In a Japanese office environment you won’t hear much noise even in an open space. So how do you do to know a bit about your colleagues, their lives, little worries or… if the colleague getting next to you is actually single? One word just solves all those questions: Izakaya! The name (meaning literally Stay Sake Shop) originates from sake shops that allowed customers to sit in the shop and have a drink. Nowadays those after-work places are also sometimes called akachōchin, referring to the red paper lanterns hanging in front in an Izakaya. You will find there many serious looking office workers unwinding after a hard day of work.Traditional elements can be found in many small Izakayas such as tatami mats to dine on low tables, handwritten calligraphy paper plastered on the walls to select dishes from and of course traditional food such as grilled yakitori and oden (ingredients boiled in a broth). Unlike other Japanese styles of eating, food items are usually shared by everyone at the table in a similar way as the Spanish tapas. The difference being that the quantities are usually a bit smaller. The drink menu is usually quite simple (unless you are in a sake bar) with Japanese beers, white and red wine, shochu, sakés, and a few whiskies and liquors.How do you Izakaya? Have fun. Those places are not the romantic diner kind of place, they can be quite loud but one thing is for sure: during my trip in Japan my Izakaya nights were amongst the most enjoyable ones. Japanese people -whether it is the waiter, the cook or the clients sitting next to you- are very welcoming there, they like chit-chatting and getting to know you. As you arrive, order a drink and a snack. More food can be ordered little by little through the night or you can Izakaya crawl and try another red lantern bar.
In large cities like Tokyo finding an Izakaya should be an easy task. If you want to experience the true flavor and spirit of an after-work drinking and dining visiting an Izakaya is a most do during your trip. Just peep inside, find a fun-looking atmosphere one with plenty of Japanese enjoying themselves over large mugs of beer and join them!
Photo: Emilie Mounsaveng