An is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks. The food is usually more substantial than that offered in other types of drinking establishments in Japan such as bars or snack bars.

They are popular, casual and relatively cheap places for after-work drinking.


The name "izakaya" is a compound word consisting of "i " (to remain) and "sakaya" (sake shop), showing that izakaya originate from sake shops which allowed customers to remain on the premises to drink.

Izakaya are sometimes called Akachōchin (red lantern) in daily conversation, because these paper lanterns are traditionally found in front of an izakaya.

Dining in an izakaya

Depending on the izakaya, customers sit on tatami mats and dine from low tables in the traditional Japanese style, or sit on chairs and drink/dine from tables. Many izakaya offer a choice of both, as well as seating by the bar.

Usually, you will be given an oshibori (wet towel) to clean your hands with; next an otōshi or tsukidashi (a tiny snack/an appetizer) will be served. This is local custom and usually charged onto the bill in lieu of an entry fee. Japanese people in Kantō region call it otōshi and Kansai people call it tsukidashi.

The menu may be on the table, or displayed on walls. Picture menus are common in larger izakaya. Food and drink are ordered throughout the course of the session as desired. They are brought to the table, and the bill is added up at the end of the session. Unlike other Japanese styles of eating, food items are usually shared by everyone at the table.

Common formats for izakaya dining in Japan are known as nomihodai ("drink all you can") and tabehodai ("eat all you can"). These formats are especially popular in large, chain izakaya. For a set price per person, customers can continue ordering as much food and / or drink as they wish, with a usual time limit of two or three hours.

Typical menu items in an izakaya

There are a wide variety of izakayas offering all sorts of dishes, but items almost always available in any izakaya are as follows:

Rice dishes such as ochazuke and noodle dishes such as yakisoba are sometimes eaten at the end to round off a drinking session. (For the most part, the Japanese do not eat rice or noodles (shushoku - "staple food") at the same time as they drink alcohol, since sake, brewed from rice, traditionally takes the place of rice in a meal.)

Types of izakaya

Izakaya were traditionally down to earth places where men drank sake and beer after work; this trend is complemented by a growing population of independent women and students, and many izakaya today cater for the more diverse clientele by offering cocktails and wines as well as improving the interior.

  • Chain Izakaya - became popular in the 1980s. They are often large in size and offer an extensive selection of food and drink, allowing it to cater for large, sometimes rowdy, parties.
  • Yakitori-ya - specialises in yakitori. The skewers are often grilled in front of customers.
  • Robatayaki - customers sit around an open hearth on which chefs grill seafood and vegetables. The fresh ingredients are displayed for customers to point at whenever they want to order.
  • Establishments specialising in oden are called oden-ya. They usually take the form of street stalls with seating and are popular in winter.
  • Izakayas are often called Akachōchin ("red lantern") after the red paper lanterns which are traditionally displayed outside izakaya. Today the term usually refers to small, non-chain izakaya.

Izakaya outside Japan

In Vancouver, British Columbia, izakayas have become extremely popular due to the large Asian population, Japanese ESL students, and a generally Asian-savvy restaurant clientele. Their popularity derives from a recent trend in tapas combined with an explosion in sushi and Japanese restaurants. It is also a natural offshoot of the predominantly Vancouver-led trend towards small plate dining.

The small plates trend is also popular in Manhattan. Several examples of izakaya can be found on St. Mark's Place and throughout the city.

Izakaya's have also become popular in several urban areas on the West Coast of the United States. such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Further reading

  • Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook (2008) by Mark Robinson, Photographs by Masashi Kuma, ISBN 9784770030658, Kodansha International

See also

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