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Unlocking the Izakaya Experience: 10 Essential Questions Answered for the Adventurous Foreign Traveler in Japan!

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Japan is a fascinating country that is rich in culture, history, and tradition. One of the unique experiences that visitors can have in Japan is dining at an izakaya. Izakayas are traditional Japanese pubs that offer a wide range of dishes and drinks. For foreign travelers who are looking to experience an authentic izakaya, there are several questions that need to be answered. This article aims to unlock the izakaya experience by providing answers to ten essential questions that adventurous foreign travelers may have. From understanding the menu to learning about izakaya etiquette, this article will delve into the intricacies of this unique aspect of Japanese culture. So, if you are planning to visit Japan and want to fully immerse yourself in the local customs, read on to discover everything you need to know about the izakaya experience.

Here are 10 popular questions about Japanese Izakaya:

1. What is an Izakaya and how is it different from other restaurants?
2. What kind of food and drinks are typically served in an Izakaya?
3. How is the atmosphere in an Izakaya different from western bars or pubs?
4. What are some Izakaya etiquette rules foreigners should know?
5. How do you order food and drinks in an Izakaya?
6. What are some typical Izakaya dishes foreigners must try?
7. Are Izakayas expensive and what is the average cost per person?
8. What are some famous Izakayas in Tokyo and what makes them special?
9. What are the origins and history of Izakayas in Japan?
10. Can you find Izakayas outside of Japan, and if so, how do they compare?

What is an Izakaya and how is it different from other restaurants?

An Izakaya, often described as a Japanese pub, is more than just a place to drink. It is a quintessential part of Japanese culture where people unwind after a long day, bonding over food and drinks. The word 'Izakaya' itself comes from 'i' (to stay) and 'sakaya' (sake shop) indicating it is a place where customers can sit, drink, and spend time.

An Izakaya is a type of Japanese restaurant that serves food and drinks in a casual atmosphere, similar to a pub or tavern. In contrast to other restaurants, Izakayas typically offer a wide variety of small dishes, called 'tapas' or 'sharing plates,' rather than full meals. These dishes often feature grilled or fried seafood, meats, and vegetables, as well as nabe (hot pot), salads, and sushi. Izakayas also typically offer a selection of alcoholic drinks, such as sake, shochu, beer, and cocktails, and encourage customers to linger and socialize over their food and drinks. Overall, Izakayas prioritize a relaxed and convivial dining experience that emphasizes socializing and snacking over formal dining or large meals.


izakaya restaurant

The primary difference between an Izakaya and other restaurants is the atmosphere. While traditional restaurants focus on formalities such as fine dining experience, Izakayas are much more relaxed and offer a casual dining experience with a lively ambiance. Izakayas can be described as Japanese pubs where people come to socialize, drink and enjoy small plates of food. They are more about the social experience than the food itself. The primary difference between an Izakaya and other restaurants is the social experience and the range of drinks and small plates that harmonize to create a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Izakayas are relaxed and lively, filled with cheerful chatter and clinking glasses. They have a unique ambiance, usually dimly lit with close seating arrangements, fostering a sense of community.


The food in an Izakaya is designed to complement the drinks. Instead of large single-portion meals, you'll find an assortment of small dishes or 'tapas' style food that is shared among the table. This allows patrons to enjoy a variety of flavors and textures while sipping on their drinks. Izakaya menus often include grilled meats, seafood, vegetables, and tofu, as well as noodles and rice dishes. Some popular dishes include yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), edamame (steamed soybeans), takoyaki (octopus balls), and gyoza (dumplings). Many izakayas also offer a selection of sashimi and sushi rolls.


While you can get alcohol at many restaurants, Izakayas revolve around it. Expect a wide range of alcoholic beverages, especially sake and beer. Izakayas are Japanese-style pubs that offer a unique drinking and dining experience. These places serve various types of food and drinks, but the highlight of an Izakaya is undoubtedly the alcohol. You can expect to find an extensive range of drinks, from domestic and imported beers to traditional Japanese sake, and whiskey.
Other popular alcoholic beverages at Izakayas include shochu, a type of Japanese distilled liquor made from either barley, rice, or sweet potatoes. Some places may also have a selection of cocktails or other spirits.
Overall, if you enjoy sampling different types of alcohol and looking for a fun and lively night out, visiting an Izakaya is a must-try experience. Just remember to drink responsibly and pace yourself!


