Lesson Transcript

Jessi: Hi everyone, Jesse here and I am joined in the studio by Kat.
Kat: Hi everyone, Kat here.
Jessi: Welcome to another installment of JCC, Japanese Culture Class.

Lesson focus

Jessi: Kat, could you tell everyone what our topic is for this JCC lesson?
Kat: Izakaya. We will be talking about Izakaya in this JCC lesson.
Jessi: This lesson is split up into two parts. In this lesson, part 1, we will talk about the Izakaya experience and in part 2, we will talk about Kat’s experience at an Izakaya. Now, some listeners might already be familiar with Izakaya but some listeners might be asking just what is an Izakaya?
Kat: It’s a good question. Even native English speakers living in Japan refer to them as Izakaya when speaking in English.
Jessi: That’s true. People say things like let’s go to an Izakaya and stuff.
Kat: Right. Basically an Izakaya is translated in a Japanese English dictionary as well, a Japanese style pub but I always think that’s not quite right. My mental image of a pub and of an Izakaya are completely different. For one thing, at a pub, you usually queue at the bar in order to be served, then take your drink back to your own table; but at an Izakaya, as you noticed, you are served by a waiter or waitress at your table.
Jessi: Umm right just like at a restaurant.
Kat: Right. The service is actually really important element of the whole experience. Also while pubs will sometimes serve pub lunches or small snacks, a huge part of the Izakaya experience involves food.
Jessi: Umm definitely.
Kat: Yeah. Izakaya typically have huge food menus. So in short, Izakaya is one of those Japanese words for which there is no neat English translation. The best I can think of is traditional Japanese eating and drinking establishment.
Jessi: I think that’s the best way to really sum it up.
Kat: Now going to an Izakaya is a really interesting cultural experience. So in this lesson, we would like to introduce to you step by step to the Izakaya experience and talk a bit about the culture surrounding it. So let’s get started. First and foremost, when you enter in Izakaya, you take off your shoes. Now some places have shoe boxes that you put your shoes in and you get a little keychain, wooden keychain for the locker.
Jessi: Yeah.
Kat: And some places take your shoes for you.
Jessi: There is also a different seating arrangements, aren’t there?
Kat: Umm.
Jessi: When you go in.
Kat: Right.
Jessi: You can sometimes choose – they will offer you a selection. So there is usually the counter where a lot of people if they go by themselves, they will say the counter and there is a booth or even a whole private room which is called 個室.
Kat: Umm the private room is really nice.
Jessi: Yeah it’s really nice. You can really relax there. There is also 座敷 which is Japanese style seats like sitting on floor level, and my personal favorite 掘りごたつ, which is a word I only just learned. Floor level seats with a sunken hole under the table for your legs. It’s kind of hard to describe.
Jessi: It is hard to describe. You have to really see it.
Kat: You have to know what it looks like.
Jessi: Look it up online everyone.
Kat: Right. And so you go into the Izakaya and you get seated and the staff hands you おしぼり which is a small wet towel used to clean your hands and a menu. Now at a lot of places, you will receive paper menus but some have special touch screen machines
Jessi: I love those, they are so fun.
Kat: Umm and you can make your order. It’s all electronic and it’s really convenient.
Jessi: Right.
Kat: And then after that, the staff hands out starters or appetizers to everyone. These are called お通し or 突き出し。
Jessi: Yeah these are – you have to be careful because when I first came to Japan, I thought these were just a free gift but then actually they are usually charged on the bill instead of a seating charge.
Kat: Right.
Jessi: And then after that, the staff will ask for drink orders. Now when speaking to the customers, the staff uses super polite language known as 尊敬語。 We will cover this a bit more later but to see what kind of language is used, take a look at the lesson notes PDF for this lesson. We’ve compiled a lot of 敬語 phrases that are commonly used at Izakaya.
Kat: That’s right and when it comes to ordering, drinks are usually ordered first before you get into the food menu. The customers usually start their first order with とりあえず which means for the time being. So for example, とりあえず、生ビール二つ。
Jessi: Two draught beers for now…
