46 Things You Must Know about Izakaya & Yokocho Alleys in Tokyo

All you Need to Know to Elevate your Izakaya & Yokocho Alley Tokyo Nightlife Experience

As a Tokyo local, I will firmly state that if you want to enjoy Tokyo’s night you cannot avoid Izakaya and Yokocho alleys.
Izakaya is the best place to enjoy tasty Japanese dishes and drinks. Each Izakaya and Yokocho alleys vary in foods and drinks they serve so no matter how many places you go, you will never be tired of them. Once you go, you will understand but, every day many locals enjoy dinner in a lively Izakaya with colleagues, friends and partners. These locals often go bar hopping to 2 to 3 Izakayas.

If you are staying in Tokyo and want to enjoy the nightlife, you should definetly visit Izakaya and Yokocho alleys. And if possible, try to visit the non-tourist filled real Izakaya and Yokocho alleys.

This article focuses on explaining what you need to know to enjoy real Izakaya that serve delicious food and is lively with locals.
Things like what kind of place is an Izakaya, what kind of style should I enjoy Izakaya, what kind of rules are there, and what kind of etiquette should be there, will be covered.
Izakaya is a casual and comfortable place surrounded by a friendly atmosphere, and although it isn’t like a fancy dinner, there are unique rules that you need to know.
I will also explain the various Izakaya food and drinks. yakitori and sashimi, the most famous Izakaya foods are not the only good menu items, and besides sake there are many other local drinks that you should try. I would love for you to leave knowing about Izakaya food and drinks as well.

Once finished reading this, I would love if you refered to my other article, Top 30 Izakaya bars & Yokocho alleys lively by locals in Tokyo where I introduce 30 of the best Izakaya and Yokocho alleys that I recommend.

Lastly, as you probably already know, Izakaya and Yokocho alleys are popular to locals, and are so due to the great atmosphere and delicious food and drinks. However, in many cases, it is hard to make reservations and often don’t have English menues. So as a first step into the local Tokyo nightlife, and as a way to get used to the style, I’d highly recommend taking part in the Bar Hopping Tour where young and friendly local guides will take you to Izakaya and Yokocho alleys. I’m sure that it would be a great way to start of your journey. Hope to see you there!

Now, off to what you came here to read. Since this is a long read, I listed themes below so you can just jump to what you are interested in from those links.

Table of Contents

  • #1: What is an Izakaya? And what is a Yokocho alley?
    First of all, I will explain what kind of places Izakaya and Yokocho alleys are. Basics such as what kind of Izakaya are there, what kind of customers go there, and what are the differences between Izakaya and Yokocho alleys. If you already know these, you can skip this section.
  • #2-16: 15 Points on Styles and Rules of Izakaya and Yokocho alleys in Toyko
    I will explain the various rules and the styles for enjoying Izakaya and Yokocho alleys. Unlike regular restaurants, Izakaya and Yokocho alleys have serveral unique rules. If you know these unique Izakaya cultures in advace, you can enjoy the experience without any confusion.
  • #16-20: 5 Points of Etiquette of Izakaya and Yokocho alleys in Tokyo
    Although not rules, I will explain some etiquettes that locals follow to not leave a bad impression on the Izakaya. Best to know these to enjoy a beautiful Izakaya experience.
  • #21-33: It’s not just Yakitori! 13 Tokyo Izakaya foods Loved by Locals
    I will introduce you to various Izakaya foods. Not only famous foods such as yakitori and sashimi but also the classic dishes loved by locals as well as traditional dishes. However, there are uncountable amounts of Izakaya foods so I cannot introduce them all…
  • #34-40: 7 Tokyo Izakaya Drinks you should try besides Sake
    I will introduce you to the drinks served at Izakaya. Traditional Japanese alcohol is often seen as sake but locals love other drinks as well. Fruit wine and cocktails are great for those who are not good at drinking and high ball is a popular Izakaya cocktail among young people. Do not forget a Tokyo born drink, Hoppi (not Happy). If you love drinking, I hope you try them all!
  • #41-46: Useful Words/Phrases for Izakaya and Yokocho alleys in Tokyo
    Unfortunately, aside restaurants for tourists, there are only a few Izakaya and Yokocho alleys that have English support. There is the occasional English menu but the staff don’t speak English so communicating is hard. It’s quite boring if you eat and drink alone as well. You won’t be able to get close with the locals. So I would like to introduce some Japanese words and phrases that can be used in Izakaya. Just by using these, you should be able to get close with locals in a snap.

