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Last Night at the Izakaya

Updated on March 2, 2018

Welcome to the izakaya

The entrance of the izakaya
The entrance of the izakaya | Source

The izakaya is a small snack bar where friends or coworkers get together to hang out. They are generously sprinkled all over Japan to help the locals get their weekly dosage of cheap food and drink.

If you are visiting Japan as a tourist, swing by for a few hours after a long day of sightseeing. It will be a welcome break from the temples and shrines. If you live here as an expat, like I do, there's no need to worry: your Japanese friends will bring you to one sooner or later.

I don't go often but my girlfriend invited me recently. She was meeting her closest buddies and wanted to show me off. I didn't disappoint but, as usual, I made my share of mistakes giving them plenty of anecdotes to share at the office for the rest of the week.

Don't let the same happen to you. Keep reading and I'll walk you through the experience.


Edamame and chuhai
Edamame and chuhai | Source

The izakaya offers cheap drinks (300-400 yen) along with cheap appetizers (300-400 yen).

Appetizers include small, simple dishes. The idea is to order a variety of appetizers to share with friends. Drinks include simple cocktails, Japanese beer and a small selection of liquor such as whiskey or sake. They also offer tea if you've had enough alcohol for the night. If you're looking for wine or something in a martini glass then you're in the wrong place.

I don't mind beer but when I'm at the izakaya I like chuhai. Chuhai is a shochu with club soda and sweet flavoring such as peach, lemon or orange. Shochu is a Japanese alcohol distilled from "mugi" (barley) or "imo" (sweet potato). Chuhai is about as strong as beer (5-10% alcohol), but not as strong as shochu (25%).

The only problem with chuhai is that it's like candy. It's easy to overdo it too soon. This is why you need your buddies and lots of food to slow you down.

What you see above is my drink and a plate of "edamame," or boiled soybeans. While most Americans go for pretzels or nuts, in Japan it's almost always edamame. They take a few seconds to peel and pop. Keeping your hands busy slows down your drinking and eating. But don't worry, it's an opportunity to enjoy the company of your friends!

Take it slow...

The hardest thing for me is to take it slow. With so much great food around me I can't help myself. Just a piece of this and a piece of that. Oh, that's new, let me try that. Wow, that's good, one more time... I sometimes ignore the company and stuff my face. By the time I realize what's going on, I'm full and dizzy.

Not cool. This isn't dinner time so it's not about the food. It's about your friends. Talk to your friends, the drinks will relax you and the food will keep the drinks from hitting too hard.

Watch your back - Don't forget where you are

Sitting on the floor
Sitting on the floor | Source

What you see above is the normal dining area of the average izakaya. Patrons sit on the floor but wooden floorboards can easily be removed for more leg room. This is a godsend for someone as tall as me (6'3").

Either way you play it, remember that the floor is hard, even with cushions, and there is no leaning back on a chair. If you lean back, you'll fall and maybe trip a staff member or a fellow patron on his way to the restroom.

Not cool. Once you're actually seated, you'll realize this immediately. Just keep it in mind after your second or third drink. I mention this because I like to lean back on a chair when I get tired, which usually happens soon after I eat and drink a lot. Try not to make the same mistake.

Enjoy yourself!

Tori nankotsu (fried chicken cartilage)
Tori nankotsu (fried chicken cartilage) | Source

It's possible to keep it slow and enjoy the food. If you're bored with pickled vegetables, tofu and soybeans, try something else. Try the "karage."

Karage is deep fried, boneless pieces of chicken or other meats such as octopus. It is perfectly sized for chopsticks. "Tori nankotsu" is a type of karage which includes deep fried chicken cartilage. It is pictured on the right (we ate some). It tastes great so there is no need for any sauce.

Most places also serve steak fries. The natives call it "fried potato." You'll find other Western appetizers but not many. I go for the Western and fried stuff for last, as a fail safe. Before that, it's all about the Japanese food.

Try to play it the same way. Your friends will help you.

These phrases will help you

Your friends might encourage you to practice some of your Japanese. Go for it! Here are a few words to help you get started:

Please = Kudasai

Plate = Torizara

Chopsticks = Hashi

How much (cost)? = Ikura?

Yummy = Oishi

Thank you = Arigato

Many words are the same in Japanese as they are in English. These include: beer, menu, glass, whiskey and others. Keep calm, be yourself and you'll do fine.

All good things come to an end

I'd say I had a good time
I'd say I had a good time | Source

It's time to go. Maybe you'll move on to a bar, a club or another izakaya. Most likely, you're going home. Go to the register and pay. But how? Look at the bill but all the items are listed in Japanese. Who ate what? Who drank what?

