All you really need to know about Izakaya in Japan
It’s said that the infamous izakaya of Japan are basically small (sometimes large) restaurant/bars. This is where a lot of Japan goes before they end up going home for the night. Many will either visit a izakaya before or after their last train home. This is what makes Japan so alcohol friendly, there’s no need for designated drivers as long as you jump on the last train for the night (Usually between midnight and 1am).. but if you’re drunk as hell, you might want to remember your manners on the train.
Try this one: Open the door to the izakaya, enter slightly inside (mostly with just your head), and say the following “haitte mo ii desuka?” which means, “may I come in?”. Now since you’ve totally just impressed everyone, lets move on!
When you arrive at a izakaya you may hear “otsukaresama deshita!!” (You look tired and deserve a drink!) and Kanpai (cheers)! This is a great place to unwind, relax, get wasted if you so choose and enjoy a great variety of izakaya foods. It’s not solely about the drink! During the weekdays you’ll notice a lot of coworkers sitting together talking and laughing to end their day before going home, and on the weekends izakayas are a popular location for get togethers, parties and the like.
But it’s good to know when you first get there you will most likely be brought what they call a “o-tooshi tsuki-dashi” it means, “first snack, with the first drink”, and they can range from a basic cabbage mix to a bowl full of recently frozen edamame from China to a delicious seared tuna. But be sure to say something immediately if you do not want these appetizer/hors d’ourve then say “o-tooshi katto shite kudasai/お通しカットして下さい！” It means please remove or cut the appetizer. You can learn more about how to say Japanese hor d’ourves and Appetizer by reading this post.
But lets get to the good of an izakaya. What kind of foods are usually available at a izakaya in Japan?
#1: Okonomiyaki It’s usually a build your own pancake if you will, and it’s one of Japans more popular dishes believe it or not on street corners and izakaya. The Japanese meaning behind it is “as you like it”. So you can throw anything and basically everything you want into it!
Many times you’ll have cabbage, pork, fish, squid, or shrimp on the inside. The crispy and gooey meal is usually then drizzled with Kewpie mayo, blasted with some bonito flakes and layered with a bit of tonaktsu sauce!
#2: Korokke is a famous drinking appetizer in Japan at izakaya’s, it’s a fried croquette with potatoes and crabmeat.
#3: Yakitori of course is also a famous Japanese choice of appetizer and many times full meal. Yakitori is basically a skewered piece of chicken meat that it served with dipping sauce and a side of vegetables which are also skewered. You can also expect to see the skin, liver and heart of the tori (chicken) to be served as well
#4: Ikayaki is a basic type of o-tooshi (appetizer) that is a soy marinated squid (Ika) which is then grilled and sliced into pieces. It’s also a favorite street food in Japan and many street vendors will sell Ikayaki
#5: Omusubi and Onigiri are similar foods to sushi. These are basically rice, salmon, pickled plums, code or teriyaki spam or bacon wrapped in a nori (seaweed) wrap and severed with a blast of vinegar on the top.
#6: Karaage is Japanese fried chicken which is coated in potato starch which is called katakuriko. It’s a much lighter fried chicken then what most westerns are use to.
#7: Gyoza is a traditional Japanese food which is stuffed with vegetables and ground up pork meat. Gyoza is actually a potsticker, it’s a crispy meal that is covered in a sauce which is based around rice vinegar, soy and rayu which is a chile oil, this can be found in many real Chinese restaurants.
You might do well to learn basic chopstick etiquette while you are visiting izakaya in Japan.
It’s great to know these izakaya will pair their food nicely with the alcohol they serve.
Izakayas are most of the time casual in their atmosphere, which overly means you leave the formality at the door!
#1: If you are with a group of people, it’s best to order the same drink as everyone else for the first round. Many times this will be a ‘nama biiru’ (which is a draft beer), this is normal and it’s something you will order before looking at the menu. You can ask for draft by saying ‘ Toriaezu, biiru’ (just beer for now).
