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What Is Izakaya? A Beginner’s Guide to Japan’s Bar Culture

What is izakaya? What is the izakaya-style dining? Our Izakaya Guide walks you through some of the most common questions about these Japanese traditional bars.

Whether or not you have been to the country, you might have probably heard the term “izakaya” and piqued your interest. Well, this Japanese bar culture is interesting, to say the least.

If you are visiting Japan, late-night drinks at a local izakaya are a must. To give you an idea about what it’s all about, we created this guide to answer your most burning questions.

What is the izakaya-style dining?

Izakaya is a traditional Japanese bar where alcoholic drinks are served with different affordable snacks and dishes. In English, izakaya is translated as “dine-in sake shop” where guests eat, drink, and have fun the Japanese way.

In Japan’s izakaya culture, there’s the so-called “nomihodai” concept. It is a special menu loosely translated as “all you can drink.” Yes, there are buffet options at these izakayas where you take advantage of unlimited drinks, food, and snacks. Nomihodai makes izakaya a popular place to hang out with friends and co-workers.

Where did izakaya come from?

The history of such casual and fun drinking and eating in Japan dates back more than 250 years ago. However, the early roots of izakaya are associated with the history of sake. Sake shops called “sakaya” had been around since the 14th century. Today, the idea behind izakaya has spread to outside of Japan into countries like China, Korea, and the Philippines.

What is the difference between izakaya and bar?

While both izakaya and a regular bar share some common characteristics, such as binge drinking, there are a few differences between the two. The most distinct is that izakaya patrons get a stream of dishes, usually shared and that they get to interact with each other more often.

What do they say at izakaya?

“Irasshaimase” and “yokoso” are common Japanese words used to welcome customers into a shop, restaurant, etc. The same goes for izakayas. You will most likely hear these words as you enter an izakaya. They are not shouting at you, though, so don’t fret. They are giving you a warm welcome.

What is the dress code for izakaya restaurant?

There is no dress code for izakayas. Most guests wear casual, but you can wear whatever you want. Of course, you need to wear clothes according to the weather so you keep yourself comfortable throughout your izakaya experience.

Do people go to izakaya alone?

It’s safe to say that izakayas are made for single men. However, you can definitely go to izakaya alone, regardless of your gender. Izakayas have become popular among a small group of friends too, so there’s nothing wrong either if you go in groups. Do note that izakaya tends to be small by size with counter seating only, so that might be a problem if you are a huge group visiting a small izakaya.

Do you have to drink at an izakaya?

Izakayas are meant for drinking, so it’s a bummer if you don’t drink. There’s no hard and fast rule on drinking. Nevertheless, it’s okay to be there for the experience without drinking any alcohol. Or, you can ask the staff for a cup of water or “omizu” if you like.

What is an example of an izakaya food?

Food is an important component of any izakaya. Some of the usual dishes you would find on their menus include yakitori, gyoza, sushi, sashimi, karaage (fried chicken), fried rice, nabe (hotpot), fried rice, and grilled fish.

How many izakaya are there in Japan?

Per Tokyo Shoko Research, there are only 5,844 izakayas as of December 2021, which is a significant decrease from 7,200 as of December 2019.

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