An izakaya (居酒屋) (Japanese: [izakaja])[1] is a type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks. Izakaya are casual places for after-work drinking, similar to a pub, a Spanish tapas bar, or an American saloon or tavern.[2]

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


The word izakaya entered the English language by 1987.[3] 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.[4] Izakaya are sometimes called akachōchin ('red lantern') in daily conversation, as such paper lanterns are traditionally found in front of them.


Taipei izakaya in 1951

Anecdotes and songs that appear in the Kojiki show that izakaya-style establishments existed in Japan at the early 700s. There is a record dating to 733 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, there is a record of King Ashihara who got drunk and was murdered in a tavern in 761.

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,[5] and gradually began to offer simple snacks called sakana.[6] 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 1700s.[7]

An izakaya in Tokyo made international news in 1962, when Robert F. Kennedy ate there during a meeting with Japanese labor leaders.[8]

Izakaya and other small pubs or establishments are exempted from a smoking ban that was passed by the National Diet in July 2018 and fully enforced since April 2020.[9]

Dining style

People at an izakaya, sitting by the bar and facing the kitchen.

Izakaya are often likened to taverns or pubs, but there are a number of differences.[10][11][12]

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".[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

Typical menu items

A mock-up of an izakaya-style menu

Izakaya offer a wide variety of dishes. Items typically available are:[16][17]

Alcoholic drinks

Some establishments offer a bottle keep service, where a patron can purchase an entire bottle of liquor (usually shōchū or whisky) and store the unfinished portion for a future visit.[19]


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. Example menu items may include:

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.[21] 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.[22]


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

Izakaya are often called 'akachōchin' ("red lantern"), after the red paper lanterns traditionally displayed outside.[23] Today, the term usually refers to small, non-chain izakaya. Some unrelated businesses that are not izakaya also sometimes display red lanterns.[23]


Cosplay izakaya became popular in the 2000s. The staff wear costumes and wait on customers. In some establishments, shows are performed. Costumes include those for butlers and maids.[24][25]


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


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.[26] 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)[27] is an example where the main character manages an izakaya; in the film adaptation, Ken Takakura played the part of Chōji.[28] A TV drama was produced in 1992 on Friday Drama Theater, Fuji Television.[29] 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.

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 and a live-action adaptation premiered in 2020.

See also


  1. "Audio pronunciation". Google Translate.
  2. De Mente, Boyé Lafayette (November 2009). Amazing Japan!: Why Japan Is One of the World's Most Intriguing Countries!. Phoenix Books. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-914778-29-5.
  3. "Does English still borrow words from other languages?". BBC News. 3 February 2014. Retrieved 5 February 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. Rowthorn, Chris (15 September 2010). Japan. Lonely Planet. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-74220-353-9.
  6. 「飲食事典」本山荻舟 平凡社 p29 昭和33年12月25日発行
  7. 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.
  8. "Bobby Regales Japanese with Song Rendition" Monroe Morning World (6 February 1962): 11. via Newspapers.com
  9. "Japan's watered-down smoking ban clears Diet". Japan Times. 18 July 2018. Archived from the original on 31 August 2021.
  10. Moskin, Julia (9 April 2013). "Soaking Up the Sake". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  11. Coghlan, Adam. "Introducing izakaya: the new breed of casual Japanese restaurant". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  12. Phelps, Caroline (2 January 2013). "The Advent of Izakayas". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  13. Swinnerton, Robbie (9 December 2005). "Standing Firm For Tradition". Japan Times. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  14. 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.
  15. How to Izakaya – Kampai! : Kampai!. Kampai.us. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  16. Mente, Boye Lafayette De (20 December 2011). 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 25 January 2016.
  17. Alt, Matt; Yoda, Hiroko; Joe, Melinda (27 March 2012). Frommer's Japan Day by Day. John Wiley & Sons. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-470-90826-6.
  18. Williams, Wyatt (21 January 2016). "Long menu, big pleasures at Ginya Izakaya". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  19. Kamiya, Taeko (1994). Tuttle New Dictionary of Loanwords in Japanese: A User's Guide to Gairaigo. Tuttle Publishing. p. 42. ISBN 0804818886. botoru kiipu ボトルキープ [Japanese Usage: bottle keep] a system in which one buys a bottle of liquor to be kept at bar
  20. Kauffman, Jonathan (23 February 2011). "What Exactly Is an Izakaya? An Interview with Umamimart's Yoko Kumano". SF Weekly. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  21. Kosukegawa, Yoichi (7 March 2008). "'Izakaya' are more than just plain pubs". Japan Times. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  22. "Japanese Izakaya". essential-japan-guide.com. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  23. Bunting, Chris (2014). Drinking Japan: A Guide to Japan's Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. Tuttle Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-4629-0627-7.
  24. "izakaya – a new trend or a lasting option?". Oyster Food and Culture. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  25. "Step Out of the Vegie Patch in a Pair of Onion Tights". RocketNews24. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  26. Bender, Andrew; Yanagihara, Wendy (2006). Tokyo. Lonely Planet. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-74059-876-7.
  27. Yamaguchi Hitomi (1982). Izakaya Chōji (in Japanese). Shinchōsha.
  28. "Izakaya Chôji (1983)". IMDb. 1983. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  29. 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 (Distributor). Retrieved 6 February 2016.


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

Further reading

  • Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook (2008) by Mark Robinson, photographs by Masashi Kuma, ISBN 978-4-7700-3065-8, Kodansha International
  • 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.
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