All around the world the different kinds of nightlife are cultures in themselves. Get a real local experience in Japan by diving into the Japanese drinking culture by going to a Japanese-style restaurant and bar, an Izakaya!
Whether you are a novice or a veteran of Japanese culture, there is little chance you have heard of Izakaya (居酒屋) until you have lived in Japan. Literally, Izakaya is a sake shop in which you stay, essentially a bar. But while it may have originated as a small after-work drinking shop, it has given way to a whole new eating and drinking trend: nomihoudai (飲み放題) and tabehoudai (食べ放題). Both of these are sets in which you can order as much drink (nomimono) and food (tabemono) over a fixed period of time (usually two hours).
The best way to experience an izakaya is of course with a group of Japanese people. This group could be made of anyone: student clubs, sports team, work colleagues, your university class (teacher included), or even a date! Whenever drinking is involved, Japanese people seldom turn to bars and opt for the izakaya instead. In most cases when drinking in Japan, the obvious end is getting drunk, and drinking in large amounts is held in high esteem. The stories are true, you may most certainly see a (or multiple) passed out salaryman sleeping on the steps of the subway, especially in Friday evenings.
You always wait until every member has a drink to chant the traditional ‘KANPAI!’ as one. Most drinking games require a self introduction in Japanese before participation. When a senpai (older member of the club) asks something of you, you do as you are told, when he asks you to drink you drink, but sometimes at the end of the night he will pay for you, this was my case. There is a sense that he is making an investment in you, according to the Japanese there is a sense of trust that the kouhai (younger member) will one day remember his senpai. In turn when the younger members get older, they might pay for the newly recruited. The nomikai (drinking party) usually ends with the leader of the group or club saying a few words then the entirety of the group claps hands together saying ‘Yooooo’ signifying the end of the event.
For most foreigners, the izakaya is not an overwhelming cultural experience, more of a different way to drink on a budget. Well, to get totally hammered on a budget as the price varies between ¥1,000 and ¥2,500 for two hours of free-flowing drinks. For some people, going to izakaya is used as pregaming for nightclubs. It does make for expensive nights but there are few other ways to get in the mood so fast with the liberty to choose what you drink and how you drink it. As in most cases you have your own booth nobody is bothered by your loudness so drinking games are a definite must. Remember though, much as karaoke, izakaya is mostly a closed group event, do not expect to meet many people when on a Japanese drinking adventure.