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An izakaya in Gotanda, Tokyo. The signboard on the right shows a menu with regular dishes (left) and season's entry – nabe.(right)

An izakaya (居酒屋?) (Japanese: [izakaja], ee-ZAH-ka-yah)[1] is a type of informal Japanese gastropub. They are casual places for after-work drinking. They have been compared to Irish pubs and early American saloons and taverns.[2]


The word "izakaya" entered the English language by 1987.[3] It is a compound word consisting of "i" (to stay) and "sakaya" (sake shop), indicating that izakaya originated from sake shops that allowed customers to sit on the premises to drink.[4] Izakaya are sometimes called akachōchin (red lantern) in daily conversation, because these paper lanterns are traditionally found in front of them.


Taipei izakaya in 1951

Historian Penelope Francks points to the development of the izakaya in Japan, especially in Edo and along main routes, as one indicator of the growing popularity of sake as a consumer good by the late eighteenth century.[5] Before the Meiji period people drank alcohol in sake shops standing. Some stores started using sake barrels as stools. After that snacks were added.[6]

An izakaya in Tokyo made international news in 1962 when Robert F. Kennedy ate there during a meeting with Japanese labor leaders.[7]

Dining style[edit]

People at an izakaya, sitting by the bar facing to the kitchen

Izakayas are often likened to taverns or pubs, though there are a number of differences between these venues.[8][9][10]

Depending on the izakaya, customers sit on tatami mats and dine from low tables in the traditional Japanese style or sit on chairs and drink/dine from tables. Many izakaya offer a choice of both, as well as seating by the bar.

Usually, the customer is given an oshibori (wet towel) to clean their hands with; the towels are cold in summer and hot in winter. Next a tiny snack/an appetizer called an otōshi in the Tokyo area or tsukidashi in the Osaka-Kobe area will be served.[11] This is local custom and usually charged onto the bill in lieu of an entry fee. In the Kantō region it is called otōshi; Kansai people call it tsukidashi.

The menu may be on the table, displayed on walls, or both. Picture menus are common in larger izakaya. Food and drink are ordered throughout the course of the session as desired. They are brought to the table, and the bill is added up at the end of the session. Unlike other Japanese styles of eating, food items are usually shared by everyone at the table, similar to Spanish tapas.

Common formats for izakaya (as well as much other) dining in Japan are known as nomi-hōdai ("all you can drink") and tabe-hōdai ("all you can eat"). For a set price per person, customers can continue ordering as much food and/or drink as they wish, with a usual time limit of two or three hours.

Izakaya dining can be intimidating to non-Japanese with the wide variety of menu items and the slow pace. Food is normally ordered slowly over several courses rather than all at once. The kitchen will serve the food when it's ready rather than in formal courses like Western restaurants. Typically a beer is ordered when sitting down before perusing the menu. Delicately flavored dishes such as hiyayakko or edamame are ordered first, followed with progressively more robust flavors such as yakitori or kara-age, finishing the meal with a rice or noodle dish to fill up.[12]

Typical menu items[edit]

A mock-up of an izakaya style menu

There are a wide variety of izakaya offering all sorts of dishes. Items typically available are:[13][14]

Alcoholic drinks[edit]

  • Sake (nihonshu)[15] is a Japanese rice wine which is made through the fermentation of rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Unlike wine, the alcohol in sake is produced by the starch being converted into sugars.
  • Beer (biiru)[10][15]
  • Shōchū
  • Cocktails
  • Wine
  • Whisky


Main article: Sakana
chicken karaage
Cold edamame beans and a cold Japanese beer

Izakaya food is usually more substantial than tapas or mezze. Many items are designed to be shared.

Rice dishes such as ochazuke and noodle dishes such as yakisoba are sometimes eaten at the end to round off a drinking session. For the most part, the Japanese do not eat rice or noodles (shushoku – "staple food") at the same time as they drink alcohol, since sake, brewed from rice, traditionally takes the place of rice in a meal.[citation needed]


Izakaya were traditionally down-to-earth places where men drank sake and beer after work;[17] this trend is complemented by a growing population of independent women and students. Many izakaya today cater to a more diverse clientele by offering cocktails and wines as well as improving the interior. Chain izakaya are often large and offer an extensive selection of food and drink, allowing it to host big, sometimes rowdy, parties. Watami, Shoya, Shirokiya, Tsubohachi, and Murasaki are some well known chains in Japan.[18]


Akachōchin ("red lantern") with kanji "Izakaya" written on it
Akachōchin for nikomi (right) and nobori banner for nabe (center)

Izakayas are often called akachōchin ("red lantern") after the red paper lanterns that are traditionally displayed outside.[19] Today the term usually refers to small, non-chain izakaya.[citation needed] Some unrelated businesses that are not izakaya also sometimes display red lanterns.[20]


Cosplay izakaya became popular in the 2000s. The staff wears the costume and wait on customers. Sometime the cosplay izakaya run shows. Costumes include those for butlers and maids.[21][22]


Main article: Oden

Establishments specialising in oden are called oden-ya. They usually take the form of street stalls with seating and are popular in winter.


