For those not in the know, Japan has this type of restaurant bar called an izakaya and while it does exist outside of Japan, it hasn’t caught on in popularity in the same way as it has in Japan where it is a mainstay of adult social life. Most are dimly lit, shoe-less and have you sitting on the floor at tables where you can just spend hours drinking, eating and talking. There are classy expensive ones, and dive cheap ones, but for the most part you’ll be surprised how reasonably priced an izakaya night out is if you know how to do it right.
As an example, did you know many of them have this option called nomihodai? No idea what that means? Let me enlighten you – it means all you can drink. Yes, for like 3000 yen ($30 or so) you can order pretty much anything you want for a few hours, from giant beers to… well I always just got the giant beers. What’s the catch? Nothing! The Japanese love to drink but because many cannot hold their liquor, this option can be offered without fear of losing money. Westerners rejoice!
Several of the hotels in Tokyo come equipped with a fully stocked bar. If you don’t end up getting too buzzed in hotel bars you can always travel down busy streets and find taverns and restaurants with late night drink specials. Other countries like Thailand and the Philippines have been known to cater beers and cocktails at low prices, but nothing compares to Tokyo. Japan ranks as one of the most notorious drinking countries in existence. If you want to let loose and have a good time, Tokyo is the place to visit.
My favourite memories of izakayas usually took place at Zawatami, the izakaya chain that seemed to be everywhere from my town to my place of work and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be there a few times a week with friends and coworkers. It was the place I took everyone who came to visit and their first reaction was ‘dude I don’t think I can afford this place’, followed by ‘holy shit… I thought it was going to be much more expensive’ when the bill came. It gave them that Japanese experience they were looking for without raping their wallets. Plus the menus were in English as well as Japanese – score.
My coworkers and I would head there after work most nights around 9pm. My boss would go there at lunch and tell them to put a bottle of red aside for each of us (the house wine was 1000 yen a bottle – $10 – how could you go wrong) and NOT TO CHILL IT – for some reason they always put the red in the fridge. Baka. We would then finish our wine, maybe grab a beer, eat some edamame, fries, sushi (my boss would get some liver… ugh) and whatever else we felt like. Okinomiyaki was always a favourite and it was here that I tried it for the first time. Scallops, yakisoba, gyoza (dumplings)… life was good.
Sadly, they only allowed us one bottle of wine each because they didn’t understand we could drink more than they could and even though we were there almost every night they never relented. I guess that’s why 7/11 wine was 300 yen a bottle. Despite this hiccup, I can honestly say if there is a heaven, it’s probably a nomihodai izakaya.