Any time a friend or family member comes to Japan I always make a point of taking them to an Izakaya. An Izakaya is sometimes known as a Japanese dining bar, or a Japanese tapas bar. It is a place where people go to drink, eat and enjoy themselves. Izakayas range in price from very cheap (where a glass of beer is about A$2) to very expensive (where I don't even think about going there as my wallet would have a heart attack upon entering! They often have very vibrant, energetic atmospheres as workers often go to Izakayas to unwind and relax after a hard days work.
Recently staff from my workplace organised a night at an Izakaya as a farewell party for a departing coworker, and I decided it would be a good idea to take some photos and write about this very Japanese style of dining. We went to an Izakaya close to work where we often go for nights out as the staff are all familiar with us (one of us especially!) and are very friendly towards us.
For someone who doesn't read Japanese, I recommend one of the larger chain izakayas as their menus will have some English on them, photos of all of their dishes and occasionally have menus completely in English. The quality of the dishes at some of the smaller ones may be of better quality but you will probably not know what exactly you have ordered until it comes to the table! Of course if you are with a Japanese friend, this won't be a problem. A couple of the better chain izakayas that I recommend are called Za-Watami and Shirokiya. The one we go to is Za-Watami.
This Za-Watami lives alongside one of it's sister restaurants, Watami-chi. I have been to both and definitely recommend Za-Watami as it's menu is easier to follow and has more photos.
It has a nice entrance lined with bamboo.
Once inside, a lot of Izakayas will ask that you take off your shoes, in typical Japanese tradition. They will have little lockers to put your shoes in here as Chris is showing us in this photo.
In most Izakayas you will have your own semi private dining area, and some of the larger ones will have detailed centrepieces in the middle of the tables such as this one.
We were some of the first to arrive.
Don't feel sorry for us, as the others soon started arriving!
We set about ordering drinks from the lengthy drinks menu. They had a variety of cocktails,
Wine and Sake (Japanese rice wine),
and Shochu (a Japanese spirit distilled usually from barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat or rice). Shochu is different from Sake in that it is distilled whereas Sake is brewed. Shochu also has a higher alcohol volume that Sake and is usually mixed with something, although some people do drink it straight!
Beer for the boys and a mojito for the lady.
Next we had a look at the food menu and ordered a few dishes. You can see what I mean. Very clear, easy to understand menus because of the photos.
By this stage, a few of the others had started to arrive, including the guest of honour wearing the hat.
Pretty soon, the food started arriving. Soba noodles,
this one looks like a Cesar salad,
Some yakitori (grilled meat and vegetables),
Japanese rolled omelet,
and marinated, grilled squid.
By this time, as is usually the case when dining with friends or coworkers, everyone was talking, laughing and having fun!
All of a sudden (for some reason), the photos started to get a little blurry.......
So I decided to put the camera down and enjoy myself like everyone else.
That that is a quick look at Izakaya dining in Japan. If you are coming to Japan and you want a unique Japanese dining experience, I definitely recommend going to an Izakaya.
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