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Izakaya 101: Get to Know Japan’s Traditional Bar

Won’t it be nice to cap off a long day of work or travel with beer and a bunch of friends? This would be easy to plan if you’re in Japan because of its izakayas. What is an izakaya? It is a Japanese bar, but it is not your usual drinking pub. The best izakayas could be modern in many ways but still embrace the Japanese culture of drinking. If you’d like to learn how to navigate Japan’s traditional bar, you need to know the basics first. 

An izakaya, meaning “to stay” (i) and “sake shop” (sakaya), are also called akachōchin (red lantern) due to the paper lanterns used to be spotted in front of them. Izakaya is a casual Japanese bar that has been likened to Irish and early American pubs because people are free to be as loud and as drunk as they want. Izakayas garnered more interest because it allowed customers to simply sit on the premises.

Customers usually spend hours in izakayas and leave in the morning. Izakayas aim to make guests feel comfortable as they enjoy their drinks and conversations. However, if you plan to go to an izakaya in Japan, be there early because you might not find a space when it gets crowded inside. Some izakayas implement a two-hour limit when there are many people waiting to get in.

There are izakayas that are open 24/7, such as Isomaru Suisan, which has eight branches in the country. To gain access to one of them, book with KKday here

Some izakayas have private rooms or areas for customers who want to have some privacy for their group. In some izakayas, you can sit on tatami mats and eat from low tables, and in some, you can sit on a chair or drink from tables. And some offer both options. Some izakayas observe what they call tachi-nomi style or “drinking while standing.”

 

 

Drinks in Izakayas

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The highlight of any izakaya bonding with your travel buddies or friends is drinking sake. Sake is made by fermenting rice and processed through a brewing method similar to that of beer. The word sake refers to any alcoholic drink, while the other sake known in English is usually called nihonshu or Japanese liquor. 

You can order a preliminary drink first, like a round of beers. Sometimes, they can come with small bites “otoshi” or “tsuki-dashi.”

Some izakayas would place your glass of sake in a saucer or wooden box, also known as masu, and make the sake overflow from the glass and into the box. You can choose from different types of sake and shochu, another famous drink.)

Shochu is a vodka-style spirit in Japan made from barley or potatoes. This is what you order if you do not drink beer. You can receive this with lemon, pickled plum, fruit juices, or water.

Umeshu is described as sweet but with a twist in its taste. Umeshu is a plum wine that can be poured on the rocks or mixed with soda. 

Other drinks you can try are whiskey, sour mix (sawā), and chūhai, a drink made with shōchū and carbonated water flavored with lemon.

 

 

Food Choices in Izakayas

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What’s the best dish to be paired with sake? Izakaya menu can consist of chicken karaage, edamame (boiled and salted soybean pods), kushiyaki (grilled meat or vegetable skewers), sashimi (slices of raw fish), Agedashi dōfu (deep-fried tofu in broth), tebasaki (chicken wings), tsukemono (pickles), Yakisoba noodles, french fries, nabe (Japanese hotpot), and Yakitori or grilled chicken skewers. If you like fish, you can enjoy fresh sashimi, sushi rolls, nigiri sushi, and yakizakana. 

Aburi-Chaya, an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) in Susukino, Sapporo, offers grilled crab legs and flavorful Chanko hot pot. You can get a complimentary drink when you book with KKday.

Typical izakaya dishes include chicken karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), yakitori, edamame, grilled fish, french fries, sashimi, sushi, ebi-mayo (fried shrimp with mayo), nabe (Japanese hotpot) and salads. Izakayas are also typically attended by large groups of friends or colleagues and are rarely a dating spot. When ordering, you can say “sumimasen” or “onegaishimasu” to the waiter. Some izakayas have a small buzzer at the table. 

Some izakayas offer set meals.  Umi no Michi, an izakaya in Tenjin, Fukuoka, has a Banquet Set Meal and a Feast Set Meal. To relish in assorted sashimi and live spear squid at Umi No Michi, you can reserve your seats here.

 

 

Ready to dive into the drinking culture of Japan? Check out these exciting beer experiences you can try during your trip! 

 

*Featured image via Osaze Cuomo on Shutterstock

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