What is an Izakaya? And what is a Yokocho alley?

An Izakaya is the best place drink and enjoy a casual Japanese dinner while being surrounded by a local atmosphere. These Izakaya bars offer a variety of Japanese drinks, and delicious Japanese foods to match. In a way they’re a fusion between a restaruant and a bar. Among these izakaya, there is a wide range of types from lively shops often filled with locals to quiet and romantic shops that can be great for dates. On the other hand, a Yokocho alley is a traditional drinking district with many small izakaya inside. These yokocho alleys have a long history and is probably the most local area in Japan you can go to. Once you go inside you feel as if you are taken to another world far different from the big city it’s located in.

Types and Characteristics of Izakaya / Price Range


Standing Izakaya Bar (Tachinomiya)

As the name would suggest, this izakaya is enjoyed while standing. Often very busy with people going in and out. This drink and go style was mainly enjoyed by middle aged drinkaholics but recently the customer base is quite young. This could be due to the reasonable price going for about 2,000 to 3,000 yen per person. Now don’t expect fine dinning service for this price as the staff are always too busy to serve you with hospitality. It may be hard to get yourself to go in, but you should definetly try to drop into the popular shops at least once.

Self / Family-run Izakaya

Self-run and Family-run izakaya are often quite small with 10 to, at most only, 50 seats. They all have their own signature dishes, and own unique querks for drinks and food. And the price range varies depending on the signature dish so it may be as cheap as 2,000 yen and up to 5,000 yen on the high end. However, most of these izakaya offer reasonable pricing for a shockingly delicious meal and is often quite lively. The service almost always is friendly and many shops are quite comfortable.

Yokocho Alley Izakaya

Izakaya inside Yokocho alleys are very old and small. Often soo small that there are only a handful of staff or even just the owner alone. Because of this small space, you can get quite close with the staff and the customers. You could easily talk to people around you without it getting akward. Like the standing izakaya bars, the price is reasonable ranging from 2,000 to 3,500 yen. It is unlikely for you to be entering an expensive izakaya without you knowing. These izakaya have been running for years, and for the price the food is delicious. Service varies on shops but, most are friendly and polite.

Large Izakaya Franchises

These izakaya franchises, unlike the izakaya mentioned before, can seat a large number of people. To that reason, most are located along busy streets and big buildings that get high traffic. On the surface, these may seem popular spots but, that is just due to location and the food and drinks are quite average. The service is also quite mechanical and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Premium Izakaya

Often located in high class areas such as Ginza, you will immediately know a premium izakaya from just the exterior. And as the premium would suggest, the price will be at a minimum 5,000 yen and some places going over 10,000 yen per person. Now since you’re paying that much, the food and the drinks are obviously high quality. The atmosphere is not lively and is more quiet and calm.

Where to find high quality Izakaya and Yokocho alleys

There are Izakaya everywhere in Tokyo. However, as you know, the quality is all over, and most good shops tend to be away from the tourist areas. For example, in Shibuya, there are a few nice izakaya at the Center-gai street with many tourists but, there are way more wonderful izakaya filled with locals under Mark City building. A key concept to follow is the more locals gather the higher the quality. Sadly, Yelp is not much of use in Japan. If you want to look into izakaya before actually going, refer to Top 30 Izakaya bars & Yokocho alleys lively by locals in Toyko.

Operating hours of Izakaya and Yokocho alley

This really varies on the location but, most open at around 5PM and close around 11PM. However, some izakaya are open from noon as well as beimg open until 5AM. Most of the action happens around 6PM to 10PM but, places with a vivid nightlife such as Shibuya and Shinjuku, many izakaya stay quite lively until midnight.

15 Points on Styles and Rules of Izakaya and Yokocho alleys in Toyko

Izakaya and yokocho alley have their own style and rules. Nothing to complicated, but knowing each style and rules before wouldn’t hurt. If you plan on going to an iakaya or yokocho alley, be sure to read at least this section and use it as reference.

Appetizer (Otoshi) = Table Charge

Once you get seated a small appetizer (otoshi) will be served. This is same as the table charge so don’t refuse the dish because you didn’t order it. The price varies on the grade of the izakaya but generally ranges from 300 to 500 yen per person. Regardless of finishing this or not, you will charged.

