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The Izakaya: Differences of Japanese Bars

When many people from around the world think of countries where drinking establishments are a huge and ingrained part of the culture and heritage of that country they may think of Britain, Ireland, Australia, Italy, Spain, The USA, Canada (the list goes on and on). They rarely, however, think of Japan. Why is that? Ask people to think of bars in Japan and they will almost certainly say something like “Oh, you mean Karaoke bars?” Whilst that is a type of bar in Japan – and a hugely popular one at that – it isn’t the only one. There are many bars in Japan and we’re here now to tell you about the differences.


1.The Japanese Izakaya

the street which has many IzakayaThe photo of Japanse beerThe scene for cheers

The Japanese izakaya is a special kind of place for the people of Japan. It is deeply imbedded into the working culture of the people, the working people, the masses. There are translations all over the world for this word but none of them really explain the nature of the izakaya fully. The English translation is often stated as ‘Inn’, ‘Bar’ or ‘Pub’. None of these are right on the money. To tell you about these brilliant places let me take you back to Europe for a second. Think of Spain. The end of the work week. Where does the working man go? To the pub maybe yes. But mainly they would go to a tapas bar. The tapas bar being not quite a bar and not quite a restaurant. This is about as close to Izakaya as Europe gets. But, the izakaya is more culturally iconic. Friday evenings these places will be packed with groups of friends, families or colleagues. Unwinding with a few drinks and some great food. That, in its simplest form, is what the Izakaya is. But what is an ordinary Japanese bar, I hear you ask?


2.Japanese Bars

The atmosphere of Japanese barThe glass in Japanese barThe variety of cocktails

There are many Japanese bars that you could go into. In Tokyo alone, there are hundreds. They range from your ordinary drinking hole to themed bars and even international bars. As well as the obvious karaoke bars. These places are your regular haunts for people just wanting to drink. Either in celebration of something or on their own. They, like you may have guessed, are just bars. The same the world over. The old Irish pub. The American sports bar. The French wine bar. The London gin joint. The list goes on and on. So, you may be thinking, is there really much difference? Is it just the food that makes the difference? Surely you can buy bar food at a normal pub or bar? Let’s find out.


3.What’s the Difference?

To put it simply. You go to a bar to drink for the sake of drinking. You go to the izakaya to unwind and socialise and have a more civilised night after a long week’s work. It really is that simple. It is more sacred than that though. There is something that sets the places apart even though often you cannot tell the izakaya’s from the pubs just by looks alone. There is a charge per person to go into an izakaya. This may seem a little strange but bear with me. The charge ensures the people going are going for the right reason and you get a small serving of food for the table when you pay. The food in these places are designed for sharing much like the Spanish tapas. You are guaranteed to have a relaxing time in one of these establishments. The drinking in these places are, fairly, reserved. Think about it. When do you ever read news articles about Japanese drunk and disorderly chaos. Never. Because it rarely happens in comparison to the rest of the world.

So, there you have it. The Japanese izakaya. They are wonderful places to go. You will encounter more local people, more natives, in places like that than in your old tourist traps of the gigantic city bars. So, if you want a more authentic drinking experience in Japan then do visit one of these. There a many, many, many, to choose from. And don’t forget to let us know if you have ever been to a Japanese Izakaya or any other type of Japanese bar or if you plan to on your next trip.