#2: Using the phrase ‘Kanpi’ (cheers) before drinking and the phrase ‘itadakimasu’ (time to eat/thank you for the food) before you eat is a great way to be apart of the energy of the izakaya and to politely express that you are ready to eat. But if you happen to be drinking at a specialty izakaya you may find yourself drinking a shot or two of habushu sake, and with that you may need to double up on your kanpi’ing.
#3: It’s considered polite to pour for others while in a group if you are drinking from bottles of sake or beer when they finish their cup, of course you can use this as a reminder for others to pour for you by pouring for them. If you are done drinking, just leave your cup full to avoid anyone else pouring for you.
#4: If you happen to be at a traditional izakaya, they may have bathrooms with bathroom only slippers. You’ll take off your shoes and use the slippers while in the bathroom, then you will take off the slippers when coming back out. It’s said that wearing the bathroom slippers out of the bathroom is one of the most embarrassing etiquette slip ups that you can make in Japan. I suppose it would be similar to have a piece of toilet paper sticking out of your shoe or pants.
You should be able to make your way around Japan and enjoy all the Izakaya you can possibly find!
Good Japanese Students are Seen Not Heard, American Students are Loud and Opinionated
There are a few things to understand about Japanese Schools and how they relate to American standard schools, and it comes down to the way you are taught, what the teacher expects from you and how you are graded.
In American schools, there is a lot of freedom to expression opinions and to ask questions. In fact, it’s said to be that those who take advantage of this idea are the ones who get the most of out classes in America and get the best grades. Whereas those who go to school in Japan will notice that it’s not as appropriate to ask questions in class, it’s more appropriate to ask questions after class or to ask your friends and classmates instead. It’s more of a virtue to be quiet during class, and by being ‘quiet’ you are seen as a good student in Japan, and with that, your grades can and many times will improve simply based off of that fact alone.
There is no eating or drinking in the class room or sitting on desks in Japan classrooms, whereas in America this custom is beginning to be the normality of going to school. When it comes to studying in Japan be it from 1st grade to University, the teacher will simply write down notes on the blackboard, and you will be responsible for taking down those notes and remembering them. Whereas in America the teachers do not use the blackboard as often and ask questions of the students while teaching. In Japan, it’s not very often you will see a teacher asking questions to their classroom.
When it comes to examinations, American classes rooms will expect you to be able to write down facts, names and history, but not only that but to form your opinion based around it as well. In Japan the notes you took while in class are simply the answers for many examinations, and you simply must just remember the facts. Although these two systems seem very opposite, the formulation of the illegal standards of Common Core in America is quickly leaving American school children behind. At this point although the Japanese system is a bit odd to us westerns, Japan is ranked #2 in schools in education in the world (from 2014) just under South Korea, whereas America was ranked #14.
So either way you want to look at it, Japanese students and the way they teach seem to be working much better then the American standards. No matter what the cultural shock may be, this remains to be a fact. But I often wonder with so much freedom overall given to American students if it creates a different kind of education, more of an opinionated one that could very well be the American spirit of freedom to do what one wishes. If one wishes to become more educated the platforms of doing so are there, as I’m sure it is in Japan if one wishes as well.
If you are interested in going to school in Japan contact us on Facebook and can will help you find a school in the area you’d like to study in. I’d also suggest checking out my free Japanese learning resources here that will help you become more proficient in speaking, reading, writing and understanding Japanese.
So now you know the differences between Japanese Schools and American Schools!
Japan in it’s history was lavish with tattoo’s, but as times change in Japan (as they often do), the Japanese culture became more and more strict with the usage of tattoos, until now, still in 2016 we see many onsen, santo (bath houses), gyms and hotels will still turn people away who have tattoos that are visible.
Overall this custom bans anyone from entering their facilities if they have a tattoo. So beyond now knowing that tattoos are considered taboo in Japan over all, what else do we need to know about etiquette when it comes to Japanese onsen? (hot springs). Be sure to read through till the end to find out how you can still enjoy the Japanese hot spring (onsen) experience whilst pimping out your favorite ink!