Seat Request

You can specify the counter or table once you enter but, you may not get a table based on your party size. Izakaya are a turnover business so just keep that in mind.

Toast when all the drinks arrive!

The izakaya style is to start drinking once everyone gets their drink. The Japanese way to toast is by saying “Kanpai!” and matching glasses. No need to actually do this but fun fact, if you match glasses below someone else, it’s a sign of respect in Japan.

Seasonings on the table

Most izakaya tables have some type of seasoning. The most common ones are soy sauce and shichimi or ichimi. Soy sauce is mainly used for sashimi. There should be a small dish (soy sauce dish) for you to use, instead of pouring it directly on the dish. Shichimi is a mixture of several spices and works great if you want a kick in flavor from yakitori or nikomi stew. Ichimi is also the same but just red pepper, and you can also use this instead of Shichimi.

Slightly Unique Ways to Call a Server

Popular izakaya servers are busy and don’t really have time to go to each table to take your order so you have to get the server’s attention. The best way to get their attention is by saying “Sumimasen!”There are many cases the server won’t hear you if the store is crowded so waiving your hand is also good. Some shops have a server button so don’t hesitate to use it.

Not much English Support

Assume the staff can’t speak any english. Aside from the tourist areas, only about 10% of the shops have english menues. When in doubt just ask for the recommendations. Refer to the end of this article for how to ask for recommendations.

A la Carte and Course

Assume izakaya are an a la carte style. Some large chain izakaya have course menues but reservations are often required. Since the izakaya style is also to share a variety of dishes, I recommend just sticking to the a la carte style and avoid courses.

all you can drink

A system where you can drink as much as you want from a fixed drink menu within the time limit. Most izakaya have this system and the time limit is usually 2 hours. There is no drinking fountain so you would have to order drinks each time you want one. Be sure to order a new drink only after you finish the previous drink.

All you can eat

Another system usually with a 2 hour limit. There are buffet styles and order styles. However, compared to the all you can drink system, not many places offer all you can eat. I also wouldn’t recommend it due to the izakaya often having poor service and below average food.

How to pay

There are quite a few izakaya that still have a cash only system to avoid credit card fees and maintain reasonable prices. Especially standing izakaya bars and yokocho alley izakaya are cash only so when heading out be sure to carry some cash. There also isn’t a cash-on culture in Japan so you will pay collectively at the end. For those who want receipts, most small izakaya don’t make them but, most small self-run izakaya won’t overcharge you so don’t worry. Just be careful of izakaya and restaurants that have staff pulling customers in (catches), since those will often overcharge you. The popular high quality izakaya don’t need to have catche

Time Limit

The popular izakaya, especially on the weekends, have a 2 hour time limit, where you have to give up your seat for the next guests after 2 hours. Most of these time limits will be told to you in advance so don’t worry about being kicked out mid-drinking.

Happy Hour

Izakaya that are open early often have a happy hour system where you can enjoy some benefits such as “half price beer if you enter before 5 PM”. Sadly not all izakaya have a happy hour so be on the lookout for a happy hour posting in front of the store.

Last Order (Order Stop)

Many izakaya stop taking orders 30 minutes to 1 hour before closing. When the time comes, staff will come to your seat to take any “last orders”. Don’t be too worried though some izakaya have different last order times for drinks and food.

Smoking

Many izakaya are not smoking free, especially standing izakaya bars and yokocho alley are almost all not smoking free. Only a handful of izakaya are smoking free but, if you plan on bringing small kids along it’s probably better to ask the staff. On a good note though, Japan is becoming more and more smoking free and it is now hard to find an izakaya that is filled with tobacco smoke.

Restroom

The cleanliness of restrooms vary. Don’t worry there is no disastrously bad restroom, but many old shops don’t have the latest type of toilets so don’t be too supprised to find a traditional Japanese toilet. Almost all izakaya have a male and female restroom but, there are occasional shared restroom so just be careful.

5 Points of Etiquette of Izakaya and Yokocho alleys in Tokyo

These are not rules but just common practice etiquette that you should know to have a better Izakaya experience.

Don’t stay long at small shops without ordering

Letting customers who don’t order stay for a long time, especially for small izakaya that have few seats can be damaging. As etiquette, don’t over stay if you aren’t going to order anything new. If you are full, just occasionally order some drinks. However, this won’t apply so much for large izakaya franchises, hence this is just etiquette.

