Life in Japanese big cities does not end with the evening. After work, people usually do not go straight to their homes. They often go to Izakaya, a Japanese-style pub. A great place to relax after a hard day of work. Alcohol is poured there and delicious food is served. Izakaya is also a place where new friendships are established and strengthens ties with already familiar people. Alcohol usually helps you to relax and makes you want to talk to strangers and share your thoughts. And it may even turns out that you can speak a language that is foreign for you and you can talk with people that you would normally never can talk. Izakaya is a place where you can meet the whole japanese society, women and men, young and old, people of all professions.
Golden Gai in Shinjuku…
…and Izakaya in Asakusa
Each Izakaya has its own unique atmosphere and they appear in every size. From microscopic pubs, where only 5 people can stay at the same time to large pubs, where you can organize employee events. Some places specialize in one type of meal, for example yakitori, in others you will eat a lot of different dishes. Because Izakaya is not only a place to drink, but also a place to eat. Izakaya are usually grouped in one place. Narrow streets are lit with red paper lanterns, where izakaya stand. The most popular place with Izakaya in Tokyo is Golden Gai in Shinjuku, but you will find them everywhere. Each district has its own pub zones, where people meet to eat, drink and have a good time.
During the day, most places are closed, Golden Gai comes to live in the afternoon
In old style Izakaya you will find a counter, several seats and a small back-up, where meals are prepared. These are usually family businesses run for generations whose owners know their clients well. Such a pub layout and narrowness are conducive to establishing contacts. Even if you come alone, it is very likely that you will have a conversation with the rest of the customers.
Golden Gai in Shinjuku is a specific and very atmospheric place. Izakaya are old and small, but each of them has its own unique character and hospitable atmosphere that make you want to come back… although maybe not always, because it is also a very popular place and they often charged extra ‘cover charge’, but not always…
…there is an entrance to Narnia…
…and even hell, but we will come back later here…
Izakaya offer many types of alcoholic beverages, and their prices are very reasonable. Beer, wine, whiskey, cocktails, whatever you drink, you will definitely find it in Izakaya. Of course, the most popular are Japanese alcohols. Hoppy is a carbonated drink similar to beer, comes from the early post-war years, when the prices of real beer were very high. Hoppy was developed as a cheap substitute made from hops and mixed with shoju – Japanese spirit. Another very popular drink is sake, which is made by fermenting rice and there are many ways to drink it. In the summer, chilled sake is drink to soften the heat, in winter warm sake warms us up nicely and it is served in traditional dishes for sake.
When you drink alcohol you also want to eat something and in Izakaya the choice is always huge. Some Izakaya offers different dishes, another places specialize in a specific type of dishes. Izakaya can be famous for example from Yakitori, or grilled skewers of meat or vegetables. They are salted or made with a special sauce, each place has its own unique recipe. In another Izakaya they may specialize in oden. On the counter there are large dishes with broth based on soy sauce and fish stock, in which for a few hours, various types of food are slowly heated. Pieces of radish and other vegetables, tofu and kameboko, which are pieces od fish paste. The longer you cook everything, the more the flavors mix and everything becomes aromatic. If you fancy a variety of seafood, then you will also eat that at Izakaya. And breaded pork cutlet. And gyoza. And… I can talk about it for a few hours. The most important thing is that wherever you go, everything is fresh and homemade. Preparation of all these dishes usually takes about 5-6 hours before an Izakaya open for guests. All dishes are small, so you can order several of them and share with your colleagues.
It’s common in Japan, for corporate workers to go with their boss, colleagues and sometimes even clients to Izakaya after work. Therefore, do not be surprised if the whole Izakaya will be filled with people in suits. This are Salarymen, office workers from large, Japanese and foreign corporations. Such company events are almost obligatory and often take place every day. It is not polite to refuse to your boss or senior colleague. Long working hours, then party and large amounts of alcohol. You know how it may ends. Sometimes the salaryman does not come home, he just falls asleep somewhere in the subway or he goes to take a nap for a few hours to the Love Hotel… and then he goes to work again in the morning… and then to the party. There are also organizing special occasions at Izakaya, such as welcome parties for new employees or going-away parties. Events for the beginning and the end of the year. These are occasions when everyone drinks together on an equal basis, and differences in the rankings between employees are set aside.
