What makes an authentic Japanese night out experience? No, the Japanese aren’t always working. They know how to have fun and they are really good at that! In major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you’d find people chilling at Izakaya (居酒屋) – Japanese style pubs, or partying at Karaoke (カラオケ) bars. Let’s check out what you can do at each!
Izakaya – Japanese style pub, the most popular night out option
Izakaya, similar to tapas bars, is a go-to stop for casual drinking and (eclectic Japanese) food. A number of corporate and casual socializing happens at izakayas. Japanese have a strong culture of series of office parties. The ‘nijikai’ (second party) and ‘sanjikai’ (third party) usually follow any standard office party. All of these parties essentially are izakaya hopping. In addition to the ‘shakaijin’ (employees), you will also find adults casually chilling at Izakayas. Izakayas are an indispensable part of social life in Japan.
You can find izakayas clustered around major train stations. If you plan to go to one on a Friday night or over the weekend evenings, you might want to consider reserving in advance. Also, unlike most places in Japan, izakayas are noisy and super busy so you must reconsider your choice if you plan to go there for a date night 😛
Izakayas will serve you diverse Japanese food ranging from sashimi, hot pot, rice and noodles, yakitori, grilled meat, and salads. You can enjoy all kinds of Japanese street food in one place at reasonable prices. And for drinks, they serve a good assortment of alcohol including beer, sake, and shochu. Izakaya menus are usually in Japanese but if you are in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you will find the pictures on the menu. These pictures are a bang-on representation of actual food and make life easier for foreigners.
People typically spend around 2 hours here. Also, these places provide ‘tabehodai’ (食べ放題) – all-you-can-eat, and/or ‘nomihodai’ (飲み放題) – all-you-can-drink, during certain hours. So look out for these Japanese signs!
Karaoke bars are an experience in itself and I highly recommend this to everyone visiting Japan.
It is great for night entertainment and serves as an ideal atmosphere to mingle with the locals. Karaoke establishments are usually open till around 4 am, with longer operation hours on Friday and Saturday evenings. I remember knowing the likes and dislikes of my Japanese friends more closely at a karaoke bar when we missed the last train and decided to spend all night.
Old-fashioned karaoke bars, often called ‘Snack’ ( スナック ), are typically small pubs where you get to sing in front of everyone instead of in a private environment. However, for foreign visitors, these bars are not easy to find. Also, these usually have their own community of repeaters so you might feel a little awkward if you just pop in as a stranger. These communities can be friendly and welcoming (especially when they are drunk!), so if you find someone belonging to the group of repeaters to accompany, you’ll surely have the time of your life knowing real Japanese people!
Modern chains of karaoke bars includes Big Echo (it’s pricey though), Shidax, and ‘Karaokekan’. Like izakayas, these are clustered around all the major stations and entertainment districts. These modern chains provide private music entertainment rooms well-equipped with karaoke players, microphones, comfortable sofas, and an excellent sound system.
Obviously, the selection range for Japanese songs is maximum, but they do support trending and classic songs in English, Chinese, Korean too. The karaoke player display is default set to Japanese. Spot language option (言語) to change the display if needed.
Most karaoke bars charge per room per 30 minutes and at most places, you will need to order a mandatory drink (this is exclusive of room charge 😐 ). These charges vary from $5 to $40 depending on the day of the week and the hour. In addition to a decent variety of drink selection, they offer some usual food options and prohibit any outside eatables. Certain bars do have all-you-can-drink menus for alcoholic beverages. Friday nights and weekends would usually have long waiting hours like most of the places do. Personally, I prefer going to a non-popular Karaoke bar to avoid rush.
As a foreigner, wanting to indulge in authentic Japanese experiences, you can find Izakaya and Karaoke tours that let you experience a typical nightlife in Japan easily. By joining these groups, you not only learn about the local food but you’ll also experience the usual customs. For example, at any izakaya, a group orders a beer before any food and raises a toast (kanpai 乾杯) . I feel there is no better way of getting to know Japan and the Japanese than to be with them in their comfort setting!