What is Japanese Izakaya? History of Izakaya. It’s culture of Japan.

2022.02.15

What kind of restaurant is Japanese “izakaya”?

There seems to be no specific definition, but it is said to be “a restaurant that has tables and other seating and serves drinks and food”.
It seems that “izakaya” is mainly used to refer to Japanese-style restaurants, not Western-style restaurants.
The word “izakaya” itself was coined during the Edo period (1603-1867) when more and more people bought alcohol at liquor stores and drank it in the stores, staying there and not returning home.
In the past, the word “izakaya” conjured up images of an “old man,” but nowadays, izakaya is very popular with girls because of the many fashionable cocktails and sophisticated dishes available!

What is the origin of the word “izakaya” in the first place?

You may be wondering why the word “izakaya” came to be used to refer to a restaurant where people drink alcohol.
It seems that the word “izakaya” originated in the Edo period (1603-1868).
In the early Edo period, it was common to buy sake at a liquor store and drink it at home, but in the middle of the Edo period, people started drinking sake bought at a liquor store, talking with the store’s staff and other regular customers, and customers did not leave easily.
The name “izakaya” came from the phrase “to stay at the liquor store and drink,” and the name “izakaya” was derived from that.
It must have been hard for the liquor store owners to deal with customers who never left!

The good thing about Izakaya

It is easy to have a lively drinking party

Izakaya are generally not quiet places, so they are perfect for a lively drinking party with a lot of people!
There are course meals and a wide variety of all-you-can-drink menus, so it is easy to use for various gatherings such as company drinking parties and gatherings of friends.
Many people say, “If I’m not sure where to go, I’ll go to an izakaya”.

Many menus

One of the characteristics of Izakaya is a “rich menu”.
There are many drinks on the menu, but there are also many dishes on the menu!
There are dishes of all genres, Japanese, Western, and Chinese, and they are inexpensive, so you will end up ordering a lot of different dishes!

Easy and inexpensive drinking

The biggest advantage of izakaya is that they are inexpensive and easy to go to!
You can easily go there for a quick drink and a bite to eat, or just to have a quick drink and go home.
Many of the dishes on the menu are inexpensive, and even if you are full after drinking and eating, they are not very expensive, so they are relatively easy to go to even when you don’t have a lot of money!

Easy to go with the family

Izakaya have a lot of menus, some of which your children will like, and a wide variety of desserts!
Most izakaya have private rooms these days, and some have kids’ rooms, so children can enjoy themselves in the private rooms and kids’ rooms without worrying about other customers.
In addition, izakayas are now required to have separate smoking and drinking areas, so you don’t have the image of “izakayas smelling like cigarettes,” and they are more family-friendly than in the past.

History of Izakaya

The Heian Period and Izakaya

It is said that izakaya already existed in the Nara period (760-794), since the “Shoku Nihongi” written in the early Heian period (761-794) describes an incident in which “King Ashihara,” a member of the imperial family and a reckless person, stabbed and killed his partner while drinking alcohol and then cut him up and ate him. Since sake was expensive at that time, decrees forbidding the consumption of alcohol, such as the “fish and wine ban,” were frequently issued to the common people, and only the nobility were allowed to drink sake. The common people drank sake made by dissolving sake lees in hot water, but sake brewing became popular among the common people, and sake, which had previously been reserved for the nobility, became available to the common people as well.

The Edo Period and Izakaya

During the Edo period, commerce flourished in castle towns in various regions, and the number of people enjoying sake increased.
In the Kabuki play “Keian Taiheiki” by Mokuami, Maruhashi Tadaya, a samurai and ronin in the early Edo period, is depicted as a heavy drinker, and clams and yellowfin tuna appear in scenes and dialogues in which he is drinking at a bar and as snacks. In addition, during the Keicho period, when Tokugawa Ieyasu entered Edo, “Toshimaya,” which was a liquor store, opened an izakaya for the samurai and merchants who were gathered for the renovation of the castle. This “Toshimaya” continues to this day as a liquor store in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.
During the Kansei era, taverns, like liquor stores, had a “sake-bayashi (cedar ball)” made of bundles of cedar leaves in place of a store sign, and a rope curtain was hung at the entrance, hence the name “nawa-ren” (rope curtain) for taverns.
Also, the “Meireki no Taika (Great Fire of Meireki)” that destroyed most of Edo in 1657 (Meireki 3) was also known as the “Meireki Fire”. After the Great Meireki Fire (also known as the Furisode Fire or the Maruyama Fire), many artisans gathered to rebuild Edo, and restaurants called “nihon-ya” and “iszen-meshi-ya” were established to provide food and drink to these people. The nihon-sujiya served not only food but also sake, and served as a kind of tavern.

Western-style Izakaya appeared in the Meiji and Taisho Eras

In the Meiji period, the civilization and opening of Japan to the outside world brought about a major change in Japan’s food culture, and “gyudonabeya” (beef hot pot restaurants) flourished. Beef hot pot restaurants served sake, beer, and champagne, but the price of beer and champagne was more than 10 times higher than that of sake.
Around 1875, a beer garden opened in Yokohama, followed by a summer-only beer garden in Osaka in 1895 and a beer hall in Tokyo in 1899. In the Taisho era (1912-1926), cafes changed from the original French-style cafes that combined coffee shops, restaurants, and taverns to cafes that attracted a female clientele. The Western-style izakaya was further subdivided into a bar that served Western-style sake at the counter and a dance hall where people could enjoy dancing and drinking.

In the 1960s, izakaya chains began to form

There were many izakaya in the Showa period, but most of them were privately owned.
Then, some of them introduced the American franchise system and started operating as “chain restaurants”, which is the beginning of today’s izakaya chains.
In the late 1950s, izakaya chains began to appear, and by 1960, the number of izakaya chains was increasing rapidly.

The 1980s saw a huge boom in izakaya chains!

In the 1980s, the very first izakaya chain restaurant boomed!
The “chain izakaya” became a popular place to go after work or for students.
Izakaya, which in the 1970s had an image of being difficult for women to visit, were transformed into restaurants that were easy for women to go to.
Izakaya became more accessible to young female customers by offering not only shochu and beer, but also fashionable cocktails.

Various styles of izakaya appeared, making them suitable for a wide range of uses!

The chain izakaya spread rapidly in the 1980s, but from the 1990s onward, restaurants specializing in more specialized dishes began to appear as well.
There are now many izakaya specializing in certain genres, such as chicken and Asian cuisine.
The number of izakayas that specialize in certain genres, such as chicken and Asian cuisine, has also increased, and there are now more and more izakayas with unique private rooms as well as table seating.

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