The menu in Izakaya is usually the cards with names of dishes. It is constantly modified, because Izakaya’s owners shop at the market every day and choose the best products. The menu is usually only in Japanese, although there are places where you will get a menu in English. Then, outside the building should be a sign “ENGLISH OK” and then you know that there will be menu in English.
In this place there was NO big sign “ENGLISH OK” and when the owner saw us he was very mad. He shouted “No English! No English!”, But we just drunk some sake at the Senso-ji so we did not let ourselves be asked to leave the Izakaya.
At Izakaya you can observe different habits that shows not only how Japanese pubs look, but also how the Japanese drinking culture looks like. When you enter the pub you get a small, free appetizer. These may be pickles, pieces of fish or meat, or potato salad. It all depends on the owners idea. Thanks to this, a hungry customer gets something for a tooth before he even orders. Alcohol and other beverages should be poured into each other. It is an expression of respect. If you see that your companion has an empty glass, you complement it and he reciprocates the same. The rules also apply when paying the bill, it is divided into equal parts for all participants. It is not enumerated who has eaten or drank, in the end it’s all about spending time together. And in Japan, you do not tip! Izakaya pubs have all these customs to make sure that everyone have fun and to show their hospitality.
The first Izakaya appeared in Japan at the end of the sixteenth century in the city of Edo, as Tokyo was called back then. People came from all over Japan to build a castle for Shogun. The sake retailers have displayed part of the goods outside their stores so that customers can crave their thirst. Some of the customers were standing, some were sitting, and apart from ordinary people, there were also samurai. In those days, Japan had a clear social hierarchy, but in Izakaya, different social classes could mix and interact. At the end of the 19th century, western spirits and dishes began to appear in Japanese pubs. After the Second World War, Japan suffered from food shortages, but even when people could barely survive, Izakaya did not disappear. Small pubs were rebuilt everywhere. People gathered in and shared with each other. Izakaya were also important centers of information exchange.
In recent years, many new types of Izakaya have emerged, which serve the increasingly diverse consumer preferences. Some of them are on the platforms, so that office workers can enjoy food and drink while waiting for the train to home. There are thematic Izakaya or where clients can create their own bands, sing and play hits from their youth. There are also Izakaya chains located on the floors of skyscrapers, where each group of customers has their own box or even the entire room. There is a more private atmosphere in them. More and more places are also run by young people who, through Izakaya, present their character and interests. We just got in such a place ….
DEATH MATCH IN HELL
No Fuck’in Cover Charge
No Fuck’in Tax
Free popcorn i Wi-Fi! Yeeeee, Ave Satan!!! 666..and alcohols from 666 yen… what more could you want?!…
…well, for example, food. Death Match in Hell is a typical pub. Yes, such places are also in Japan. You can’t find there yakitori, gyoza or other delicacies, eh… But atmosphere rewarding everything. The decor is very original, rock music is playing in the background and horror classics are playing on a small TV.
It’s very easy to get in touch with the owner, if your favorite song is in his playlist, he will play it for you. Even 10 times in a row…
It’s true that it’s easier to make friends when you drink alcohol. Even with a Japanese man in a suit who in English knows only the names of music bands. There are also many foreigners, people from all over the world. Australia, USA, and also from Poland 😉 Everyone meets in the tiny Izakaya, on literally a few square meters. The climate in Japanese Izakaya is unique and impossible to find in any pub in the world.
And there was a free popcorn!
In the 400 years since they first appeared, Izakaya have evolved along with Japanese society. One thing has stayed the same, Izakaya have always transcended barriers of social and occupational status and encouraged social interaction.
I invite you to the new project about Japan – Amazing Japan! It’s just launched and we want to connect all Japan Lovers and anyone who wants to know more about Japan.