An izakaya (居酒屋) (Japanese: [izakaja]) is a type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks. Izakaya are casual places for after-work drinking, similar to a British or Irish pub, a Spanish tapas bar, or an American saloon or tavern.
The word izakaya entered the English language by 1987. It is a compound word consisting of iru ("to stay") and sakaya ("sake shop"), indicating that izakaya originated from sake shops that allowed customers to sit on the premises to drink. Izakaya are sometimes called akachōchin ('red lantern') in daily conversation, as such paper lanterns are traditionally found in front of them.
Anecdotes and songs that appear in the Kojiki show that izakaya-style establishments existed in Japan at the beginning of the 8th century. There is a record dating to 733 CE when rice was collected as a brewing fee tax under the jurisdiction of the government office called Miki no Tsukasa. In the Shoku Nihongi, written in 797 CE, there is a record of King Ashihara who got drunk and was murdered in a tavern in 761 CE.
The full-scale development of izakaya began around the Edo period (1603-1867). At liquor stores that used to sell alcohol by weight, people began to drink alcohol while standing. Gradually, some izakaya began using sake barrels as stools for their customers, and gradually began to offer simple snacks called sakana. Historian Penelope Francks points to the development of the izakaya in Japan, especially in Edo and along main roads throughout the country, as one indicator of the growing popularity of sake as a consumer good by the late 18th century.
Depending on the izakaya, customers either sit on tatami mats and dine from low tables, as in the traditional Japanese style, or sit on chairs and dine from tables. Many izakaya offer a choice of both as well as seating by the bar. Some izakaya restaurants are also tachi-nomi style, literally translated as "drinking while standing".
Usually, customers are given an oshibori (wet towel) to clean their hands; the towels are cold in summer and hot in winter. Next, a tiny appetizer, called an otōshi in the Tokyo area or tsukidashi in the Osaka-Kobe area, is served. It is local custom and usually charged onto the bill in lieu of an entry fee.
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 styles of izakaya dining in Japan are 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, usually with a time limit of two or three hours.
Izakaya dining can be intimidating to non-Japanese because of 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 is ready, rather than in the formal courses of Western restaurants. Typically, a beer is ordered when one is sitting down before perusing the menu. Quickly prepared dishes such as hiyayakko or edamame are ordered first, followed with progressively more robust flavors such as yakitori or karaage, finishing the meal with a rice or noodle dish to fill up.
- Sake (nihonshu) –  a Japanese rice wine 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)
Izakaya food is usually more substantial than tapas or mezze. Many items are designed to be shared. Example menu items may include:
- Edamame – boiled and salted soybean pods
- Goma-ae – various vegetables served with a sesame dressing
- Karaage – bite-sized fried chicken
- Kushiyaki – grilled meat or vegetable skewers
- Sashimi – slices of raw fish
- Tebasaki – chicken wings
- Tsukemono – pickles
- Yakisoba – grilled noodles
- Yakitori – grilled chicken skewers
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, Japanese izakaya customers 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.
Izakaya were traditionally down-to-earth places where men drank sake and beer after work. However, modern izakaya customers are more likely to include independent women and students. Many izakaya today cater to a more diverse clientele by offering cocktails and wines as well as a sophisticated interior. Chain izakaya are often large and offer an extensive selection of food and drink, allowing them to host big, sometimes rowdy, parties. Watami, Shoya, Shirokiya, Tsubohachi, and Murasaki are some well known chains in Japan.
Izakaya are often called 'akachōchin' ("red lantern"), after the red paper lanterns traditionally displayed outside. Today, the term usually refers to small, non-chain izakaya. Some unrelated businesses that are not izakaya also sometimes display red lanterns.
Robatayaki are places in which customers sit around an open hearth on which chefs grill seafood and vegetables. Fresh ingredients are displayed for customers to point at whenever they want to order.
Yakitori-ya specialise in yakitori, grilled chicken skewers. The chicken skewers are often grilled in front of customers.
In literature, TV drama and film
Izakaya appear in Japanese novels with adaptations to TV drama and film. They have also inspired manga and gekiga. A modern novel, Izakaya Chōji (居酒屋兆治) is an example where the main character manages an izakaya; in the film adaptation, Ken Takakura played the part of Chōji. A TV drama was produced in 1992 on Friday Drama Theater, Fuji Television. Another film, Izakaya Yūrei, starring Kenichi Hagiwara, is a comical ghost story; a typical izakaya in Yokohama is run by the owner, his new wife and the ghost of his former wife.
Images of izakaya in jidaigeki novels and films reflect the modern 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.[clarification needed]
The 2006 manga series Shin'ya Shokudō depicts the manager of a 12-seat izakaya in Shinjuku, Tokyo, that only opens from 12pm to 7am. The manga was later turned into a TV show, which was widely distributed throughout Asia and the internationally on Netflix, followed by two films. There were also several remakes made in countries such as China and Korea.
The 2012 manga series Isekai Izakaya "Nobu" (Alternate World Bar "Nobu") depicted a new izakaya whose front door opened to a parallel world, vaguely reminiscent of 15th century Germany. The izakaya featured a wide range of food and drinks from Japan. An anime adaptation premiered in 2018.
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