Main article: Robatayaki

Robatayaki are where customers sit around an open hearth on which chefs grill seafood and vegetables. The fresh ingredients are displayed for customers to point at whenever they want to order.


Yakitori-ya specialise in yakitori.[23] The skewers are often grilled in front of customers.

In literature, TV drama and film[edit]

Izakaya appear in Japanese novels with adaptations to TV drama, film. They have inspired manga and gekiga. A modern novel Izakaya Chōji (居酒屋兆治?)[24] is an example where the main character manages an izakaya; in the film adaptation, Takakura Ken played the part of Chōji.[25] A TV drama was produced in 1992 on Friday Drama Theater, Fuji Television.[26]

Images of izakaya in jidaigeki novels and films reflects the drinking and dining style of today sitting at tables. This was not often seen in countryside – aside from station towns along kaidō highways in the 17th to mid-19th century. Capacities at izakaya were restricted in major cities in the period that jidaigeki TV shows and films/movies set in Edo.

In jidaigeki novels[edit]


Momotarō-zamurai, the novel[27] does not include izakaya, though it presents similar eateries for low-budget and casual atmosphere for the general public, 一膳飯屋 (ichizen-meshiya?), and two types of chaya with 水茶屋 (mizujaya?)[28] and 掛茶屋 (kakejaya?).[29]

Onihei Hankachō[edit]

Onihei Hankachō is a novel by Ikenami Shōtarō, and a. Among the characters appearing in this long series of over 140 episodes, there are a few employees and employers at izakaya. The novel was adapted for TV drama since 1960s, then to a film later. Of the adaptations, the TV drama is the most popular among them even today, with reruns for several periods up to 2016.[30][31]

The main character Hasegawa Heizō, nicknamed Onihei by the villains, is portrayed as a greedy eater with background as a chartered libertine samurai who has lived upstairs at an izakaya in downtown. The bakufu appointments him as the head of samurai police, and he takes his juniors in police squad to izakaya and dine there among commoners, which is not the samurai way in the Edo period. Osono, a half sister to Onihei, was born to a waitress at a ryōriya restaurant. Osono grew up to manage a small izakaya, before working as Onihei's maid.

Onihei hires ex-convicts as his informant, who often works at izakaya including Chūsuke and his daughter Omasa. Chūsuke is a former thief independent from any villain group, and he met Onihei after he retired from crime. They become good friends, and Onihei lived upstairs at the izakaya Chūsuke owned before he succeeds his father and returns to his uptown home.

Villains owned izakaya, too, such as Nagai Yaichirō, aka Yaichi, once a wealthy hatamoto trapped in a scheme and joined a band of thieves. Yaichi disguised a criminal as an izakaya owner, who later escaped from prosecution by Onihei, but was finally caught and slayed before his wife's grave by Onihei. Kyūbei is a thief and owner running an izakaya who favors sweet potato. He saved Onihei from Jingorō's scheme. A villain named Jirosuke owned a chamise (chaya) at Kishimojin shrine. Heizō's son Tatsuzō bought sugegasa and dango dumpling, left his katana and hakama to disguise himself as a commoner to prosecute a criminal (scene 3, "Inkyokin nanahyaku-rhō").[32] At the same chamise, Onihei sipped sake for almost two hours.[33]

The thieves employ masterless samurai (rōnin) including Fujita Hikoshichi, whom police officer Kimura Chūgo met and befriended him at an izakaya named Jirohachi, a disguised lodge for Jingoro's band of thieves to secure robbed money and valuables. For his kidnapped wife, Hikoshichi was forced to lead a group of thief to rob a wealthy merchant, and revenged by set fire to the hole of thieves but burnt to death. Matsunami Kinsaburō is a samurai dismissed from police squad when he was caught to be in intimate relation with Oshima, a female thief. Matsunami managed an izakaya when he was caught in a trouble that Koyanagi caused, his friend who is a police officer.

Low-budget restaurants in jidaigeki[edit]

In jidaigeki, there are several types of izakaya and tea house with snacks, that a meshiya (飯屋?) named Daikonya (Radish House) in Onihei Hankachō (scene 1, "Koigimono Osato"[34] where they open till midnight, known for their Noppe soup and serves sake as well as other low budget dishes. Daikonya will be categorized as an Ichizen-meshiya.[35]

一膳飯屋 (ichizen-meshiya?) and two types of chaya with 水茶屋 (mizujaya?)[36] appear in Momotarō-zamurai.

