A few things you may want to know about Izakaya

Izakaya is a kind of casual Japanese bar for after-work drinking and gatherings. You can experience the daily life of local Japanese there. Non-Japanese-speaking foreigners may find exploring this kind of local culture difficult as they cannot read the menu. Here are some information that may help.

1. Greetings from staff

When you come into an izakaya, the staff usually greets you and ask the number of people. You can just smile and show the number with hand gestures.

Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
いらっしゃいませ。 Irasshaimase Welcome.
何名様ですか? Nannmei sama desuka? How many people?

There are mainly four types of seats in the izakaya. Counter seats enable you to chat with the chef but it is hard to chat with your friends if you come to a big group. Table seats and tatami seats are suitable for a small group of people, while a private dining room allows you to chat privately in an independent room. You can choose according to your needs. There is a kind of izakaya that has no seat. People stand and drink near the counter table and it is called “tachinomi” (立ち飲み).


Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
カウンター席 kaunnta-seki counter seat (facing the chef)
テーブル席 teburu-seki table seat
座敷 zashiki tatami seat
個室 koshitsu private dining room
立ち飲み tachinomi standing (no seat)

2. How to order food and drinks

After settling down, the staff will serve you with a hot wet towel or wet tissue for you to clean your hands. Here are some common utensils that you may need. There is not any smoking ban in indoor areas in Japan, it is common for Japanese to smoke when having a drink in an izakaya.


Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
おしぼり oshibori wet tissue/ wet towel
割り箸 warihashi disposable chopsticks
取り皿 torizara small bowl (for sharing food)
メニュー menyu menu
灰皿 haizara ashtray


oshibori (おしぼり)

English menu may be available in some izakayas located in popular tourist spots. But don’t worry if there is no English menu, it is not that complicated to order food and drinks in izakayas. Here are some common food and drinks in an izakaya.

Useful Sentences

Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
英語のメニューはありますか? Eigo no menyu wa arimasu ka? Do you have an English menu?
注文をお願いします。 Chumon o onegaishimasu. I would like to order.
おすすめは何ですか? Osusume wa nandesuka? Any recommendations?
これをください Kore o kudasai. This one please.

It is quite interesting that usually you will be served with a compulsory appetizer before making an order. The Japanese call it “otoshi” (お通し). It costs around 300-500 yen and you cannot refuse to have it. This is an unspoken rule in izakayas so need not to be too surprised.


Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
お通し otoshi compulsory appetizer that served before placing order
おつまみ otsumami snacks (to have with a drink)
漬物 tsukemono pickles
枝豆 edamame green soybeans
玉子燒 tamagoyaki tamagoyaki (rolled omelette)
焼き鳥 yakitori grilled chicken
鶏の唐揚げ tori no kara-age fried chicken
軟骨の唐揚げ nankotsu no kara-age fried cartilage
冷奴 hiyayakko cold tofu
ハムカツ hamu-katsu fried ham
フライドポテト furaido-poteto French fries
豚の角煮 buta no kakuni braised pork
牛すじの煮込み gyūsuji no nikomi stewed beef tendon
刺身盛り合わせ sashimi moriawase sashimi platter
お茶漬け ochazuke chazuke (rice with tea)
雑炊 zosui hodgepodge/ porridge
Edamame (枝豆)
yakitori (焼き鳥)
kara-age (唐揚げ)
tamagoyaki (卵焼き)

There are different kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks served in iazakayas.


Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
ビール biru beer
生ビール namabiru draught beer
ウィスキー wisuki whiskey
日本酒 nihonshu sake
焼酎 shochu shochu/ liquor
梅酒 umeshu plum wine
果実酒 kajitsushu fruit wine
ノンアルコール飲料 non-arukoru non-alcoholic drinks
ウーロン茶 ūroncha oolong tea
ジンジャーエール jinja-eru ginger ale
オレンジジュース orenji-jusu orange juice
カルピス karupisu Calpis

You will be asked how to serve your drink when you order liquor or fruit wine. For example, staff will serve you plum wine on the rocks (with ice) when you order “梅酒、ソーダ割りで”. Just feel free to choose the style you like.

Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
ストレート sutoreto straight/ neat
ロック roku on the rocks
水割り mitsu-wari with water
お湯割り 0yu-wari with hot water
ソーダ割り soda-wari with soda

3. Okawari (おかわり) and “shime” (シメ)

When you want to order the same thing again, there is a convenient saying “okawari kudasai” (おかわり下さい). It means “please give another (one)”. If you go to an izakaya with Japanese they may suggest ordering “shime” (シメ) near the end of drinking. “Shime” in fact is not the name of a dish but it refers to the “the action of making the last order and finish today’s drinking”. Japanese usually order food like rice balls, ramen, udon or ochazuke, etc. as the ending dish.

4. Leaving izakaya

Staff will come up to you with the bill when you ask for it. You can say ” gochisosama deshita” (ごちそうさまでした) to thank the staff and the chef for the meal.

Useful Sentences

Japanese Pronunciation Meaning
お会計をお願いします。 okaike o onegaishimasu. May I have the bill please.
ごちそうさまでした。 gochisosama deshita. Thank you for the meal.