If you like to go out, you’ll have a ton of options in Japan.
Many bars in Japan serve food next to drinks. The most traditional form is an izakaya, a Japanese style bar. It’s common to eat small servings, share them with your friends and combine that with a nice Japanese beer.
A good word to remember is “nomihoudai” - all you can drink.
There is big clubbing scene in Japan. You’ll find the most clubs in the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. For me, this is an unexplored topic so I can’t say too much about it.
A warning about “international parties”
There’s some shady business that want to exploit the loneliness of many foreigners in Japan by luring them to so called “international parties”.
These business mainly prey on tourists, mainly men wanting to meet Japanese women. The party often comes with either an exorbitant entry fee (¥3500) or expensive drinks.
You can spot these kinds of parties if they offer different prices for Japanese men than gaijin men; if they let women in for free.
Obviously these parties are to be avoided.
If you’re a beer lover, you will enjoy your time in Japan. The Japanese love to drink beer and overall the beer quality is very good. It’s not Belgium, but it’s pretty OK.
There are some well respected breweries like Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo whose quality beers you will find on tap everywhere in Japan.
Pro tip: cheers in Japan is Kampai (乾杯).
Most common beers have an alcohol percentage of about 5%. The Japanese word for beer is “bīru” (ビール).
Beer can be relatively expensive: next to a possible cover charge you will probably pay around ¥500 for a beer. A tip to get the most out of your money is to look for the 0,5 liter bottles. Commonly served ones are Sapporo and Heartland.
In convenience stores you can buy beer provided you are 20 or order. My personal convenience store favorite is the Yebisu All Malt Beer. A common price for a conbini beer is ¥200. If you want to make it a cheap night a six pack of Kirin can be had for as little as 700 yen.
- See: cover charge
Japan wouldn’t be Japan if it didn’t have it fair share of weirdness, and this weirdness extends to the beer department. It’s not uncommong to find weird varieties of beer including tomato beer, banana beer and chocolate beer.
A common offering is the beer cocktail, which is beer mixed with fruit juice. It tastes just as bad as you would expect.
Craft beer and microbreweries
In Japan there is also a lively microbrewery scene. If you go to a craft beer bar, expect to pay a fair bit more than ¥500 a beer. A common price is ¥800 or ¥1100 depending on glass size. In return you’ll experience the fabulous taste of Japanese craft beer. IPA style brewing is popular.
If you are serious about brewing beer, you can visit Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki. It’s located about one hour from Tokyo. This brewery allows you to make your own beer on premises. Well, actually you are making their Hitachino Nest Beer using the same ingredients. I never did this but I am curious to try it.
- 1257 Kounosu, Naka, Ibaraki. 029 298 0105.
- To visit: Kamikaze craft beer bar - Osaka
- To visit: Ant ‘n Bee craft beer bar - Roppongi - Tokyo
Cover charge/table charge
Many bars have a cover charge where you pay a certain amount just for entering the bar. Be careful with this - a bar might advertise 400 yen beers but fail to mention a 500 yen cover charge. Bar hopping is harder to do because of this - it’s smarter to pick a place and stick with it for the evening.
If you are unsure, ask the staff. Some places even charge for the music that is playing.
Pro tip If you get a small bowl of food as you sit down, chances are there’s a cover charge.
The Japanese love whiskey. If you’ve seen Lost in Translation, you’ve heard it: for relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
The #1 whiskey you should try is called Yamazaki single malt, produced by a company called Suntory. This company, established in 1899, started off with the distribution of alcoholic beverages. They now offers everything from soft drinks to sandwich chains.
Japanese whiskey is scotch style whiskey: brewers use malted barley for single malts, and corn, wheat, and barley for blends.
A common way to drink whiskey in Japan is the highball. Basically it’s a whiskey shot with soda water and ice. Coming from a culture of on the rocks/straight whiskey drinking it seems strange at first to basically dump a ton of water in whiskey but as I got used to it I started to like highballs.