18 Delicious Dishes to Order at An Izakaya and Why You Have to Dine at These Gastropubs When You’re in Japan

Most people travelling to Japan want to experience the real deal but what is one of the best ways to find out what Japanese people are really like?

All you have to do is eat at an izakaya, a type of Japanese gastropub!

The 18 delicious dishes you can try at an izakaya are at the end of this guide so if you’ve been to an izakaya and you know the drill then scroll down to see all the dishes and food images.

If you live in Japan, you’re already fully aware of the fact Japanese people are difficult to get to know, especially in the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, and they are on the most part orderly, restrained, polite, patient, and usually perfectionists during the day (well, most of the day when they’re not squeezing themselves into packed trains 😊). But when night falls and the working day finishes, thousands of Japanese people go out for drinks and a tasty meal with colleagues, clients, and friends and an izakaya is a popular choice for delicious food, cheap drinks, and lots of laughs.

Izakaya 2

There are over 100,000 izakaya in Japan and they can get a bit rowdy but sometimes people start chatting with strangers sitting next to them and everyone is usually in a good mood so this is an ideal place to dine if you’re visiting Japan for the first time and you want to get to know Japanese people a bit better without breaking the bank. It’s not a place to get messy though. Don’t get too raucous and remember everyone is still respectful, even when they’re highly intoxicated.

It’s easy to spot an izakaya because they often have a red lantern on the outside. Inside, it’s common to see a straight counter where you can sit and chat with the proprietor and staff, and behind this about five or six tables for couples and groups to sit down. Some izakaya also have a u-shaped counter which is popular with anyone eating alone because you can easily get the staff members’ attention and watch everyone around you without being conspicuous.

In some izakaya you’ll be able to sit on tatami mats or dine from low tables and more recently private rooms have become available in some establishments, catering for two or three people or groups because they’ve recognized the fact some people want to speak privately and don’t want to be overheard. Sometimes the tables and chairs even spill out onto the footpaths and this is the perfect place to sit on warmer nights. If you’re in the mood to eat or drink a lot then look out for the all you can eat (tabe-hōdai) and the all you can drink (nomi-hōdai) izakaya.

Izakaya 3

A lot of izakaya have an intimate feel and the food can be seasonal and usually tastes homemade so you could describe these restaurants as quintessentially Japanese. Izakaya remind the locals of the post-war years and the Showa era.

izakaya

At some izakaya each dish is written in Japanese on strips of paper or wooden boards above the counter but don’t worry if you can’t speak the language because many izakaya now have digital menus with an English language option and if they don’t just check out my list of delicious dishes below and ask for those! Also, don’t be afraid to ask other patrons if they speak English so they can help you. Many Japanese people, especially in the big cities, speak at least a little English and they’ll be more than happy to offer some suggestions.

menu izakaya

The word “izakaya” is made up of these kanji or Japanese characters: 居酒屋.
居 means “stay” or “dwelling”, 酒 means “alcohol,” and 屋 means “room” or “shop” so you can see how the word izakaya was formed.

You may have to take off your shoes at the entrance to an izakaya and put them in a locker so make sure you’re always wearing clean socks with no holes when you’re in Japan. The first thing you’re most likely to be asked before you sit down is how many people are in your party and you can tell them this by indicating the answer with your fingers just like Japanese people do. If there are a lot of people say the number in English slowly and you should be understood.

When you sit down you may be given an oshibori, a wet towel you unroll to clean your hands. This towel is cold in summer and warm in winter. You’ll also be served an appetizer or otōshi お通し(also called tsukidashi 突き出し in Kansai, West Japan). Edamame (boiled or steamed soybeans served salted) are a popular appetizer but you could also get a house special. You should never tip in Japan but you may be asked to pay a table charge called otōshidai (お通し代) or sekiryō (席料) to cover the cost of the appetizer and service. If it’s not busy at the izakaya then stay as long as you want but don’t stay longer than two hours if other people are waiting for a table.

edamame

otoshi

If you want to order just say “Sumimasen” (Excuse me) really loudly. I’ll break that into syllables for you: “Su-mi-ma-sen”. When you’ve had a few drinks, you’ll find this easier to do. You’ll also hear everyone else saying it when they want to order.