Or I highly recommend a hand-book guide to the best onsens in Japan below:
Etiquette Rules #1
Be sure to fully wash yourself before entering into an onsen or santo. You’ll want to scrub yourself down, then rinse yourself. Many times there will be a stool you can use to sit on while washing.
Remember that in Japanese culture, baths are not for cleaning yourself, they are for relaxing. Many onsen and bath houses will expect you to bring your own towels and soap for cleaning, so be sure to do so. Plus you can save money by avoiding having to purchase the bath houses soap and towels.
Once you’ve cleaned yourself before entering, clean up your area and make it ready for the next customer after you. Also note that taking pictures in an onsen is kind of weird and you should not do it. Although some will allow, I’d say, be respectful of the naked people around you!
Etiquette Rules #2
You can use your towel to cover yourself whilst walking about the onsen or santo. Do not dive or splash in the water, do not wring your towel out in the water. And when you are in the water place your towel on your head. You can also set the towel to the side on a rock if you’d rather. If you need to wring out your towel, don’t do it in the onsen.
Don’t be a pervert. Pretty simple
Do not swim in the onsen, this is time for relaxing, if you want to swim go to a pool.
Etiquette Rules #3
Do not wear a swimming suit or bring a towel into the water to cover yourself. You’ll need to get over being naked in the onsen or santo. This is how things are in Japan, no body really cares. Overall bringing things into the water is shown as dirtying the water. So don’t do it!
If you want shared gender bathing experience go to a konyoku bath. You can also look for a kashikiri-buro bath which is used for families and must be reserved beforehand.
Etiquette Rule #4
Remove your shoes, many onsen have traditional Japanese flooring called tatami mats. It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering upon a tatami mat, so before entering the onsen area with the tatami mat, take off your shoes, and don’t label yourself the biggest gaijin in the world.
Etiquette Rule #5
Be sure to understand what changing room is yours. The women’s dressing room will usually be a large red curtain with the kanji for woman on it 女. If you end up going into the woman’s changing area, you’ll get slapped, head butted then possibly arrested for being a hentai 😛 so don’t do that.
Etiquette Rule #6
Since all onsen and santo are basically buck ass (nude only), you’ll need to place your clothes in a certain location. In the changing rooms you’ll find baskets that you can place your clothes in, many times you’ll have a locker. Don’t leave your stuff just hanging out all over the place, it looks trashy and it’s super rude!
Etiquette Rules #7
If in doubt, ask. Many onsen will have specific rules about their onsen or santo. You can read signs on the wall or simply ask if you are unclear.
This is where many times people with tattoos will need to address the issue if they are unsure the onsen allows tattoos. Still to date, many of these onsen do not allow tattoos but its become more common now days that you can find onsen that allow tattoos or at least be able to cover them up.
So unless you want to reserve a private onsen experience, you’ll need to know the rules of the onsen about tattoos. Tattoos in Japan have a few bad connotations. First is that the famous Japanese gang the Yakuzas have tattoos and second people were tattooed when they were in prison to show that they are criminals. So these ideas are still somewhat strong in Japan and thusly why some onsen don’t want to deal with Japanese or foreigners with tattoos!
But there are a few things you can do if you have a tattoo in Japan and want to enjoy an onsen or santo, gym or hotel. You can simply find locations that allow tattoos (Use Tattoo Spot (it’s in Japanese)) or if your tattoo is small enough you can use a water proof sticker to cover up your tattoo.
Still check with the onsen before hand to avoid any conflicts with patching your tattoo, but many onsen are now allowing patching up their tattoos.
You can purchase Japanese onsen tattoo patches here.
You can also check out this product here about how to remove your tattoo naturally at home!
Now you know some simple Japanese bathing etiquette! By following these basic etiquette rules you will impress the owners and the Japanese, and help pave the way to more leniency for tattoos and foreigners moving into the future. Being someone that has a small arm tattoo I’ve been doing my research very thoroughly so I hope you can trust my advice and you can also enjoy the Onsen experience in Japan!