Izakaya (居酒屋) are casual drinking establishments, similar to tapas bars, where customers order a variety of small dishes of food that can be shared at the table. They are one of the most common restaurant types in Japan and a popular spot for friends or coworkers to meet up for a drinking party or to wind down after work. Also a great dining choice for tourists, izakaya are easily found around train stations and entertainment districts, and range from tiny single-counter joints to multi-story chain restaurants.

The menu at an izakaya is made up of a wide variety of Japanese and sometimes international dishes. Common menu items include sashimi, yakitori, grilled meat and seafood, salads, pickles, fried foods, regional delicacies, hot pot dishes, rice and noodle dishes. Primarily drinking places, izakaya also offer a wide range of domestic and sometimes imported alcoholic beverages, including beer, sake and shochu. Most menu items cost a few hundred yen each, and a typical meal will cost between 2000 and 5000 yen per person. Some places also offer all-you-can-drink plans, which start around 2000 yen for a set time of 90-120 minutes.

Many modern izakaya, especially chain restaurants, offer menus that are accompanied by large, colorful pictures and are easy to understand for non-Japanese speakers. English menus are occasionally available, particularly in districts frequented by foreign tourists. More traditional izakaya, however, often have only Japanese menus without pictures which can make a visit rather challenging for those without Japanese skills.

Izakaya tend to be lively with chatter and may not be suitable for a quiet, romantic dinner. Seating is commonly provided at Western-style tables, a counter, low tables on tatami or a combination of the aforementioned. Semi-private compartments or private rooms may also be available. Some izakaya enforce a time limit for how long customers can stay when it gets crowded over the weekends, which is typically two hours.

Where to find izakaya

Izakaya can be found in large numbers all across Japan, such as around major train stations, entertainment districts, shopping areas and restaurant floors of department stores. Many izakaya are open only in the evenings. Some popular izakaya districts include:

  • Shinjuku
  • Yurakucho
  • Asakusa
  • Umeda
  • Namba
  • Susukino

How to enjoy an izakaya

The process varies somewhat between individual establishments; however, below are some common aspects of dining at an izakaya that visitors are likely to encounter:

  • Shoe lockers
  • Being Seated
  • Call button
  • Ordering
  • Toilets
  • Paying