The JITTI Journal
Volume 9 Issue 2
March 2022
Cultural Article
Izakaya, Japanese-style Bar

by Hirokazu Nishikawa
Let's say you're traveling to Japan. Where would you try to go? Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Tower, Shibuya crossing, Kyoto or Osaka? These are not bad ideas, but I'd like you to try going to an “izakaya”, a Japanese-style bar.

To be honest, I think I might be overstating the value of izakaya, and I'm sure there are many people who would find it more meaningful to visit the standard tourist spots. However, there is no doubt that izakayas in Japan have an atmosphere where you can enjoy a unique Japanese sense of everyday life, different from bars in other countries.
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First of all, when you take a seat, you are given an “oshibori.” This is a wet hand towel, but it allows you to refresh yourself as soon as you take a seat. The towel is chilled in the summer and warm in the winter. You will also be served an “otoshi,” an appetizer. This is a small plate of food served by the izakaya on its own, but it is like a table charge. You can't say no to them (Don't worry, it will be delicious).

What are the izakaya customers like? There may be some college students making noise, some couples. Some customers are looking for romance, some are there with their workmates, and some of them might be young employees receiving advice and lectures on their work from their bosses. Hearing all this, you may wonder, what makes it different from other countries’ bars? But something is different. Maybe it's because of the pleasant Japanese music playing in the background, or maybe it's because everyone is not as friendly as American people, and even though they are not talking to each other, there is a mysterious sense of unity among all the people there.
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Sometimes the English on the menu may be strange. It might be just because it is difficult to express Japanese food in English, but it is fun to try to predict and order with your friends. I guess we all like to be adventurous. Besides, many izakayas nowadays allow you to order using a touch screen tablet. Even paper menus often have pictures on them, so you can see at a glance what kind of food you're going to get (I still get tired of looking at all the dense English words on American restaurant menus). Also, the cost of Japanese dishes are very reasonable! You can enjoy a lot of delicious food and drinks at a lower price.

When calling the waiter, you don't need to make eye contact. You can call out a little louder to the waiter in the distance (it can be any waiter in the izakaya). Depending on the type of izakaya, there is a button on your seat that you can press, and the waiter who is available will rush right over to you. “I can't be that rude!” you say? Don't worry, there is no tipping culture in Japan, and if you call out, any waiter will happily stop for you.
Themed Izakayas

What I have written so far are common features of all izakayas. There are also some unusually themed ones, such as the following:

・Prison Izakaya
 You become a prisoner and are taken to a fake jail. The food may be a bit shocking looking.
・Elementary School Izakaya
 An izakaya based on the concept of an elementary school classroom. When you are enjoying the food, you are suddenly given a quiz on science, math, or some other subjects.

・Monk Izakaya
 An izakaya staffed by Japanese monks. If you are troubled by life, you might want to go there. Maybe you'll find some enlightenment from them?

Are you starting to get interested? Once you get hooked on Japanese izakaya, you will want to walk through the entrance again and listen to the shouts of the waiters echoing throughout the izakaya: "いらっしゃいませ!(Welcome!)”