Learn How to Drink for Less in Japan!
Was published here as a guest post, decided to share it here too!
Japan is a mysterious and wondrous place that I believe that everyone should check out at least once throughout their life. The beauty of the island can bring almost a tear to one’s eye. But after seeing the sights of the day, there is a common theme that everyone loves to do in Japan. Go out to eat! Many times the locals will visit a local izakaya, which is similar to a gastropub. You can sit in the midst of the locals while ordering popular dishes like yakisoba, yakitori, okonomiyaki, ramen, sushi or even get some western delicacies like a hamburger (which isn’t the same as you’re used to) or a pizza.
In many of these izakaya’s (and many restaurants), you’ll find an option where you can drink yourself under the table for 90 minutes of non-stop drinks. It’s called nomihodai. It’s a favorite choice for the locals, but it’s something that westerns are anxious to try as they’ve never heard of such a thing, and because of that, you can almost see the cringe in the person’s face who owns the izakaya/restaurant when a group of westerns orders nomihodai. Japanese usually use some restraint when ordering nomihodai (not all mind you), westerns will leave not remembering how they got there.
Nomihodai usually costs (depending on the location) around ¥1,500 to ¥2,500 yen or around $15 to $25. There is usually different levels of nomihodai you can purchase. There are usually two distinct options; you can get all you can drink shochu highball soda drinks, wine and happoshu beer (or what I like to call fake beer). Then there is usually an option where you can order sake and nama biru, which is draft beer (or what I like to call REAL beer), I would say unless you’re a wine drinker you should take the second option, your liver will thank you.
Many of the times you’ll be required to have a certain amount of people in your group order nomihodai as well as having a minimum food order. So as you may think ordering a nomihodai could be the best bet, you’ll have to factor in multiple people and food order. So if you’re planning on going out with a group and ordering food, this would no doubt be your best bet. But, still, in the end, you’ll quickly put away $30-$50 a person for the night, which honestly is still not too bad considering you’re drowning your liver in lushish alcohol for 120 minutes non-stop WHILE eating.
But for those who don’t have that type of money but still want to have their alcohol kick and go out for the night, there is another trick that even local Japanese people don’t give much thought of, and it’s called pre-game. Well, at least that’s what some Americans here in Japan told me it’s called and they even admitted they don’t do it (but now are). Pre-game drinking is where you go to a コンビニ (convenience store) or a スーパー (supermarket) and purchase your beer or alcohol there first. The difference in price is pretty substantial. When you order a single beer in about any restaurant, a 12 oz glass of beer usually will run you about $5-$8. Where as you can get yourself a 16 oz can of beer from a スーパー (supermarket) for about $2.20 to $3 and about $2.90 to $3.60 at a コンビニ (convenience store).
So you can easily purchase around $10 in liquor and drink one or two of them before entering and then “step out” of the restaurant when you want to crack the next one and down it and go back in. I will never personally open a beer inside their business as I believe that’s stepping over the line, and perhaps this way of drinking for less in Japan might bend people’s ethic muscles a bit. I think it’s fair enough though, and people bring their own cigarettes so why not bring your own beer and step out for a minute? So when you save that extra money, you’ll be able to order more food in the long run, or not have to order as much just to drink while drinking out in Japan. Thus, saving you TONS of money drinking while in Japan.
About the Author
I've been interested in Japanese as a language and as a culture since I was about 15 years old. In April 2017 my wife and I moved to Fukuoka, Japan to go to school for 2 years. We've since returned to America and now are looking to expand Nihon Scope further for future visitors of Japan to get in touch with the best school they can. We're also here sharing our experiences of Japan and the culture. Get in touch with us on Facebook for the quickest response!