Enter a realm of sensory overload as you slide the unassuming door off the streets where your senses are enhanced with the smell of barbecued meats and seafood, accompanied by the sound of clanking bottles and chatter amongst locals and businessmen.
Welcome to the izakaya, Japan’s answer to the pub. Izakaya entered the English dictionary in 1987, Iru standing for “to stay” and sakaya “sake shop”, stemming from the popular sake and liquor shops in the early years. Sometimes in other terms, it can be pronounced in conversation as akachōchin, which translates to “red lantern”, as paper lanterns traditionally are found at the entrance, similar to our British hanging sign-boards outside pubs.
The intimate, laidback drinking taverns of Japan are best known in Tokyo and can be found between entertainment and shopping districts. Depending on the izakaya, seating is commonly provided in many types and sizes, from more traditional low tables on tatami mats in semi-private compartments to tightly seated stalls against the bar/counter.
Brimming with the sound of businessmen and drinking parties, izakaya tend to be lively raucous spaces. You’ll find tiny bars packed with after-work drinkers eating a plethora of Japanese snacks in all forms of variety such as fresh fish dishes like Sashimi to grilled meats and vegetables. The beauty of the izakaya lies in its intimacy, where tightly squeezed drinking and dining become a haven for workers unwinding after a day in the office.
Izakaya-style bars started in Japan around the early 70s and traditionally were informal alcoholic drinking posts where men met up after work to drink sake and beer. Liquor stores selling alcohol by weight would attract drinkers, and people began drinking alcohol standing. Over the years, the izakaya became a popular gathering space for workers. Gradually, some izakaya spaces began to use sake barrels as stools for customers whilst offering sakana-type snacks.
Explore the raucous back streets, alleys and neighbourhoods of Japan, where you’ll find mouth-watering local dishes and all sorts of alcoholic beverages flowing. Whether you are into more traditional, tightly seated sociable spaces or modern “neo” type izakaya bars specialising in home cooking, Japan’s answer to pubs won’t disappoint.