You can enjoy all sorts of alcoholic drinks at an izakaya. This includes Western drinks like beer, wine, cocktails, and Whisky but you should try some of the Japanese drinks like sake (served warm in winter and cold in summer), umeshu (plum wine), chuhai (a mixture of shōchū, a Japanese distilled beverage with an alcohol content of about 25%, and soda water. A lemon or lime wedge is added for flavour), or a sour mix with fruit juices added to shōchū.

It’s the custom to pour drinks for each other so give it a go! Don’t be surprised if the waitress pours your Japanese sake into a glass balancing in a wooden box. She’ll fill it to the brim until it flows over into the wooden box and this symbolizes prosperity and generosity. Take a few sips from the glass and pour the sake in the wooden box back into the glass for good manners. Don’t drink from the wooden box.

sake

Check out the 18 delicious dishes below. These suggestions appear on most izakaya menus so savor each dish and fill up your belly until you’re completely satisfied. When you’re ready to pay here’s what you need to say when you have to ask for the bill: Call out “Sumimasen” (Excuse me) just like you did when you wanted to order and “Okanjō onegai shimasu!” お勘定お願いします (“Cheque please!”).

An izakaya is always very inviting. You won’t feel uncomfortable eating here, even if you’re by yourself. You’ll also discover the true feeling of omotenashi or Japanese hospitality here – not just from the people working at the izakaya but also the other customers who always make sure everyone else feels welcome, including you. It really is one of the best places to see the real Japan, a great place to people watch, and you’ll learn a lot about the culture and the Japanese people here.

Some izakaya offer entertainment with live music, others offer rakugo (traditional storytelling) performances to watch while you eat, some serve regional food, some are relaxed, and some are formal and a lot more expensive. You can usually get a feel for what kind of place it is and whether it’s a pricey establishment just by looking through the window or past the entrance.

TimeOut Tokyo has a great list of places where you can find lots of popular izakaya in Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku and Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya.

You have a huge choice of food in many izakaya and it’s best to order a lot of small dishes just like Spanish tapas. Some of these gastropubs only serve one specialty food like yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers) but most izakaya offer a wide variety of dishes. Below is a list of my favourites. All of these dishes should appeal to most Westerners even if they haven’t eaten a lot of Japanese food in the past.

1. Yakitori (焼き鳥) — grilled chicken on skewers

yakitori

2. Tempura (天ぷら) — seafood or vegetables that have been lightly battered and deep fried

tempura

3. Yakisoba (焼きそば) — Japanese noodle stir-fry dish

yakisoba

4. Sashimi (刺身) — thinly sliced fresh raw fish or meat often eaten with soy sauce and a little bit of wasabi horseradish

sashimi

5. Korokke (コロッケ) — deep-fried dish originally related to the croquette, a French dish

croquette

6. Karaage (から揚げ) — Chinese inspired fried chicken. Really delicious if you squeeze a dash of lemon juice on this and dip it in Kewpie mayonnaise. A very popular dish with Westerners

karaage

7. Gyōza (餃子) — dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables and wrapped in a thin dough

gyoza

8. Tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) — a sweetened Japanese rolled egg omelette

tamogoyaki

9. Agedashi dōfu (揚げ出し豆腐) — crispy deep fried tofu served in a tsuyu sauce with grated radish, spring onion, and/or bonito flakes as toppings