An ichizenmeshiya, a chop-house specializing in short-order lunch,[37] is where in the tale of Momotarō-zamurai Inosuke the informant took lunch with Hisa, where they met Umetsuki Sōshō with goatee there (scene 4, "the Funa-bansho").[38]

the characters wind down by him/herself, or with friends or coworkers at izakaya including Momotarō-zamurai and Onihei Hankachō. It is in Onihei Hankachō a 菜飯屋 (nameshiya?) is described as an eatery on a slope between a samurai residential area and a highway as a kind of ichizen-meshiya where noppei is served for the hungry and sake for the thirsty (scene 4, "Nakimisoya").[39] "Nameshi" means rice steamed with vegetable such as komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), broccolini and nozawana (a variety of mustard), to lower rice consumption by adding "kate" or other inexpensive products such as cereals and vegetables with rice and steam to raise the bulk. Such rice was called "katemeshi". Meshiya means a place serving supper for customers who spend the small wages they gained daily.

A public teahouse in Onihei or 掛茶屋 (kakejaya?)[40] or a refreshment shop that Iga HanKurō settled down along a highway out of Kanagawa posting station, he waited for the watchman report him "the young lord and his procession left Honjin now" in Momotarō-zamurai (scene 1, "the Utsunoya tōge").[41] In Momotarō-zamurai, you will find a kyūsokujo (休息所 little rest spot?) that is another roadside shop where tea, sweets and sake are served. Momotarō-zamurai fought a duel as he was set up by gang members Iga HanKurō dispatded (scene 5, "the First Night").[42]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Audio pronunciation". Google Translate. Google. 
  2. ^ Mente, Boye Lafayette De. AMAZING JAPAN! – Why Japan is Such an Intriguing Country!. Cultural-Insight Books. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-914778-29-5. 
  3. ^ "Does English still borrow words from other languages?". BBC News. February 3, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2014. Some examples that the Oxford English Dictionary suggests entered English during the past 30 years include ... izakaya, a type of Japanese bar serving food (1987) 
  4. ^ * Hiroshi Kondō (1984). Saké: a drinker's guide. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-87011-653-7. Literally translated, the word izakaya means a "sit-down sake shop." 
  5. ^ Francks, Penelope (February 2009). "Inconspicuous Consumption: Sake, Beer, and the Birth of the Consumer in Japan". Journal of Asian Studies (Association for Asian Studies) 68 (1): 156–157. doi:10.1017/S0021911809000035 – via Cambridge University Press. (subscription required (help)). 
  6. ^ Rowthorn, Chris. Japan. Lonely Planet. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-74220-353-9. 
  7. ^ "Bobby Regales Japanese with Song Rendition" Monroe Morning World (February 6, 1962): 11. via Newspapers.com open access publication - free to read
  8. ^ Moskin, Julia (April 9, 2013). "Soaking Up the Sake". The New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  9. ^ Coghlan, Adam. "Introducing izakaya: the new breed of casual Japanese restaurant". London Evening Standard. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Phelps, Caroline (January 2, 2013). "The Advent of Izakayas". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  11. ^ Mente, Boye De; Ment, Demetra De. The Bizarre and the Wondrous from the Land of the Rising Sun!. Cultural-Insight Books. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-4564-2475-6. 
  12. ^ How to Izakaya – Kampai! : Kampai!. Kampai.us. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  13. ^ Mente, Boye Lafayette De. Dining Guide to Japan: Find the right restaurant, order the right dish, and pay the right price!. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4629-0317-7. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  14. ^ Alt, Matt; Yoda, Hiroko; Joe, Melinda. Frommer's Japan Day by Day. John Wiley & Sons. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-470-90826-6. 
  15. ^ a b Williams, Wyatt (January 21, 2016). "Long menu, big pleasures at Ginya Izakaya". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. 
  16. ^ Kauffman, Jonathan (February 23, 2011). "What Exactly Is an Izakaya? An Interview with Umamimart's Yoko Kumano". SF Weekly. Retrieved January 28, 2016. 
  17. ^ Kosukegawa, Yoichi (March 7, 2008). "'Izakaya' are more than just plain pubs". Japan Times. Retrieved January 26, 2016. 
  18. ^ "Japanese Izakaya". essential-japan-guide.com. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  19. ^ Bunting, Chris. Drinking Japan: A Guide to Japan's Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. Tuttle Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-4629-0627-7. 
  20. ^ Bunting, Chris (2014). Drinking Japan: A Guide to Japan's Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. Tuttle Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 1-4629-0627-3. 
  21. ^ "izakaya – a new trend or a lasting option?". Oyster Food and Culture. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  22. ^ "Step Out of the Vegie Patch in a Pair of Onion Tights". RocketNews24. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  23. ^ Bender, Andrew; Yanagihara, Wendy. Tokyo. Lonely Planet. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-74059-876-7. 
  24. ^ Yamaguchi Hitomi (1982). Izakaya Chōji (in Japanese). Shinchōsha. 
  25. ^ "Izakaya Chôji (1983)". IMDb. 1983. Retrieved February 6, 2016. 
  26. ^ Haruhiko Mimura (Director), Hitomi Yamaguchi (writer), Ken Watanabe (Actor), Junko Sakurada (Actor), Tetsurō Abe (Scripter) (2007). Izakaya Chōji (4:3 standard) (DVD) (in Japanese). GAGA, Crime Music Entertainment (Distributer). Retrieved February 6, 2016. 
  27. ^ Yamate, Kiichirō (December 20, 1957). 桃太郎侍 (Momotarō-zamurai?). Kokumin no Bungaku, color edition 16 (Kawadeshobō). 
  28. ^ NICT, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (ed.). "水茶屋". Wikipedia Japanese-to-English Corpus on Kyoto related texts (日英京都関連文書対訳コーパス?). weblio. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  29. ^ NICT, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (ed.). "掛茶屋". Wikipedia Japanese-to-English Corpus on Kyoto related texts (日英京都関連文書対訳コーパス?). weblio. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  30. ^ Jidaigeki Senmon Channel, ed. (1989). "Onihei Hankacho, season 1: episodes 1–4, 12" (Color TV). special rerun of jidaigeki before the new series "Hatashiai" – Men of Duel. Nihon Eiga Broadcasting Corp. Retrieved February 5, 2016. 
  31. ^ Onihei special: timetable (Jidaigeki Senmon Channel)
  32. ^ Ikenami 2011, p. 42.
  33. ^ ikenami 2011, p. 41.
  34. ^ Ikenami 2011, p. 296.
  35. ^ Ikenami 2011, p. 307.
  36. ^ NICT, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (ed.). "水茶屋". WikipediaJapanese-to-English Corpus on Kyoto related texts (日英京都関連文書対訳コーパス?). weblio. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  37. ^ Nichigai Associates Co., Ltd. (ed.). "一膳飯屋". Saitō Waei Jiten Japanese-English Dictionary. weblio. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  38. ^ Yamate 1957, p. 206.
  39. ^ Ikegami 2011, p. 611.
  40. ^ NICT, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (ed.). "掛茶屋". Wikipedia Japanese-to-English Corpus on Kyoto related texts. weblio. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  41. ^ Yamate 1957, p. 181.
  42. ^ Yamate 1957, pp. 168–172.


