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Japanese Izakaya Culture

Izakaya is an essential part of Japanese dining culture. They can be found in every corner of Tokyo and are in fact social hubs for Japanese people after a long day at work. Because Izakaya is unique to Japan, there are a few things that you should keep in mind before going into one.

Before You Eat

Usually, before starting to eat at an Izakaya, the customer would ask for something to drink. Japanese people usually order some beer to start with not only because they are fast, not too strong, but also that a dinner with friends or colleagues do not start until they clink and cheer.

If you don’t drink alcohol, you can also choose a non-alcoholic drink such as a soda or juice. Although most of the izakayas do not have a rigid requirement for a drink, a drink for each person is an unwritten rule of the izakaya. If you need to drink water, you can also ask the staff to give a cup of “お水: omizu”.

Otōshi (お通し)

At most Izakayas, the clerk will have a side dish called “Otoshi” prepared for you. It can be as basic as a dish of edamame or cabbage. However, please keep in mind that they are neither free or returnable even if you decide not to eat it. The amount of the side dish will be about a few hundred yen up and down and can be thought of as an entrance fee for the izakaya.

Four Types of Seating

There are hundreds of kinds of Izakayas in Japan, such as family izakayas and chain izakayas. Similarly, seatings can vary a lot too. Here are The price and type are different. The following are four common types of seats in an Izakaya:

  •  Tēburo (テーブル): The most common seating in an izakaya: “general seat”, that is, the table is above the floor level. You don’t need to take off your shoes and you can simply pull the chair and sit.
  • Kauntā-Seki (カウンター席): This is the kind of counter or bars seating that you can find at an izakaya. There, you can directly order from the staff directly cooking in front of you.
  • Tatami-Seki (畳席): Tatami seats are traditional for Japanese izakayas. Take off your shoes before getting into a Tatami room and sit with your legs crossed or in a kneeling position. 
  • Horigotatsu(掘りごたつ): Very similar to Tatami seating but there is a groove beneath the table on the Tatami mat where you can more comfortably put your legs and feet. You must also take off shoes for this. 

Nomihōdai (飲み放題)

Some Izakayas offer discounts on drinks between a certain time interval: such as a 2-hour self-service beer, or a combination of all drinks and meals. However, it should be noted that if you choose an all-you-can-drink plan (Nomihōdai), usually you need to make sure that your dinner buddies are also on board with you to take the same plan.

Daikō (代行) Driving Service 

If you can’t drive after drinking, sometimes, you can ask the store to help you call a “代行: Daikou” service, which is the driver service. Usually, two drivers would arrive at the izakaya, one driver drives the customer’s car, and the other driver drives the car they would arrive with. The car would follow the customer until the final destination so that the customer can drive to the Izakaya, drink, and have somebody else drive him or her home.

If you need this service, please contact people at the Izakaya first so that you will save much of your time. 

Please note that: the drinking age in Japan is 20 years old. Though most Izakayas do not check ID’s, it is always recommended not to risk drinking and getting into trouble if you are under the age requirement.