Izakaya Food, Drinks, Atmosphere and Etiquette

The How to and Dos and Donts of Izakaya Etiquette Foods Drink and MoreThe Japanese Izakaya

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.

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Also be sure to check out popular Netflix Izakaya show called Midnight Diner.

Want to impress the local Japanese with your izakaya etiquette elite skills?

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.

Purchase a real set of Japanese chopsticks

First Snack and First Drink at Izakaya in Japan

“First Snack and First Drink” – o-tooshi tsuki-dashi

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?

Yakitori Food at a Japanese Bar

Yakitori at a Izakaya

The Top 7 Foods from 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.

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Best Practices and Etiquette in a Izakaya in Japan

Drinking Etiquette in Japan and while at Izakaya

Izakaya Basic Etiquette

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!

How to Say Hors d’oeuvre in Japanese

Learn How to Speak Japanese for Yummy FoodsWhat do you say in Japanese if you want to say “hors d’oeurve?”

Dude… I swear I remember this one! It’s.. it’s…. uuuhhh…

I was actually going through Kanji Gold yesterday and I came upon a vocabulary word and it was for “hors d’oeurve”, I thought I had used it enough the first day that I thought I had remembered the word. But as I awoke today I was asked if I’d like some hors d’oeurves, which happened to be some dip, crackers and cheese. Then I thought, “oh man, I just learned how to say that in Japanese yesterday”. So I tried with all my might, yet it didn’t come to the surface, so I had to go through Kanji Gold again and go through the lesson of vocabulary words I was working on. I eventually came to it.

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Now, let me point out, this word is used for Japanese Hors D’ourves mostly, but it’s a good thing to remember as I’ll point out here shortly.

First Snack and First Drink at Izakaya in JapanTsuki-dashi is the word in Japanese for hors d’oeurvre.

突き出しor つきだしin pure hiragana.

Appetizer in Japanese is O-tooshi – お通し – おとおし

Now to go a bit further into this where you actually may see this while in Japan is when you visit a Izakaya (a bar essentially in Japan), they will many times serve you something like this. It’s called O-tooshi Tsuki-Dashi. It means first snack with first drink.

And it can be a dozen different things that they give you.. But be-warned, this o-tooshi tsuki-dashi is actually not free. You can read more about this custom in izakaya by checking this post out here.

In the end though when looking for this vocab word again I found that even by searching the internet I was unable to find this simple word for the Japanese equivalent to this yummy word (through simple how to’s searches), and of course Google translate is just absolutely horrid for most things when it comes to translating Japanese to English. If you’d like to check out my free Japanese resources you can check out this page here. Over the last 15+ years of learning Japanese I’ve run across several different sites and books that can really help when you start studying like your life depends on it. Even though I’ve been studying off and on for 15 years I don’t believe I really gave it much of a go until the last 2 years when I ran into the website Nihongo Master. I strongly suggest looking into Nihongo Master if you want to quickly learn how to read, write and speak REAL Japanese.

Now you know, when someone asks you if you want Hors D’ourves in Japanese, you can certainly say ..”no/iie” 😀

PS: Just a side note, many of the izakaya will not really give you much time to wave it away if you plan on not having tsuki-dashi.


Tanabata Festival: Star Lovers, Looms & Better Handwriting

Learn what the Tanabata Festivals are all about in JapanWhat is the Tanabata Festival?

Stars that Meet Once a Year, Looms that make God Protect Rice Fields and Men… They Want Better Handwriting!

Seems like enough to create a festival around! Why not?

Tanabata means ‘Evening of the Seventh’. It’s known in Japan as the Star Festival. It actually comes from the Chinese Festival called Qixi. The original story and celebration of Tanabata comes from the meeting of two gods Orihime & Hikioboshi (The stars (the ones in the sky) are Vega and Altair).

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By custom and how the story is told, these two stars (gods) are separated by the Milky Way and they are only allowed to see each other once a year. Which so happens to fall on the 7th of the 7th month. It varies a bit from regions of Japan, but the festivities usually start on July 7th. It will be held from July to August normally in Japan.

The Tanabata ritual was originated to Japan by the Empress Kōken around 755 AD. It came about because of the “Festival to Plead for Skills”, the Chinese name is Qixi.

The festivities grew in popularity among the public and by the early Edo age, when it became commingled with various Obon or Bon rituals and traditions, and grew into what most know now days as the Tanabata festivities. Ever increasing popularity for these customs concerns the festival changed a bit from one region of Japan to the next, but overall women hoped for better sewing craftsmanships, and men hoped for better hand-writing by jotting down their hopes and dreams on strips of kami-paper. Around this time, the ritual was to use dew on taro leaf to create the pen-ink used to scribe hopes and wishes with. But as time went on, Bon is now held on 15th of the 8th month from the solar calendar, these two are very close together but over all, Tanabata and Bon festivals and events are separate from each other.

Tanabata was read as “Shichiseki” at one time. It’s believed that a Shinto cleansing ritual was invented around the same time, in which a Shinto miko wove a unique piece of cloth on a loom called a Tanabata and offered it to a god to pray for protection of rice and for good harvests. After awhile this ritual intermingled with Kikkōden to become the Tanabata festival event.

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