Order at least 1 drink / 1 food per person

This is an etiquette that you should be careful of regardless the size of izakaya. If you sit, ordering at least one drink and one food (can be cheap) per person is etiquette. However, in late hours such as after 10 PM, ording just drinks is okay. If you just want to drink, just tell the server in advance.

Respect your neighbors when at the counter

Izakaya often have counter seats and especially for small shops, the distance between the customers is small. Be careful for space. Try to keep your food and drinks within your space and try not to invade others’ spaces. If the menu or seasonings are in front of the guest next door, just say “Sumimasen” before reaching for it. You might be able to start a conversation from there?

Ask before taking pictures inside

Taking pictures of the food is almost never prohibitted (there are the occasional ramen and sushi shops) but, if you want to take pictures of the store, don’t forget to ask or at least tell them before you snap away. Many small izakaya counter seats have full view of the open kitchen. You should especially ask before taking pictures of them grilling yakitori or preparing a fish.

Watch for your volume even in a lively shop

Popular izakaya are often lively and full of laughter, and it’s great to have a good conversation, have a laugh and most importanly fun! Just be aware of your surroundings, especially for small izakaya. In the extreme case, you can be kicked out from the store so just be aware how much you drink and your surroundsings.

It’s not just Yakitori! 13 Tokyo Izakaya foods Loved by Locals

Izakaya are filled with a variety of delicious side menus ranging from ones with originality to classics. I would like to introduce the main popular menus such as yakitori and tempura as well as Japanese classics that aren’t really introduced in guide books. Many izakaya have signature dishes with yakitori as main, sashimi as main and many more. Food is an important part of a trip and though food you can learn culture. Sadly not all izakaya have the foods listed here, but I would love for you to venture around and try as much of these foods.

Yakitori

The most popular Izakaya's food, having various parts of Chicken.
One of the most famous izakaya menu items. Yakitori, which literally translates to grilled chicken, is chicken skewers grilled over a charcoal fire. Grilled chicken sounds very simple but, Japanese people eat almost every part of the chicken, including the intenstines so the menu can get quite long. Classic yakitori izakaya bars slowly and carefully grill fresh chicken prepared that day over a high quality charcoal flame producing a tender and juicy chicken with an irresistible aroma. The flavor as well as fattiness and even texture varies on the chicken part. There are two main types of yakitori, shio, which is yakitori only seasoned with salt, and tare, which is yakitori seasoned with the izakaya’s special sauce. Personally I perfer shio over tare but there are shops with special sauces that are irresistible as well. I will list some of my favorite yakitori below.

Thigh

Chicken thighs are chewy and juicy and by far the most popular cut.

Breast

Chicken breasts are fiber rich, not too fatty and quite light.

Chicken Tender

High quality cut from the breast with almost no fat, fine fibers and almost melts in your mouth. Sometimes served with wasabi or Japanese plum.

Wings

Chicken wings are rich in collagen and very popular among women. Almost all the best flavors are packed near the bones.

Tsukune Meat Balls

Almost as popular as thighs, these tsukune meat balls are made of grounded chicken and eggs, and the soft texture goes great with tare sauce.

Skin

Chicken skin is very chewy and has a lot of rich fat packed inside. Just like with fish around the skin is delicious.

Heart

Chicken heart is popular for its crispy and crunchy texture that goes great with salt (shio).

Hip / Tail

Chicken hip or tail has been gaining popularity for being the juiciest part of a chicken, and goes great with salt (shio) because it has a lot of fat.

Gizzard

Another popular cut, chicken gizzards is like the heart and is very chewy, and despite it being inner organs has no fishy smell.

Barbeque

Izakaya's grills BBQ beef and pork over a charcoal fire.
BBQ / flickr

A popular food item served in a variety of ways different from a typical Japanese BBQ restaurant. For example, grilling meat coated with a lot of sauce, slowly grilled over a charcoal fire, or being served alongside spicy miso. You can enjoy all kinds of meat from beef, pork and chicken so be sure to check before ordering.

