If you are searching for a place where you can fully immerse yourself in the authentic and traditional Japan, 居酒屋 – Izakaya are made for you.
They are small bars, usually located in tines and hidden streets, where, around a counter, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, you can spend a great evening drinking and eating traditional dishes cooked in front of your eyes.
WHAT TO EXPECT SITTING IN A IZAKAYA
Their origin dates back to the end of the Second Ward War when, exhausted by the fighting, the country was a victim of an economic crisis. Shop and grocery were closed and the Japanese weren’t able to find anywhere the essential for daily life.
In order to solve this problem, around the stations, many “Black Market” food and household utensil slowly developed making these areas of the city really popular. Here the first Izakayas were born. With the later economic restart of the country, while the stores were relocated in the main street, the Izakaya remained stable in their original place until today, recreating environments in the city where it seems to go back in the past.
In all Jpana there are more than 11,000 Izakaya that can be divided into two categories. The chains, often placed in subway stations or in the shopping center, place where you can usually sit on your own table ad you can order from a menù that can be found also in English (good for people like me that still don’t speak Japanese). You can eat traditional cuisine or you can find also someplace that offers modernization version of Japanese food.
The second category is “Original Izakaya”. More similar to family restaurants are tiny place where just 8-9 people can sit on a share counter and where “home cooking” is the mistress. Each Izakaya stands out for his own recipes handed down from generation to generation. It will be easy to find and おばさん (grandmother) cooking your dish in a family and intimate atmosphere.
MORE THAN A BAR
Izakaya is not just the place where the Japanese stop to have a drink and eat something.
“Eiichi Isomura” professor of Sociology at the University of Tokyo, studying the life of Japanese identified in the home and in the working place, the two “Social Life” environment of this country, where the medium Japanese spends all his times. Both are characterized by roles and rules that must be followed (as an employee and as a father for example) and are therefore often cause stress. Eiichi Isomura identified in the Izakaya the third “Social Environment”, where the Japanese can forget his role in the society and can just be himself in a relaxed environment.
Not surprisingly, is not difficult to understand why the majority of consumers are distinguished men in a suit and tie, alone or with a group of colleagues. The Izakaya is definitely the place where people socialize, where they move away from everyday life and where they found their”comfort zone”.
TO GO LIST IN TOKYO
You can easily find them around the train stations of larger cities, or in the main street of smaller urban centers. But if you are in Tokyo, here my “To go List” of areas where you can spend a carefree evening with your friends:
Shinjuku – “Omoide Yokocho” – The Alley of Memory
Walking through Shinjuku, near the station, there is a small and tiny street where I advise you to stop:
“Omoide Yokocho” – The Alley of Memory”. Full of little Izakaya, you can taste amazing Yakitori and other traditional dishes accompanied with beer and sake! 100% recommended!
Ueno – Ameya Yokocho
One of the reasons why Ueno is a popular area is definitely his street food culture. Ameya Yokocho is the place for us! Near the station, is an open market where you can stop and eat sitting in some small Izakaya in the street. Number 2 in my “To Go list”!
Shibuya – Nonbei Yokocho
Despite the proximity to the noisy, modern and young Shibuya, Nobei Yokocho takes us back in the past with his lanterns outside of the Izakaya, and the scents that come from the kitchens that overlook the street. A popular place to stop by!
Nakano – Nakano Broadway
I love Nakano for several reasons, one of them is its small Izakaya area and traditional restaurants near the station (behind Nakano Broadway). If you walk around during the day and return in the evening, you will be struck by the change of atmospheres with the arrival of the night.
Red lanterns outside of the bar, vapor and mischievous perfumes that come out from the kitchens. Spending an evening in an Izakaya can change your day. As a foreigner in Japan, it allows me to immerse myself in this fascinating culture and live it fully.
One advice? Don’t limit your self to the concerns of the language barrier and don’t miss the opportunity to live this experience!