agedashi dofu

10. Horenso no goma-ae (ほうれん草の胡麻和え) — Japanese spinach salad with sesame dressing

horenso

11. Yakizakana (焼き魚 or やきざかな) — grilled fish

grilled fish

12. Nasu Dengaku (なす でんがく) — miso glazed eggplant/aubergine

nasudengaku

13. Tsukemono (漬物) — pickles

tsukemono

14. Tebasaki (手羽先) — deep-fried chicken wingtips with a spicy glaze, popular in Nagoya

tebasaki

15. Gratin (グラタン) — a creamy dish topped with cheese and breadcrumbs that originated in France

gratin

16. Pizza (ピザ) — you know this one, don’t you!

pizza

17. Ochazuke (お茶漬け) — a simple rice dish which combines green tea (ocha), steamed rice, and an assortment of savory ingredients. Usually served at the end of the izakaya meal

ochazuke

18. Matcha aisu (抹茶アイスクリーム) — green tea ice-cream. Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s really refreshing at the end of a big dinner.

matcha icecream

Q&A with The Rising Wasabi – My Favourite Laugh-out-Loud Japan-Related Website



If you’ve ever spent time in Japan and if you follow me on Twitter/Facebook I’m sure you already know The Rising Wasabi and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re a big fan of their website. Every time you read one of their articles, I bet you burst out laughing just like I do because they perfectly capture, in the most hilarious way possible, everyday life in Japan but with a satirical twist.

If you don’t know much about Japan you might not fully grasp or understand why some of the articles are so clever and funny, especially if you’ve never lived in Japan or visited the country as a tourist, but I can assure you the more you learn about Japan and its culture the more you’re going to appreciate the brilliant satire, exaggeration and good humour that goes into every article on The Rising Wasabi.

I contacted The Rising Wasabi directly and asked them if they would answer some questions because I knew so many people would be interested in finding out more about their website and the people behind the scenes. I was delighted when they responded straight away and agreed to take part in this Q&A.

1. Please describe the purpose of your website and why you called it The Rising Wasabi.

We wanted to inform people in an entertaining style and what better way than satire. The name “The Rising Wasabi” was simply a play on “The Rising Sun” – and although we’re gaijin, we like wasabi.

2. When did you start The Rising Wasabi?

About 18 seasons ago.

3. How many people write for The Rising Wasabi? Are they male or female?

An unidentified number of gaijin/girljin write for The Rising Wasabi.

4. Are your writers based in Japan or all over the world?

Japan and possibly gaikoku

5. Can anyone contribute to The Rising Wasabi?

We don’t really take submissions; however, if someone has a hilarious idea for a headline we would be happy to hear from them.

6. What is your most popular segment and why do you think this segment is so popular?

In terms of categories, “Society”. Relatable daily-life stories are popular. Everyone loves seeing themselves in an article.

7. You have an English version and a Japanese (nihongo) version of The Rising Wasabi. Which one is more popular?

Our English website is our main focus. We translate some articles into nihongo.

8. How do Japanese people react to your articles? Do you have to be more careful about what you write about in your Japanese articles so you don’t offend certain people or groups of people?

Our audience mostly consists of gaijin – it’s rare to receive direct criticism from Japanese readers. Although recently one “academic” wasn’t pleased with our work. Of course. It’s a daily consideration for all articles. We try to make sure the target of our joke is appropriate.

9. Are there any topics you avoid or refuse to cover on The Rising Wasabi?

We try to avoid tragedies.

10. What can people buy from The Rising Wasabi Shop on the website?

At the moment we sell The Rising Wasabi Tote Bag

TRW-Bag-500-583

11. What kind of businesses can advertise with The Rising Wasabi?

We do advertising campaigns for socially responsible businesses.

12. What are some of your most popular articles?

Here’s one of the top articles on The Rising Wasabi:

…………………………………………..
MAN SURVIVES 78 DAYS ON WILD BERRIES LOOKING FOR SHINJUKU STATION EXIT 27K

Image: Flickr/DickThomasJohnson (edited TRW)

Image: Flickr/DickThomasJohnson (edited TRW)

“A man who arrived in Japan late last year has been surviving on wild berries for the past 78 days looking for exit 27K in Shinjuku Station.

Michael Leggart was confident heading from his Shinagawa hotel to Shinjuku Station that he would be able to find his desired exit with a cutting edge GPS tracking device and several maps of Tokyo.