In an Izakaya, food and drinks are ordered throughout the evening, unlike a standard restaurant where you typically order everything at once. It's common to share plates with the group and try a variety of dishes, such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), edamame (boiled soybeans), and sashimi (raw fish slices). It is common for customers to spend several hours in an Izakaya, slowly ordering more dishes as the night progresses.


The decor of most izakayas is warm and welcoming, with a mix of traditional and modern elements. Counter seating, low tables with cushions on tatami floors, and standard western-style tables and chairs are common features of these establishments, offering guests various options to suit their preferences. Izakayas are often loud and lively, and it is not uncommon for people to sing karaoke or engage in other forms of entertainment while enjoying their night out.


At the end of the meal, the bill is often divided equally among all participants, a practice known as 'warikan', regardless of what each person individually ordered.

In conclusion, Izakayas offer an unrivalled experience that is unlike any other type of restaurant. The combination of delicious food, endless drinks, and the unique atmosphere provide a glimpse into the relaxed side of Japanese culture. If you're looking to experience Japanese dining culture at its best, a visit to an Izakaya is a must!

What kind of food and drinks are typically served in an Izakaya?

When it comes to Izakaya, the variety of food and drinks served can be both delightful and overwhelming. Let's explore what to expect from an Izakaya menu.


Small Dishes

Izakaya food is typically served as small dishes, designed to be shared by everyone at the table. Here are some popular ones:

  1. Yakitori - Grilled chicken skewers, often seasoned with a sweet and savory sauce or salt.
  2. Edamame - Boiled and lightly salted green soybeans, perfect as a snack with beer.
  3. Sashimi - Fresh raw fish or seafood sliced into thin pieces, served with wasabi and soy sauce.
  4. Gyoza - Pan-fried dumplings, usually filled with ground pork and vegetables.
  5. Karaage - Japanese style fried chicken, marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.

Larger Dishes

For those with larger appetites, Izakayas also serve more substantial dishes:

  1. Donburi - A rice bowl topped with a variety of ingredients, such as grilled eel (Unadon) or breaded pork cutlet (Katsudon).
  2. Ramen - A bowl of noodles served in a savory broth, often topped with sliced pork, green onions, and other ingredients.
  3. Yakisoba - Stir-fried noodles with bite-sized pork, vegetables and flavored with a sweet and savory sauce.


When it comes to drinks, Izakayas shine with a wide range of alcoholic beverages:

  1. Sake - A traditional Japanese rice wine that is served either warm or cold.
  2. Beer - A staple in Izakayas, with a range of both domestic and international brews available.
  3. Shochu - A distilled spirit, typically made from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice, and can be served neat, on the rocks, or mixed with water.
  4. Whisky - Japan is renowned for its whisky, and most Izakayas carry a selection of domestic brands.
  5. Umeshu - A sweet plum wine, often served on the rocks or with soda.
  6. Cocktails - Most Izakayas offer a selection of cocktails, both international standards and unique creations.

In an Izakaya, the food and drink options come together to create a relaxed and enjoyable dining experience. So, next time you're in an Izakaya, don't be afraid to explore the menu and try something new!

How to Order and Enjoy Food in an Izakaya?

If you're visiting an Izakaya for the first time, the ordering process and etiquette might seem a little daunting. Don't worry, we've got you covered!

Step One: Ordering Drinks

As soon as you're seated, you'll be served an 'otoshi,' which is a small appetizer. It's customary to order your first drink at this stage. This could be a beer, sake, or any other beverage you fancy.

Step Two: Ordering Food

In an Izakaya, dishes are designed for sharing. You order a variety of dishes, and when they arrive, everyone at the table is welcome to tuck in. Some Izakayas may have picture menus or English menus, but if not, here are a few dishes that you can't go wrong with:

  • Yakitori: These are skewers of grilled chicken, often served with tare (a sweet and savory sauce) or salt.
  • Sashimi: Thin slices of raw fish or seafood, served with wasabi and soy sauce.
  • Edamame: These are boiled green soybeans, usually served with salt. They make for a perfect snack with your drink.
  • Karaage: Japanese-style fried chicken, marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.
  • Gyoza: Japanese pan-fried dumplings, typically filled with ground meat and vegetables.

