Top 10 Japanese Izakaya Phrases
(How to get your black belt in Izakaya-ology)
So, you want to visit Japan and try your Japanese out on the locals right? The perfect place to do that is an Izakaya which is a Japanese style pub. If you’ve never been to one, imagine a lively restaurant with groups of people sat around tables, sometimes tatami mats, celebrating the end of the working day. These popular watering holes are usually located in drinking areas near train stations in the main business areas. They are busiest on Friday nights when overworked salarymen and women come to drink a couple of beers or bottles of sake to unwind and forget work.
Izakayas have an incredibly large and varied assortment of food and drink which make them one of the best ways to sample the incredible selection of delicious Japanese cuisine on offer. It’s also a good way to meet other people and learn about food culture. You’ll learn things such as where to sit, who pours the beer and where to place your chopsticks. But don’t worry about getting overwhelmed. You’ll find that once the sake starts flowing, Japanese people tend to lower their guard a little and fro then on the main goal of the evening is to have fun.
So, to aid you on your cultural and culinary quest, here are some really useful common phrases which will help you to navigate an Izakaya, order food, have fun and make you sound more natural in Japanese.
1. “Who’s having beer?” in Japanese
ビール飲む人？ biiru nomu hito
After you are shown to your table, it’s common to order drinks first before tackling the menu.
The most common drink to order is ビール biiru (beer) or 生 nama (draft beer). Simply turn to your friends and ask ビールを飲む人 biiru o nomu hito or “who is drinking beer?” and count the number of raised hands.
You can alter the phrase easily to ask what other drinks people would like to have.
ワインを飲む人？ wain o nomu hito – Who’s drinking wine?
お水を飲む人？omizu o numu hito – Who’s drinking water?
日本酒を飲む人? nihonshu o nomu hito – Who’s drinking Nihonshu (Japanese rice wine / sake)
If you have bottles of sake or beer, it’s custom to pour drinks for other people usually starting with the most senior person in the group.
Another secret black belt level Izakaya phrase you must know is お冷 ohiya which is another polite way to order water.
2. “For now, we’ll have beer” in Japanese
とりあえず生 toriaezu nama
If you want to know how to sound like a native use this must-know phrase for ordering beer. This is another phrase rarely taught in Japanese textbooks. とりあえず toriaezu means something like “Well, for now…” and 生 nama means draft beer.
Shout this at the staff at an almost uncomfortable volume and you will be on your way to getting your black belt in Izakaya-ology.
You will also impress your Japanese friends with your natural and fluent Japanese skills.
3. “Cheers!” in Japanese
When your drinks arrive, hold them aloft like brave samurai warriors after a fierce battle and shout “Kampai!” at the top of you lungs.
4. “Can I have the menu please?” in Japanese
メニューお願いします menyu onegaishimasu
Asking for the menu, or anything for that matter, is easy with one of the most useful words in Japanese お願いします onegaishimasu. If you only every learned one phrase in Japanese, onegaishimasu would be the one. It basically means “please” or “Would you do something for me?”. Simply say what you want and then put onegaishimasu at the end.
5. “What do you recommend?” in Japanese
おすすめは? osusume wa
Most menus have pictures so it’s easy to choose what you want. However, if it’s a huge menu or it’s written in difficult kanji and you’re feeling overwhelmed, the best technique is to ask for their recommendation.
This lets you quickly order food with less fuss and you can discover dishes not on the menu or signature dishes the Izakaya is famous for.
This is also a good phrase when ordering sake which can be complicated due to the large variety on offer.
6. “I’ll have this please” in Japanese
これください kore kudasai
As the old joke goes, every Japanese restaurant and Izakaya in Japan serves”kore”. “kore” simply means “this” and kudasai means “please”. In most Izakayas you’ll be able to get your hands on a menu with photos of the food. Then all you have to do is simply point to what you want and say “kore kudasai”. If you point at a dish someone else is eating on another table you could say “sore kudasai” which means “that please”.
On a side note, this phrase is also useful when shopping when you decide what you want to buy. In that case “Kore kudasai” would mean something like “I’ll take this one please”
7. “I’ll have the yakitori platter for now” in Japanese
とりあえず焼き鳥盛り合わせで toriaezu yakitori moriawase de
A great way to sample a broad selection of Japanese cuisine is to order an assortment or sampler plate which is called 盛り合わせ moriawase. The most common is 焼き鳥盛り合わせ yakitori moriawase which is an assortment of BBQ chicken on skewers. You can get various samplers including sushi and sashimi. You can also get samplers with western food including sausage and cheese. My favorite is sashimi as it’s easy to share and it will give you an authentic sample of the best Japanese cuisine. To order sashimi you would say:
I’ll have the sashimi platter for now
とりあえず刺身盛り合わせで toriaezu sashimi moriawase de
8. “Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?” in Japanese
すみません、お手洗いは？ sumimasen otearai wa
Of course you’ll need this phrase at some point during the evening. The challenge is to try to understand the directions over the noise of a busy Friday night Izakaya. Just try to walk in the direction the staff points and ask again if you get lost. Well, that’s my technique, and I’m sticking to it!
9. “I’ll have one more glass of this please” in Japanese
もう一杯同じ物ください mou ippai onaji mono kudasai
This is a really useful phrase to quickly order another drink. Ippai refers to one glass or cup of something. If you want to order in bigger quantities you’ll need to know the counter for drinks. It goes like this: ippai – one (glass), nihai – two, sambai – three, yonhai – four and gohai – five.
Alternatively, for ordering food and other general dishes you can use the general counter for things: 一つ hitotsu – one, 二つ futatsu – two, 三つ mitsu – three, 四つ yotsu – four, 五つ itsutsu – five.
Another easy way to say this is simply…
もう一杯同じ物 mou ippai onaji mono
I’ll have one more (glass)
10. “Can I have the bill please?” in Japanese
チェックお願いします chekku onegaishimasu
At the end of the night you’ll need to pay the bill. There are various ways you can do this by saying チェックお願いします chekku onegaishimasu or お会計ください okaikei kudasai.
When paying, the staff might ask you ご一緒ですか goissho desu ka – would you like to pay it together? However it’s common for people to pay their bill separately. In that case you would say 別々 betsu betsu which means we will pay separately. In some Izakayas, they have electronic menus which will break down the cost of the entire bill for each person in your group making it easier to pay. Be careful because although most Izakayas acccept credit cards, some smaller ones in rural areas only take cash. Don’t forget that Japan is still a cash based society!
So, if you can learn those 10 phrases, you should be able to handle a night out at an Izakaya without too much trouble. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below. Feel free to let us know about your Izakaya experiences.
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