Stew

Stew/ One of the most popular food in Izakayas

Another popular izakaya food alongside yakitori, Japanese style stew is made with either pork or chicken meat and its innards, and vegetables. A very simple stew can lead to a lot a variety in flavors, and there even are some izakaya that have stew as their signature menu. Often made with miso but, salt is also now gaining popularity. The best part of a good stew is being able to see the juices spill out from the meat and vegetables. As you would expect, this goes great with some sake drinks and I always order stew upon visiting a new shop. There’s even a phrase the level of the izakaya can be determined by their stew.

Grilled Innards

(Grilled Pork's innards and sometimes beef and chicken.
A classic local favorite, grilled pork innards. A delicious mixture of meat juice and plentiful fatty oils combined with a variety of sauces such as salt, miso and spicy miso. You may feel hesitant to eat intestines, and so were the Tokyo locals. There still are people that avoid it but, it was a food that saved the poor back then. Nowadays, izakaya get fresh innards that taste delicious making it a popular local soul food. I hope you trust us and at least give it a try.

Vegetable Skewers

Grilled vegetables Yakitori. You can enjoy authentic plumped tastes of vegetables.
So far I only introduced meat but don’t worry izakaya also serve delicious vegetables. Even salads are offered at most shops, but since you came to Japan, I would love for you to try yakitori style vegetables. This style allows you to enjoy a refreshing vegetable with a hint of salt and you can enjoy the taste of the vegetable directly. I will list some of my favorite vegetables.

Green Onion

Areas surrounding Tokyo are a famous production area for green onions and it’s difficult to find food in Tokyo without it. Delicious green onions are grilled to have a nice fragant outside with a fresh juicy texture inside.

Eggplant

Just like the green onion, eggplants have a fragrant outside and a delicious juicy inside making it quite popular alongside the green onion. It goes great with miso so is often served with it. However, depending on the season it may not be offered.

Ginkgo Nut

Japanese eat the ginkgo nut or better known as “ginnan” and many are a fan of it for the bright yellow coloration. The bittersweet taste and salt make a splendid combination that you not stop eating.

Shishito Pepper

A Japanese vegetable that looks like a chilli pepper, but isn’t spicy like it. It is a classic vegetable with a slightly bitter taste that greatly matches alchohol.

Shiitake Mushroom

It’s hard to say if mushrooms are also under the vegetable category but, at an izakaya it’s a vegetable. Often served by grilling it with some salt or by grilling it while brushing it with soysauce. The soft texture and flavor makes it very popular.

Eringi Mushroom

Another kind of mushroom. However, not Japanese is very popular. The fiber like fine strands and soft taste is popular among women.

Tempura

Tempura's special feature is its thin coating. You can enjoy it with salt and sauce dip for delicious taste.
A famous and popular food of Tokyo is also served at izakaya, and there are many izakaya that serve delicious tempura that are on the same level as tempura speciality shops. A genuine Japanese tempura has a thin crust and no greasiness so you should be able to enjoy the lightly crispy texture and the raw taste of the ingredients. It is common to enjoy the tempura with either some salt or with tempura sauce. Popular tempura are seasonal vegetables and seafood such as shrimp and a sillaginoid fish called kiss.

Rolled Omelet

Rolled thin omelet including dashi
A popular food menu for all ages. You may think it is just fried eggs but the texture of an egg thinly rolled into an omelet is amazing. Besides the texture, dashi often used in traditional Japanese food adds another layer of deep umami to the egs. These dashi typically varies on izakaya.

Sashimi

assorted sashimi. The locals love the assorted beautiful seasonal sashimi.
Sashimi is another popular izakaya food that lies alongside yakitori. A Japanese traditional culinary method of cutting fresh seafood thinly for you to enjoy, a technique that requires extreme sensitivity due to the different cuts needed for each seafood. You can enjoy sashimi with some soysauce, wasabi and ginger. Due Tokyo being near the sea, fresh seafood has been enjoyed locals for many years. The freshness of the fish either makes or breaks the sashimi dish and the fresher the pure delicious flavors of the fish are there for you to enjoy. A great menu item that matches Japanese sake.

Grilled fish / Boiled fish

(Grilled fish/boiled fish. The Japanese have a special way to grill and boil their fresh fish making it unique.
Grilled fish, Boiled fish / pixabay

Izakaya often serve a variety of seasonal grilled and boiled fish. Of couse these fish are prepared fresh and many of these foods are great to share for multiple people. The famous izakaya not only just grill and boil fish but also prepare these fish using a multitude of traditional Japanese cooking to add a depth in flavor to the fish.

