Exploring the Beautiful 
World of the Izakaya

Visiting an izakaya for the first time
can be a daunting experience, especially
for someone who cannot speak Japanese and may not be familiar with the local culture. Anxieties about problems with communication or being able to understand the menu often deter foreigners from stepping through the doors of these traditional Japanese restaurants. But please don’t worry. This article hopes to share some useful tips on how to get the most from your first izakaya experience.
In the past, izakayas catered to office workers and businessmen who wanted to drink and unwind after a long day at work. These days however, there are various types of izakaya, ranging in size, and the kinds of food they serve, thereby attracting all kinds of different people who are looking for a place to enjoy a night out on the town.

I went to Daian, a popular izakaya about 5 minutes‘ walk from Kanazawa Station. By izakaya standards it is quite large, covering 3 entire floors, and the traditional Japanese interior, complete with sliding doors known as fusuma, and tatami flooring, create an ambiance that epitomizes the essence of Japanese design. When being led into a tatami room, always remember to take off your shoes. Some izakayas have standard areas with tables and chairs, in which case taking off your shoes is not necessary. Eating at the counter is also an option, which may suit the solo traveler, or anyone who wishes to catch a glimpse of the chefs hard at work as they prepare an array of delectable dishes.
After you sit down, the waiter will probably leave you alone until you are ready to order. Large izakayas usually have a call button you can press. If you don’t see one on the table, you may need to call out sumimasen to get the waiters attention. Don’t feel shy about doing this, the waiters are aware that you are there, and will usually respond quickly after you call them.
The point of the izakaya is to share food, so keep that in mind when ordering. Large izakayas, like Daian, usually offer menus in English which makes it easy when ordering. The first dish that will arrive is the otoshi. The cost of the otoshi is usually around 500 yen. It is an obligatory dish that is decided by the izakaya and acts as a kind of seating charge. It usually comes right after you place your order. In keeping with the izakaya culture, drinking while eating is a must, so the otoshi gives you something to snack on while you wait for your main food to arrive. As you don’t know what the otoshi is going to be, it creates a sense of excitement and gives you the chance to try a dish that you may not have considered before.

A variety of food and drink

The dishes that are available differ from izakaya to izakaya, but generally they serve traditional Japanese food like sashimi, tempura and yakitori. You may even find familiar western foods that have been adapted to suit the Japanese taste, for example steak cooked in soy sauce, or Japanese style omelets known as tamagoyaki. Also keep a look out for any regional foods. Ishikawa prides itself for its fresh seafood, Kaga vegetables and Noto beef. Another part of the izakaya culture is the shime, which can loosely be translated as ‘the final dish’. Eating rice balls, ochazuke (broth with rice) or noodle dishes are often seen as great ways to finish up your izakaya meal.

For those who love to drink, the izakaya will not disappoint you. The menu for drinks is usually longer than the menu for food, and any drink you can think of is probably going to be available. From beer, wine, sake, whiskey, cocktails, and more, the izakaya has it all.

[ Final thoughts]

In my opinion, the izakaya is the perfect way to relax and enjoy talking with your friends while trying a variety of different food in just one meal. At Daian I was able to enjoy a wonderful selection of tempura, sashimi, yakitori, karaage (fried chicken) and for my shime, yaki-onigiri (fried rice balls). I can say with confidence that it’ll be an experience you will never forget. So, the next time you walk past the doors of an izakaya, please don’t hesitate to give it a try.

Justin Llaneza Bailey is from the U.K. but has lived in Japan for almost 15 years. He currently teaches English at a private university in Ishikawa. His hobbies include reading books and travelling.


Special Thanks
Izakaya DAIAN
1F/BF Central Bldg., 4-1, Horikawamachi [Map P6:C3]