Nearly three months later Leggart has yet to find his destination and is barely surviving on onigiri bought with his last yen and any wild fruits he can find growing in the less frequented parts of the station.

Last week, Leggart had his first taste of meat since December after crossing paths with a wild boar.

“I tracked ‘old piggy’ for several days before catching the beast and strangling it with my bare hands,” said Leggart.

Leggart set up camp complete with an open fire just outside train track number 22, spit roasting the hog to a medium-rare consistency.

“That was one of the good nights,” said Leggart.

Leggart has found exits J and F and feels his goal is within arms reach.

“I’m starting to really feel the pinch now with my tourist visa expiring in a couple of weeks,” said Leggart.”

……………………………………………..

Five more side-splitting articles by The Rising Wasabi for you to enjoy:

UNESCO Adds Whole Of Japan To World Heritage List To Save Time

First Petting Gaijin Café Opens In Harajuku

Entire Carriage Looks At Gaijin As Announcement Is Repeated In English

Foreign Residents In Japan Predominantly From Nation Of Gaikoku

Gaijin Tries Natto, Dead At 25

Stick Out Your Tongue in Secret — My Murakami-esque Short Story for Books on Asia

Stick out your tongue image

My latest short story pays homage to the genre of magical realism and Japan’s bestselling novelist Haruki Murakami. Read the full story for free on Books on Asia.

Stick Out Your Tongue in Secret – A Murakami-esque Short Story

It was the most traumatic night of my young life. A chilling experience for a thirteen-year-old girl. I’d always been a light sleeper but I knew it wasn’t the wind or an earthquake tremor that woke me in the wee hours of the morning. It must’ve been two or three o’clock. I’d sensed an intruder and my instincts rarely deceived me. I’d always been very intuitive and able to sense danger. A gift that would diminish each year as I grew older.

A sliver of moonlight was breaking through the curtains, revealing a pair of fluorescent beady red eyes in front of me. They were as bright as the azaleas in our front garden. My eyes focused a little and I could just make out someone with a thick waist and slightly wider hips. A small, chubby girl was perched on the edge of the tatami in our living room which doubled as our bedroom. She looked from side to side before she placed one hand in front of the other and inched a little closer. I sat up and leaned both hands back against the futon. Reclining my back, I didn’t want to lean forward and get anywhere near this being in front of me. I blinked twice and my eyes focused even more in the dark. The girl with the strange, brightly-coloured red eyes began to slowly but ever so surely crawl towards me little by little on all fours. Her glowing pupils lit up her face as she approached and I realised I was staring at Saki-san, a student who had moved into a street not far from our home with her family two months earlier. Her first name was Sakiko but everyone called her Saki or Saki-san. She was in the same class as me at the local junior high school but she had no female friends and she’d made it very clear with her icy demeanour that she didn’t want any.

Saki had deliberately distanced herself from nearly everyone in our class except for a couple of boys who were known for skipping school and smoking cigarettes in the alley behind the local pachinko parlour. Her ears were slightly pointy, her eyebrows were pencil thin, the end of her nose was too big for her face, and her lips were barely there. Her complexion was pasty, her shoulder-length hair was limp, and she was too short and stumpy for her age, even by Japanese standards. She was from Ehime Prefecture and she spoke with a rough Shikoku accent that had made everyone giggle when she’d given a presentation about her hometown in front of the whole class in August. You could tell that life would not be kind to her and she would become frumpy and unsuccessful as the years progressed if she had no desire to change, improve her attitude, or circumstances. As Saki approached me ever so hesitantly, I wondered why she was in our bedroom but I was too afraid to talk to her. I also wondered why her eyes were so red. I’d never noticed this before. I was sure they were dark brown when I’d watched her give that presentation two weeks earlier.