Forget it. Unless it's someone's treat--they should tell you in advance--then everything is split equally. For example, if the bill is 20,000 yen and there are five of you then each person pays 4,000 yen. That's it. Even if you only ate edamame while the other guy ate all the shrimp tempura. Even if you only had tea while the other guy had several beers. That's the way it goes. The important thing is that you all had a good time.

And if you didn't have a good time? If you felt ripped off? Well, then you went for the wrong reason and you have to lighten up. Don't be so shy next time. It's your night, too! However, there are three things to remember:

1. Don't tip. There's no tipping in Japan.

2. Don't let one bad night at the izakaya ruin the whole experience for you. It's not fair to you or your friends.

3. Don't drink and drive! There are trains and taxis everywhere.

I hope you had a fun. See you next time!

An izakaya coming to a town near you?

Have you ever been to a snack bar?

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What do you think? Want to go?

Submit a Comment

  • TwistedWiseman profile image

    TwistedWiseman 5 years ago

    Anything that has Japan in it...I'M IN!

    Off course I want to go!

  • WriterJanis2 profile image

    WriterJanis2 5 years ago

    I would definitely like to go. Take me with you next time????????

  • profile image

    sherioz 5 years ago

    Loved this! Your writing and the photographs are so personal, it almost makes me feel as if I was there myself.

  • MrMojo01 profile image

    MrMojo01 5 years ago

    Great lens, it made me hungry!

  • profile image

    WeddingDJSydney 5 years ago

    Love Japanese food!

  • vetochemicals profile image

    Cindy 5 years ago from Pittsburgh Pa

    I'd love to go to one, no tipping in Japan - interesting as well as your night out, thanks for taking us there. xoxo

  • manutara69 profile image

    manutara69 5 years ago

    Yes, I want to go. Like now. I'm hungry.

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    I would certainly enjoy a visit to an izakaya, would watch my back in sitting, guess those years of sitting on the floor would pay off here, guess you have to watch out for everyone but that's an easy adjustment. Your empty bowl tells the whole story of your snack bar experience, not a morsel left! An interesting and fun look at a new cultural experience for you, arigato!

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    (I'm teaching myself Japanese!)

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    Interesting lens!

  • rozalex lm profile image

    rozalex lm 5 years ago

    Great! thanks.

  • eTravelSense profile image

    eTravelSense 5 years ago

    Will definitely have to go next time I'm in Japan

  • profile image

    clerk1993 5 years ago

    nics place.

  • intermarks profile image

    intermarks 5 years ago

    Nice place. I love Japanese food and each time I went to a Japanese restaurant I will order the edamame. I love it even though it is just so simple and just cooked in salt water but it is tasty.

  • siobhanryan profile image

    siobhanryan 5 years ago

    Angel Blessed- Interesting lens-I love the advise not to fall over and trip the staff or patrons

  • Scarlettohairy profile image

    Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

    I visited my son in China and we went to a Japanese restaurant twice while there (my favorite place!). It might have been an izakaya. I know some people bought liquor and left it there in their fridge with their name for when they came back.

  • profile image

    JoshK47 5 years ago

    Certainly do - thanks for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

  • ForestBear LM profile image

    ForestBear LM 5 years ago

    I love this lens. It brings back a lot of great memories from my time living in Japan. Thank you for sharing

  • Michey LM profile image

    Michey LM 5 years ago

    This is a very interesting lens, which revile cultural Japanese info, it is well presented and I learn a lot from it! Blessings!

  • Rosaquid profile image

    Rosaquid 5 years ago

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  • SciTechEditorDave profile image

    David Gardner 5 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

    Yup. I've been to Japan 5 times -- and each time it was an adventure and I wasn't disappointed. I'm anxiously waiting for my next opportunity to go to Japan! Congratulations on a Squidoo masterpiece! (And yes, I've done a few lenses on Japan, myself!) ... Ganbatte, ne!

  • xriotdotbiz lm profile image

    xriotdotbiz lm 5 years ago

    Will try it if I ever get to Japan.

  • Monica Ranstrom profile image

    Monica Ranstrom 5 years ago

    It sounds pretty fun! Nice job.

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    Same here, never try but love to try it.

  • LiteraryMind profile image

    Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

    I found this so interesting. Nicely presented.

  • profile image

    Lubicz 5 years ago

    I'd love to visit Japan and one of those. Very interesting lens,thanks.

  • Craftypicks profile image

    Lori Green 5 years ago from Las Vegas

    Nicely organized and informative lens. Good job.

  • Tom Maybrier profile image

    Tom Maybrier 5 years ago

    God, I love izakaya. There's one in my city I go to almost weekly. Great lens.

  • Jogalog profile image

    Jogalog 5 years ago

    I've never been to Japan but I'd love to go, and of course try one of these. I really enjoyed your lens as I feel I've learnt something new.