Step Three: Ordering More Drinks

As you work your way through the food, it's normal to order more drinks. Whether you're sticking with one type of drink or want to try different kinds of sake or cocktails, it's all part of the Izakaya experience.

Step Four: Closing the Tab

When you're ready to leave, signal to the staff and ask for the check. In Japanese, you can say 'O-kaikei onegaishimasu.' Payment is usually done at the counter as you leave.

Visiting an Izakaya is a culinary adventure. From the variety of dishes to the vast selection of drinks, there's something to satisfy every palette. So don't be shy—dive in, order a round of drinks, a variety of dishes, and most importantly, enjoy the experience!

What are the Typical Izakaya Foods to Try?

izakaya food

Experiencing an Izakaya is more than just dining - it's about immersing yourself in a rich Japanese tradition. Central to that tradition is the food, which is designed to complement the drinks and promote a convivial atmosphere. Here are some typical Izakaya foods you should definitely try:


Yakitori are skewers of grilled chicken pieces. The skewers are usually categorized by the part of the chicken used - 'momo' (thigh), 'tsukune' (minced chicken), 'negima' (chicken and leek), and many others. Each skewer is seasoned either with salt or with 'tare,' a sweet and savory sauce.


Sashimi consists of fresh, thinly sliced raw fish or seafood. It's typically served with soy sauce and wasabi. Sashimi is appreciated for its pure, clean flavors.


Tempura is a dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep-fried. The result is a wonderfully crispy exterior and a fully cooked yet tender interior. Prawns and sweet potato tempura are particularly popular.


Karaage, or Japanese fried chicken, is a must-try Izakaya dish. The chicken is marinated in soy sauce, sake, ginger, and garlic before being deep-fried to a crispy golden brown.


Edamame are young soybeans, usually boiled in their pods and served with a sprinkling of salt. They are the perfect snack to nibble on while you decide what to order next.


Gyoza are Japanese-style dumplings. They are typically filled with ground meat and vegetables and are pan-fried to achieve a crispy exterior.


Nabe, or hot pot, is a type of Japanese stew that's cooked at the table. Ingredients like meat, tofu, and vegetables are simmered in a flavorful broth.

Here's a table summarizing these typical Izakaya foods:

Dish Description
Yakitori Grilled chicken skewers
Sashimi Thinly sliced raw fish or seafood
Tempura Battered and deep-fried seafood or vegetables
Karaage Japanese-style fried chicken
Edamame Boiled young soybeans
Gyoza Pan-fried dumplings
Nabe Japanese hot pot

Next time you're in an Izakaya, make sure to try these typical foods - each one offers a unique taste of Japan!

What Is The Typical Izakaya Etiquette?

izakaya etiquette

Visiting an Izakaya can be an unforgettable experience, but understanding the typical Izakaya etiquette can make it even more enjoyable and ensure you respect local customs. Let's dive into some key points of etiquette you should observe when visiting an Izakaya:

Reserving a Seat

Many Izakayas are small, intimate venues that fill up quickly, especially in the evening. As such, it's common practice to reserve a seat, particularly if you're visiting in a large group.


In an Izakaya, it's traditional to start with a small, simple dish like edamame or a light salad, followed by a round of drinks. After this, you can order a variety of dishes to share with the table. Remember, the food in Izakaya is designed for communal enjoyment!

Drinking Etiquette

In Japan, it's customary to serve others before serving yourself, especially when it comes to alcohol. Keep an eye on your companions' glasses, and if you see one is empty, it's polite to offer a refill.

Using Chopsticks

Never stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, as this is associated with funeral rites. Also, don't pass food from your chopsticks to someone else's, as this is another faux pas associated with funerals.


In most Izakayas, the bill is settled at the end of the meal at the cash register. It's also important to note that tipping is not customary in Japan.