Saki flicked out her tongue a couple of times and hissed. Her tongue looked sharp with a silver glint, not rounded as it should be, but I couldn’t tell for sure. She was no longer in the light and I couldn’t see her face as clearly now. She reached the end of my futon, hissed at me again and sucked in air. A shiver went up my spine like a snake slivering up the skin of my back. Her hands began pawing the comforter as if she were hungry and rummaging for food. I gasped as she yanked at the end of my duvet. I finally found the strength to reach over to my mother’s futon and shake her shoulder. She instantly sensed something was wrong. My mother knew I’d never wake her unless it was absolutely necessary. She turned her head, opened her eyes, caught sight of Saki, jumped up off the futon, and pulled at the light switch. Saki sped past us, scuttled through the kitchen and jumped onto and out of the balcony in a flash. I was amazed she could move so quickly. I did catch sight of her eyes as she passed me and I noticed they were no longer red. They’d returned to their natural flat brown colour in the artificial light.

Continue reading this short story on Books on Asia.

Books on Asia logo

*The title, “Stick Out Your Tongue in Secret” is adapted from the Japanese proverb: 内緒で舌を出す (Naishō de Shita wo Dasu)

“Stick Out Your Tongue in Secret” is entirely a work of fiction. This short story was written to pay homage to Haruki Murakami and the genre of magical realism. It is not fanfiction and it was not written to plagiarise Murakami’s writing in any way or form. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this story are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

This short story is copyright to Renae Lucas-Hall and Books on Asia in 2019. This story has been published subject to the conditions that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be sold or circulated without the author’s or publisher’s prior consent in any form.

20 Awe-Inspiring Quotes from Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

I recently read and reviewed Killing Commendatore for Books on Asia, a wonderful reference site that describes itself as a “guide to finding quality books on Japan and Asia from new releases to enduring classics, that deserve to be read, discovered and discussed.”

If you’re thinking about reading Murakami’s latest book and you want to know whether it’s worth your time or if you’ve already read it and you’re interested in an in-depth discussion on all the themes and symbolism in this epic novel then head on over to Books on Asia to read the review. While you’re there you’ll definitely find a lot of other Japan-related books to pique your interest.

KC coverBelow are 20 awe-inspiring quotes from Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. Some of them are beautifully written similes, but I’ve also included some deeply philosophical quotes. I’m a writer so I tend to judge a book from a novelist’s point of view but it doesn’t matter whether you’re a reader or a writer like myself, I’m sure you’ll be equally impressed by Murakami’s clear and elegant prose and the way he makes us think more laterally, broadening our perceptions and perspectives on life and the people around us:

…………………………………………….

1. “Look deep enough into any person and you will find something shining within. My job was to uncover this and, if the surface is fogged up (which was more often the case), polish it with a cloth to make it shine again.” (p. 15)

2. “Our lives really do seem strange and mysterious when you look back on them. Filled with unbelievably bizarre coincidences and unpredictable, zigzagging developments. While they are unfolding, it’s hard to see anything weird about them, no matter how closely you pay attention to your surroundings. In the midst of the everyday, these things may strike you as simply ordinary things, a matter of course. They might not be logical, but time has to pass before you can see if something is logical.” (p. 58)

3. “If he lived with someone he knew he would end up detesting them. Whether it was his parents, a wife, or children. He feared that above all. He wasn’t afraid of loving someone. What he feared was growing to hate someone. For all that, he had loved her very deeply. He’d never loved any other woman so deeply, and probably never would again. “Even now there’s a special spot inside me just for her,” Menshiki said. “A very real spot. You might even call it a shrine.”” (P.145)

4. “”Nirvana is found beyond life and death. You could see it as the idea that even if the flesh dies and disappears, the soul goes over to a place beyond life and death. Worldly flesh is nothing more than a temporary dwelling.”” (p. 165)

5. “Even after we broke up, it felt like my wife and I were still connected by a single living tube. An invisible tube, but one that was still beating slightly, sending something like hot blood traveling back and forth between our two souls. I still had that sort of organic sensation. But before long, that tube would be severed.” (p. 186)