Kat: Right and also anytime you want to let the staff know that you are finished ordering, you can just say 以上です “That’s all”.
Jessi: And then you just sit back and wait for your food to arrive.
Kat: Umm…
Jessi: Hopefully it shouldn’t take too long.
Kat: That’s right because Izakaya pride themselves on speed.
Jessi: Right.
Kat: So you get out almost immediately.
Jessi: Okay so next up. Your food has come and it’s time to eat. The dishes are shared amongst everyone using small plates called 小皿 which are kind of similar to Spanish Tapas.
Kat: Definitely.
Jessi: If you are familiar with those.
Kat: Good comparison, yeah.
Jessi: Umm sharing amongst everyone is a very important aspect eating at an Izakaya.
Kat: That’s right. Sharing is everything. No one orders one dish for themselves. Be careful about that. Also, it’s really common practice not only in Izakaya but all over in Japan and everywhere to pour drinks for others if drinks come in bottles.
Jessi: Umm this is really good point.
Kat: So for example, 先輩後輩 rules apply when pouring. So senior/junior/colleague/student relationships apply when pouring which means that the 後輩 or the younger members of the group, the juniors pour drinks for the 先輩 or the older members of the group or the seniors.
Jessi: So speaking of drinks, I’d say the most popular ones are beer, 日本酒 and 焼酎.
Kat: Yes and I’d also like to mention because I get asked this quite often. I would like to mention that 日本酒 or Rice wine is what is referred to as Sake in English. When someone says Sake, what they really mean is 日本酒 when you are speaking English.
Jessi: Right. What they don’t realize is that in Japanese, Sake really just means alcohol and can refer to anything alcoholic.
Kat: That’s right. So again Sake is actually 日本酒 brewed rice wine which is sweet and can be served cold, warm or hot.
Jessi: Umm and then there is 焼酎 distilled alcohol made from one of several raw materials including sweet potato, rice, soba, barley et cetera. There is really a wide variety of drinks available. So definitely try them out when you go.
Kat: Yeah that’s right definitely. Even for people who don’t drink alcohol, there is a huge variety of interesting soft drinks or non-alcohol cocktails.
Jessi: Umm definitely.
Kat: I’ve never seen such a wide variety of sweet 女性向け or “for girls”- cocktails as I have in Japan.
Jessi: Ah totally, totally.
Kat: 幸せ! So happy. Okay so after a night of nonstop eating and drinking, you might be thinking, how much is this all going to cost me? Well the first thing that you should know is that the bill is split between everyone equally.
Jessi: Yeah personally I’ve never split the bill unequally as in add up what each person spent individually and work it out like that. In Japan, I’ve never done that because you are sharing all the dishes anyway. So it’s all great.
Kat: It’s all fractions and it’s just….
Jessi: That would be really hard.
Kat: It’s just not done, is it? Everything is shared. So be careful if you don’t drink alcohol or you aren’t very hungry when you go because you probably won’t get off cheaper than everyone.
Jessi: I’ve had this experience.
Kat: Yes because you don’t eat or drink much, do you?
Jessi: All right. Although it’s worth noting that sometimes if you are a student or you’ve just started a new job, people might go easy on you and let you pay a bit less.
Kat: That’s right or your 先輩 from work or school may actually treat you completely and say, it’s on me.
Jessi: Right, right.
Kat: since you are younger than me. So yeah.
Jessi: Exactly, it all depends. And if I had to put a price on an average amount spent at an Izakaya, I’d say perhaps around 3000 to 5000 yen but really it all depends on what you order.
Kat: That’s right. There are also 飲み放題 which means All You Can Drink plans as well which can save you some money if you plan on drinking quite a lot. At pace, in a short amount of time.
Jessi: Right.
Kat: So this may not be for everyone but umm, if you can drink a lot, 飲み放題 is a good idea.
Jessi: Okay so you are finished eating and drinking and you are ready to get the check. So you tell the staff お会計をお願いします。
Kat: お会計 is also sometimes referred to as おあいそう which actually means “a bill” and with that, the Izakaya experience is complete.


Jessi: Yeah! So this concludes part 1, the step by step introduction to an Izakaya. Join us next time when we talk to Kat about her experiences actually working at an Izakaya. We will get a special behind the scenes look. So don’t miss it.
Kat: Until next time, bye everyone.