Here's a quick summary table for reference:

Etiquette Description
Reserving a Seat Reserve a seat especially if you're in a large group
Ordering Start with a small dish and drinks, then order to share
Drinking Etiquette Serve others before yourself
Using Chopsticks Avoid sticking chopsticks upright in rice or passing food chopstick to chopstick
Payment Pay at the cash register; tipping is not customary

By adhering to these etiquette rules, you'll show respect for Japanese customs and ensure a pleasant Izakaya experience for yourself and those around you.

What is the best time to visit an Izakaya?

One of the common queries about visiting an Izakaya revolves around timing: 'What is the best time to visit an Izakaya?' In order to answer this question, we need to consider various factors such as the ambiance, crowd, and what you intend to experience.

The Early Bird Experience

If you want to enjoy a calm, relatively quiet Izakaya experience, it's recommended to visit early in the evening, around 5 to 6 PM. This is when Izakayas start to open, and you'll get to enjoy the place without the crowd. It's a great time to savor the flavors without any rush.

The Prime Time

The prime time for Izakayas is usually from 7 PM to 9 PM. This is when the Izakayas start to buzz with energy and fill with locals who come for post-work relaxation and socialization. If you want to immerse yourself in the lively Izakaya atmosphere and mingle with the locals, this is the perfect time.

The Night Owl Hours

Visiting an Izakaya late at night, around 10 PM and onwards, presents a different kind of experience. This is when the crowd starts to thin out, but the place remains open for those who want to extend their night. Be mindful that some menu items may be sold out by this time.

Here's a simple table to summarize:

Time Description
Early Evening (5-6 PM) Calm, relaxed atmosphere with fewer patrons.
Prime Time (7-9 PM) Lively atmosphere filled with locals, peak of the Izakaya experience.
Late Night (10 PM onwards) Less crowded, but with a lingering lively ambiance. Menu might be limited.

In the end, the best time to visit an Izakaya depends on the type of experience you're looking for. So whether you're an early bird, prefer the prime time buzz, or a night owl, Izakaya has something to offer you!

Why is Izakaya food served in small portions?

It's not uncommon for first-time visitors to an Izakaya to wonder, 'Why is Izakaya food served in small portions?' The answer lies in the very essence of Izakaya dining which is rooted in the idea of sharing and enjoying a variety of dishes.

Variety is the Spice of Life

The primary reason for small portions is to provide variety. Izakayas offer a wide range of dishes, from grilled meats and vegetables to raw seafood and noodle dishes. The small portions allow you to sample a bit of everything without getting full too quickly.

A Perfect Pair for Drinks

Izakayas are similar to tapas bars in Spain, where the food is designed to complement alcoholic drinks like sake, beer, and shochu. The small dishes provide just enough food to enjoy with your drink without overwhelming it.

Izakaya dining is a social event. The small dishes are designed to be shared among friends, promoting interaction and bonding. It creates a shared experience where everyone can discuss and enjoy the food together.

To help you visualize, here's a simple table:

Small Portion Reason Description
Variety Allows you to sample a wide range of dishes.
Accompaniment to Drinks Provides just enough food to enjoy with your drink without overwhelming it.
Encourages Sharing Promotes interaction and bonding among the dining group.

In conclusion, the practice of serving small portions in an Izakaya not only allows you to try a broad range of dishes but also enhances the social experience that is at the heart of Izakaya dining.

Are there vegetarian options in Izakaya?

izakaya for vegetarians

For vegetarian visitors in Japan, finding suitable food options might pose a bit of a challenge, especially in traditional settings like an Izakaya. Yet, despite Japan's love for seafood and meat, there are indeed vegetarian options in Izakaya.

Vegetarian Dishes Commonly Found in Izakaya


One of the most common dishes in Izakaya, edamame are young soybeans served boiled and salted. They're not only delicious but also a great source of protein.

Tempura Vegetables

Tempura is a method of deep-frying, and while it is often associated with seafood, many Izakayas offer tempura vegetables, which are both tasty and satisfying.

Agedashi Tofu

This dish features cubes of soft tofu, lightly dusted with cornstarch, and then deep-fried until golden. It's served in a soy-based sauce and often garnished with green onions.

Vegetable Yakitori

While Yakitori is traditionally skewered chicken, many Izakayas offer vegetable versions, including mushrooms, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes.