6. “The longer I looked at the painting, the less clear was the threshold between reality and unreality, flat and solid, substance and image. Like Van Gogh’s mailman, who, the longer you looked, seemed to take on a life of his own. Same with the crows that he painted—nothing but rough black lines, but they really did seem to be soaring through the sky.” (p. 240)

7. “When people try to use a method other than the truth to follow along the path of understanding, it is like trying to use a sieve to hold water.” (p. 302)

8. “this woman, Yuzu, refused to love this man, me, and chose instead to be loved by someone else. It felt terribly absurd, a horribly ugly way to be treated. There wasn’t any anger involved (I think). I mean, what was I supposed to be angry with? What I was feeling was a fundamental numbness. The numbness your heart automatically activates to lessen the awful pain when you want somebody desperately and they reject you. A kind of emotional morphine.” (p. 315)

9. “I mean, it’s the first time I ever got divorced.” “What does it feel like?” “A bit bizarre, I guess. Like you’re walking along as always, sure you’re on the right path, when the path suddenly vanishes, and you’re facing an empty space, no sense of direction, no clue where to go, and you just keep trudging along. That’s what it feels like.”” (p. 326)

10. ““You’re saying there’s something similar in our eyes?”

“Maybe it’s because they reflect your true feelings. Curiosity, enthusiasm, surprise, suspicion, reluctance—I can see those subtle emotions in both your eyes and hers. Your faces aren’t all that expressive, but your eyes really are the windows to your hearts. Most people are the opposite. Their faces are expressive, but their eyes aren’t nearly so lively.”” (pp. 362–363)

11. “I had taken a nap, but my head was muddled. It felt like a ball of yarn had been crammed into the back of a narrow desk drawer, and now the drawer wouldn’t close properly.” (p. 364)

12. “Today we talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, but that phrase—even that concept—was unknown then. In that deeply militaristic society, people like my uncle were dismissed as lacking courage, or patriotism, or strength of character. In wartime Japan, such ‘weakness’ was neither understood nor accepted.” (p. 397)

13. “Mariye was silent, her eyes fixed on the teapot on the table. She looked like a lone night heron motionless on the shore, glaring at the water’s surface for hours on end.” (p. 410)

14. “Once Mariye made up her mind not to speak, trying to reach her was like ladling water onto a parched desert.” (p. 419)

15. “Yet the thought of the two of them together left me bereft. As if I were standing in a station watching a long, empty train pass by.” (p. 474)

16. “Perhaps time really had stopped. Then again, maybe it kept nudging forward despite the fact that evolution, or anything resembling it, had ended. Like a restaurant approaching closing time that has stopped taking orders. And I was the only one who hadn’t figured it out.” (p. 478)

17. ““Walls were originally erected to protect people. From external enemies, storms, and floods. Sometimes, though, they were used to keep people in. People are powerless before a sturdy, towering wall. Visually and psychologically. Some walls were constructed for that specific purpose.”” (p. 487)

18. “But it went without saying that his life was bounded by time, space, and probability. Like everyone else’s in this world. None of us could escape those constraints, as long as we lived. Each of us was enclosed by sturdy walls that stretched high in the air, surrounding us on all sides. Probably.” (p. 501)

19. “Yet what was time, when you got right down to it? We measured its passage with the hands of a clock for convenience’s sake. But was that appropriate? Did time really flow in such a steady and linear way? Couldn’t this be a mistaken way of thinking, an error of major proportions?” (p. 583)

20. “When it came down to it, though, could anything be completely correct, or completely incorrect? We lived in a world where rain might fall thirty percent, or seventy percent, of the time. Truth was probably no different. There could be thirty percent or seventy percent truth. Crows had it a lot easier. For them, it was either raining or not raining, one or the other. Percentages never crossed their minds.” (p. 609)

…………………………………………………….

I’d like to say a BIG thank you to Haruki Murakami’s publisher in the UK, Harvill Secker, for sending me a review copy of Killing Commendatore. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I hope my review on Books on Asia reflects this.

I’d also like to thank Amy Chavez, the Editor of Books on Asia, for including my review on her marvellous website.

………………………………………………….