Seasoned Octopus with Wasabi (Takowasa)

(One of the fast-food dishes in Izakayas. The spiciness of the Wasabi goes surprisingly well with Octopus.
Takowasa / pixta

A slightly odd popular izakaya menu consisting of octopus sashimi and a wasabi sauce. Probably has the faster order to being served time making it a popular food. The portions are small but the spicy wasabi will make it enough as well as a great match for alcohol.

Monkfish Liver

Boiled Monkfish liver is served with a sour sauce(Ponzu). Once you taste it, you never forget its awesome flavor.
Monkfish Liver / flickr

Another local favorite, Monkfish liver or otherwise called “Ankimo”is lightly boiled and served with a slightly sour sauce called Ponzu. I personally love this for its rich and wonderful taste and I would definetly recommend you give it a try.

Takoyaki

Even though Takoyaki originated in Osaka, it's quite popular in Tokyo as well. It has a wonderful melt in your mouth taste.
flickr(https://www.flickr.com/photos/ume-y/6627133087)

Takoyaki is a traditional dish made of a baked flour ball with octopus in the middle. Although originating from Osaka, there are many izakaya that offer takoyaki in Tokyo due to its vast popularity within Japan. The crispy outside and hot melted inside combined with sauce and bonito flakes is irresitible.

Japanese Pancake (Okonomiyaki)

(Okonomiyaki originated in Osaka, Hiroshima. Learn how to make and cook this delicious dish in Izakayas.
Japanese pancakes or okonomiyaki is made of flour, eggs and a multitude of toppings, and is often cut like a pizza for everyone to share. Again like takoyaki, originating from Osaka and Hiroshima, you can also enjoy okonomiyaki in Tokyo. The light and soft pancake combined with the various textures of the topings is delicious. Some izakaya have iron plates on the table for you to actually make them yourself but, can also be served at places without them so be on the lookout.

Go to respective speciality shops for real sushi, ramen, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, soba and udon

I often see other articles introducing izakaya recommending sushi and ramen as izakaya food but, these foods as well as sukiyaki and soba require a lot of technique and preparation making it hard to be reproduced by an izakaya so don’t expect to eat high quality or near specialty shop level from them. There are many of these foods offered at large franchise izakaya but as a local I wouldn’t recommend eating it there. If you want to try the best of the best, I recommend going to the respective specialty shop.

7 Tokyo Izakaya Drinks you should try besides Sake

Now probably the section that you are most interested in since izakaya food is great but it’s all about the drinks and alcohol to match the food. A traditional Japanese drink will be sake but there are several more drinks loved by locals that I would love for you to try.

Sake (Nihonshu)

(The pure quality of the rice and fresh water are a must for making Sake. Japan is proud of having all of these for their Sake.
Sake / pixta

A traditional Japanese alcohol, sake or rice wine is very easy to drink and is always a great match for izakaya food. There are various flavor profiles but can be roughly divided into dry and sweet. The flavor of sake is determined by the rice and water so depending on where the sake was produce the flavors can be drastically different, allowing for each region in Japan to have their own sake. Izakaya that focus on sake typically have a lot of sake for you to try so see if you could tell the differences. Sake also has it’s own way of being counted kind of like shots, “Ichi go” “Ni go”and if you’re in a group of 2 to 3 sharing “Ni go” should be good. The way sake is served also varies based on the go. For “ichi go”, it is usually served in a glass or masu for 1 person to enjoy. However from “ni go”, traditional totsukuri and ochoko are used to serve the sake. Besides all this, there’s even different ways to drink the sake. “Hiya” or cold is drinking the sake cold making it a smooth mouthful. “Kann” or hot is drinking the sake hot making the sweetness and smell of the sake more prominent. You can choose how you want to enjoy your sake but, if you don’t say anything it will typically be served cold or at room temperature.

Shochu

(Shochu is Japanese liquor with strong alcohol and a refreshing taste.
Schochu / flickr

Shochu is also traditional Japanese alcohol made of sweet potato and barley, and typically has a higher alcohol percentage than sake. If you want to really enjoy the flavor, drinking shochu rock is best but to make it easier to drinking splitting it with water or soda is good as well. Another unique way to split is with warm water. Like with sake, drinking shochu warm makes the smell stronger. I personally love a hot shochu when it’s cold. Many izakaya offer a variety of shochu so trying them around and comparing can be pretty fun.