Miso Soup

A traditional Japanese soup consisting of a stock called 'dashi' into which softened miso paste is mixed. Many Izakayas offer miso soup with tofu and seaweed, but be aware that some places might use fish-based dashi, so it's best to ask.

Sample Vegetarian Izakaya Menu

Dish Description
Edamame Boiled young soybeans served with salt.
Vegetable Tempura Various vegetables deep-fried in a light batter.
Agedashi Tofu Cubes of tofu, lightly dusted and deep-fried, served in a soy-based sauce.
Vegetable Yakitori Skewers of grilled vegetables.
Miso Soup Soup with tofu and seaweed in a dashi stock.

It's worth noting that while these dishes are commonly vegetarian, ingredients can vary between establishments. Therefore, it's always a good idea to confirm with the staff if you're unsure about a dish's ingredients. Despite the challenges, with a bit of diligence, vegetarians can enjoy a range of dishes at Izakayas and participate in this essential part of Japanese food culture.

How To Enjoy Sake In An Izakaya?

Sake is an integral part of Japan's food and beverage culture. The traditional rice wine is not only a staple at religious ceremonies and festivals but is also a favorite drink at Izakayas, Japan's casual pub-style restaurants.

Understanding Sake

Before you can truly enjoy sake, understanding what it is and its varieties is crucial. Sake is a fermented beverage made from rice. There are different types of sake based on factors like the rice's polishing ratio and whether additional alcohol has been added.

Some popular types of sake you might find in an Izakaya include:

  • Junmai: Pure rice sake, with no added alcohol.
  • Honjozo: Sake that includes a small amount of distilled alcohol.
  • Ginjo: Sake made from rice polished to at least 60% with a special fermentation process.
  • Daiginjo: Considered high-quality sake, made from rice polished to at least 50%.

Sake Serving Etiquette

When drinking sake in an Izakaya, there are a few etiquette points to remember:

  1. Pouring for Others: It's a custom in Japan to pour sake for others. If someone pours for you, hold your cup up with both hands as a sign of respect.
  2. Tasting Sake: When tasting sake, try to appreciate its aroma first. Then take a small sip and let it sit on your tongue before swallowing to savor the flavors.

Sake Pairing

Sake pairs wonderfully with a variety of Izakaya dishes. Here are some classic pairings:

  • Grilled Fish: The crisp and fruity flavors of a Ginjo sake can complement the rich flavors of grilled fish.
  • Fried Dishes: For fried dishes like tempura, a light, dry sake such as Junmai can be a great pairing.
  • Sashimi: Daiginjo, with its refined flavor profile, can enhance the delicate taste of sashimi.

A Sample Sake and Food Pairing Table:

Sake Type Description Food Pairing
Junmai Pure rice sake with no added alcohol. Fried dishes such as tempura.
Honjozo Sake that includes a small amount of distilled alcohol. Robust dishes like yakitori or nabe.
Ginjo Made from highly polished rice with a special fermentation process. Grilled fish or seafood.
Daiginjo High-quality sake made from highly polished rice. Delicate dishes like sashimi.

Remember, these are only guidelines, and the best pairing is often based on personal preference. So, feel free to experiment with different sake and food combinations to find your favorite match. Enjoying sake at an Izakaya is an experience that combines traditional Japanese culture with delicious flavors - certainly not to be missed!

What Makes Izakayas Stand Out From Other Dining Concepts?

Izakayas represent a unique slice of Japan's culinary scene. Unlike a restaurant or a pub, an Izakaya is a meeting place, where people gather to enjoy good food, good drinks, and good company. But what exactly sets it apart from other dining concepts?

Casual Yet Engaging Ambience

An Izakaya is characterized by its laid-back atmosphere. The interiors often feature low tables, tatami mats, and dim lighting to create an intimate and relaxed setting. Yet, there's an unmistakable energy, a buzz that permeates the air, borne out of the lively conversations, laughter, and the clinking of sake glasses.

The Food

Izakaya food is designed to be shared. From sizzling yakitori skewers and delicate sashimi to hearty bowls of ramen, the menu is a delightful mix of flavors and textures. The dishes are served in small portions, allowing you to sample a variety of items without filling up too quickly.

