How to have fun at an izakaya?


Izakaya gets typically translated as “pub” or “tavern” in guides and dictionaries. However, it doesn’t fit cleanly into any of these descriptions. The word “stay sak√© shop” literally means “a location where you can stay and drink,” as opposed to a liquor store where you buy alcohol to take home. Izakayas differ from bars in that patrons are always seated (often at a table or on tatami), opportunities for socializing with other patrons. While alcohol plays a significant role, lots of (shared) meals get served all the time. Food is difficult to categorize beyond “usually pairs well with alcohol.” The menu can be so varied that you might get to sample something new. Izakaya are not ideal locations for private dates because they get crowded with coworkers or large groups of friends. Additionally, going alone to an izakaya is not done, even though it is not forbidden.

Taking advantage of an izakaya:

The procedure varies a little bit between different eateries, but the following are some typical elements that tourists can anticipate:


Izakaya frequently places a token or a running tab of the bill on the table. When you’re ready to depart, take the invoice or the token and pay at the cashier by the exit. The staff may keep track of the tab at a smaller or more traditional Izakaya, and they will total your bill as you leave.


Shoe cabinets:

Some izakaya demand that patrons take off their shoes at the door or their table. Remove your shoes and put them in the shoe lockers if there are any by the entrance. Keep in mind to bring the wooden “key” to your seat.

Taking a Seat:

After being seated, the staff will offer oshibori (wet refreshment towels) and serve otoshi, a small appetizer that usually comes without a seating fee and costs a few hundred yen per person. The staff member may ask if you’re ready to place an order. Before ordering dinner, many diners first order a round of beer (or non-alcoholic drinks for non-drinkers).

Call button:

Customers at a select izakaya can place an order by pressing a call button on the table. Traditional izakaya doesn’t have these buttons, though.


It is normal to place many orders during the evening; not everything needs to order at once. Typically, food gets served while prepared, though some dishes could come out sooner than others. However, people typically finish their meal with a rice or noodle dish.