updates directly in your inbox.

6. THE IZAKAYA EXPERIENCE IS MORE THAN JUST EATING AND DRINKING

BJT IZAKAYA - Social Time in Omoide Yokocho Izakaya. Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Izakaya means social Time. “Omoide Yokocho” (Shinjuku, Tokyo)

It’s so interesting to spend your time in a Japanese izakaya.
Just sitting in places like this and watching around, you’re able to grab hidden pieces of Japanese people’s souls.

Japanese people sometimes could have a tendency not to be very open when speaking with foreigners (or strangers), they usually do not like to reveal their inner selves. That’s why a dinner to an izakaya can really turn out to be an interesting way to discover them and their fascinating social culture.

A place where the drinkers are not just customers, but also performers. Izakaya is indeed a kind of stage and each meal, each day, each time you stop by, is a one night only live show!

That’s the trick, after all.
If you want to get to know a Japanese person, I’d suggest to bring him/her out and go to an izakaya together.
I’ve done it tons of times. Every time is different. Every time is really fun!

So, what are you waiting for? Haven’t booked your flight yet?
Your own crazy izakaya experience is waiting for you!
Just.. be ready to say one “Kanpaaaaaai” after another.

Domo Arigatō 🙏
Thanks for reading.
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Written by: Dromediary