The Drinks

Izakayas are just as much about drinks as they are about food. A wide selection of beverages, from sake and shochu to beer and whiskey, complements the food offerings. The culture of 'nomihoudai,' or all-you-can-drink, is also a popular feature at many Izakayas.

The Cultural Experience

Visiting an Izakaya isn't just about eating and drinking; it's a cultural experience. You get to witness the 'Izakaya etiquette,' the social norms and practices that the locals follow. For example, it's customary for the youngest or most junior person at the table to pour drinks for everyone else.

A Sample Izakaya Menu Table

Here's a glimpse of what an Izakaya menu might look like:

Dish Description
Yakitori Grilled chicken skewers, often seasoned with a sweet-soy glaze
Sashimi Thinly sliced raw fish, usually served with soy sauce and wasabi
Edamame Boiled and salted green soybeans, a classic Izakaya appetizer
Ramen Noodle soup dish, varies widely in flavors and ingredients
Gyoza Pan-fried dumplings, typically filled with minced pork and vegetables

Drink Description
Sake Traditional Japanese rice wine
Shochu Distilled beverage, typically made from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice
Beer Various local and international brands are often available
Whiskey Including both Japanese and international varieties

In essence, Izakayas offer an environment where you can unwind, enjoy a wide range of delicious food and drinks, and immerse yourself in the local culture. It's a place where the boundaries between a restaurant, a pub, and a social club blur, resulting in an experience that's uniquely Japanese.


All right, folks, there you have it! We've had quite a journey, haven't we? Together, we've explored the top 10 questions you had about the wonderfully lively world of Japanese Izakayas - and I hope you've had as much fun as I have!

We've discovered the hidden gems of this unique dining culture, right from what to expect when you step into an Izakaya, to how to get your hands on some mouthwatering food and drinks, and how much to budget for. Not to mention, we've also got you covered on the best time to visit and options for our vegan friends!

What I absolutely love about Izakayas is how they invite you to immerse yourself in a true-blue Japanese experience - full of laughter, delightful bites, and heartwarming hospitality. It's all about winding down after a busy day and sharing a great time with friends, old and new.

So, with all these handy answers, you're now officially ready to dive headfirst into Japan's bustling Izakaya scene and create some epic foodie adventures of your own. Enjoy every bite, every sip, and the memorable stories they bring. Happy Izakaya hopping, my friends!


An Izakaya is a type of Japanese gastropub that is known for serving drinks and delicious food. Izakaya is usually a casual and social establishment where customers can eat and drink while enjoying each other's company.

Izakaya can be found all over Japan, from big cities like Tokyo and Osaka to small towns in the countryside. Some popular areas for Izakaya hunting include Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Yurakucho in Tokyo.

The typical Izakaya menu consists of a wide range of dishes, including grilled skewers, sashimi, tempura, noodles, and rice bowls. Many Izakaya also offer 'all you can eat' and 'all you can drink' options. Draft beer, Japanese beer, and other traditional Izakaya drinks are also a must-try.

Yes, there is usually a seating charge at an Izakaya, which is a small fee charged per person for sitting at a table. This charge may vary depending on the Izakaya and the area it is located in.

Drinking at an Izakaya is a popular way to unwind after work or to bond with friends. Customers usually pour drinks for each other and make toasts to their companions. It is important to remember to drink responsibly and to follow Izakaya etiquette.

Some of the most popular Izakaya drinks include draft beer, Japanese beer, shochu, and sake. Non-alcoholic options like soft drinks and tea are also offered

Some of the best Izakaya in Tokyo include Toritoh, Fukuro no Mise, Suzunari, and Uoshin Nogizaka. These Izakaya offer a mix of traditional and modern dishes and drinks.

The drinking and dining style at an Izakaya is casual and social. Customers typically share dishes and drinks and order them throughout the evening. The communal atmosphere is perfect for bonding with friends and meeting new people.

Some must-try menu items at an Izakaya are grilled skewers (yakitori), sashimi, fried chicken (karaage), french fries (potato fry), and octopus balls (takoyaki).

The best way to plan a trip to an Izakaya in Japan is to do some research beforehand. Look up different Izakaya in the area you plan to visit, read reviews, and check their menus and prices. It's best to plan to stay for a few hours to fully enjoy the Izakaya experience.