  • Yamate, Kiichirō (December 20, 1957). 桃太郎侍 (Momotarō-zamurai?). Kokumin no Bungaku, color edition (in Japanese) 16 (Kawadeshobō). 
  • Yamaguchi Hitomi (1982). Izakaya Chōji (in Japanese). Shinchōsha. 
  • Ikenami, Shōtarō (2011). Onihei hankachō II. Kanpon Ikenami Shōtarō Taisei (in Japanese) 5 (reprint ed.) (Kōdansha). 
  • Nihon Eiga Eisei Kabushikigaisha; Shōchiku (2013). "Ikenami Shōtarō and Film Noir" (in Japanese). Fuji Television. Retrieved February 5, 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ikenami, Shōtarō (2000). Onihei hankachō IV. Kanpon Ikenami Shōtarō Taisei (in Japanese) 7 (reprint ed.) (Kōdansha). 
  • Ikenami, Shōtarō (2001). Onihei hankachō III. Kanpon Ikenami Shōtarō Taisei (in Japanese) 6 (reprint ed.) (Kōdansha). 
  • Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook (2008) by Mark Robinson, Photographs by Masashi Kuma, ISBN 978-4-7700-3065-8, Kodansha International
  • Ikenami, Shōtarō (2010). Onihei hankachō I. Kanpon Ikenami Shōtarō Taisei (in Japanese) 4 (7 ed.) (Kōdansha). 
  • Onihei hankachō II. Kanpon Ikenami Shōtarō Taisei (in Japanese) 5 (reprint ed.) (Kōdansha). 2011. 
  • Izakaya: Japanese Bar Food (Hardie Grant Publishing 2012), photographs by Chris Chen. ISBN 978-1-74270-042-7
  • Izakaya by Hideo Dekura (New Holland Publishers 2015). ISBN 978-1-74257-525-4