Beer

(Japanese usually Kanpai with beer and preferred cold.
Probably the most popular drink for Japan is beer. Although not a drink from Japan, there are several giant beer makers such as Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo, and Japan has developed its own unique beets. Often enjoyed as draft beer in izakaya, there is probably no izakaya in Japan that doesn’t offer a cup of draft beer. One key characteristic of Japanese beer is to offer it extremely cool, even to the point that there have been beers recently claiming to be a freezing temperatures and being called extra cold. Aside from draft beer though there have also been some craft beers that been growing over the past 10 years. Some popular ones are Yona Yona and Yahoo Blue Ink but, due to the small production volume it might be hard to find. Personally I liked Guinness beer until I met a Japanese craft beer called “Gargery”. When comparing the two, it was more rich in flavor and was quite shocking!

Fruit Wine (Ume Wine, Apricot Wine, Yuzu Wine, etc.)

(Fruit wine has various kind of tastes and a natural sweet beautiful scent.
Umesyu / flickr

Fruit wines have also been traditionally made all throughout Japan. Often popular among women, these fruit wines incorporate natural fruit flavors into the drinks. Among these wines, plum wine is the most popular with various brand existing with differing plum acidity and sweetness. Other than plum though, apricot wine, yuzu wine and strawberry wine are other popular wines. To get the full flavor drinking it rock is best but, I recommend drinking it with soda to make it easier.

Hoppy

(A local drink of Tokyo, Hoppy. Drinking Hoppy combined with Shochu will leave you very refreshed.

A drink that as a Tokyo local, I would love for you to try! Hoppi is a Tokyo born drink with the head office located in Akasaka. There actually is no alcohol in Hoppi itself and is often enjoyed split with Shochu. It tastes very similar to a clear beer and many of my friends who visted from abroad loved it and became fans. The best part about Hoppi is you can order shochu and hoppi individually so you have the power to control the mixture of the two. Hoppi was almost at the brink of bankruptcy only 10 years ago, but recently the taste has been getting recognized among younger people and started to be offered in many izakaya.

Shochu Highball (Chuhai) / Sour

(Chuhai and Sour are Japanese cocktails with various kinds of fruits.
Lemon sour / photozou

Shochu Highball or Chuhai and Sour is a Japanese cocktail made of shochu, soda and fruits or liquers. By far the most casual drink at an izakaya. The name is different but they are practically the same drinks. Chuhai is mixed with other drinks so there are Olonghai, Ukonhai, Green Teahai and many more. Sour on the other hand is mixed with fruits so there are lemon sour, yuzu sour, orange sour and so on.

Highball

Highball is popular among young generation.
Japajese Wisky with soda / flicker

Back then only older people drank whiskey but with the introduction of highball, a whiskey cocktail, more and more people are starting to drink whiskey now. This cocktail is made from Japanese whiskey and soda, and is dry making it quite easy to drink.

Useful Words/Phrases for Izakaya and Yokocho alleys in Tokyo

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, izakaya and yokocho alley servers and staff cannot understand English so it’s better to know some of the following useful key words and phrases. Some of these can also be used as great conversation starters.

Sumimasen

Meaning “excuse me”, best to use when trying to get the attention of a server. It may seem rude but that is the izakaya style and if you don’t think they heard you don’t hesitate to call them again.

Meaning “can you give me the menu”. “Kudasai” means “give me” very polietly so whenver you need something such as chopsticks or a spoon just say “Ohashi (chopsticks Kudasai” and “Spoon Kudasai”.

Osusume wa nan desuka?

Meaning “what do you recommend?” “Osususme” means “recommend” best to ask this when you have a menu in hand so the staff can point directly at the menu for you to follow.

Onaji mono

Meaning “the same one please”. Best to use when you want to get the same drink again, especially if you are drinking Japanese sake with difficult names. “Onaji” means “same”.

Okaikei

Meaning “can I get the bill?”and if you add “onegai shimasu” it becomes more formal.

Arigatou

A famous Japanese phrase meaning “thank you”. Locals love when tourists say thank you in Japanese!

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About Yasuhiro

I'm Yasuhiro, a founder of MagicalTrip. My hometown is Shibuya, Tokyo so I know corner to corner about Shibuya and its close areas: Roppongi, Shinjuku and Ebisu. Hope you get ideas from my articles!