Written by Sara Doel for JAPAN Forward

The pub — short for “public house” — has long been established as part of daily life in Britain. Not only a place to drink a pint of beer or play darts, pubs are the social center of every local community across towns and villages in the United Kingdom.

Originally established as inns to house weary travelers, nowadays apparently one in four Brits meets their future husband or wife at the pub! It’s safe to say that they are the heart of everyday life in Britain.

There isn’t an exact equivalent to a pub in Japan. Izakayas, however, are similar in the sense that they are a popular place for friends and colleagues to gather. There are some key differences, however.


A nationwide smoking ban was enacted in the U.K., and since 2007 it has not been possible to smoke inside in a pub or other public establishments. However, in Japan it is common to find people smoking indoors, and many do so in their local izakaya or nomiya as well as in independent cafes and restaurants. This marks a big difference between Japan and Britain: in Britain, you have to smoke outside, but in Japan it’s almost easier to smoke inside!

Snack Food — ‘Tsumami’

Snack food in Britain usually consists of nothing more than a bag of salted peanuts. But Japanese izakaya often have an extensive tsumami menu, with many tasty and unusual dishes (marshmallow pizza, anyone?). Another culture difference is that in Japan people often eat while drinking, which is a welcome change from binge drinking in Britain.

All You Can Eat or Drink!

With a set price menu, nomihoudai / tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink) ensures you can eat and drink to your heart’s content in many Japanese establishments, without emptying your wallet. This is another big difference from Britain, where we tend to “go all-out on a night-out!”

Ordering from A Touch Screen

In a British pub, you have to order at the bar; there is no table service. So when it’s busy, you often have to shout over the rabble of the crowd to be heard, which makes ordering a hassle. In Japan you can often order from a picture menu on a touch panel screen at your table. This technological development makes the process of deciphering a Japanese menu so much easier!

Private Rooms

Some pub tables in Britain are separated by a wall panel, but generally the rooms are communal. In Japan however, most izakaya have a private room which can be reserved for private functions for larger groups, such as an enkai (work party). My colleagues often draw up a seating plan in advance to make sure the most important people have the best seats. This level of forward planning may seem excessive, but it’s all part of Japanese culture, as I’ve learned!

Taking Off Your Shoes

In most countries around the world, it would be unthinkable to take off your shoes and sit on the floor in a public place. But this is quite common in Japanese izakaya, especially those with washitsu (tatami rooms). And, it’s comfy!

Getting Home

In most countries, after a night out people take a taxi as it would be unthinkable to drive. But in rural Japan, where transportation is less readily available, it is possible to drive to the izakaya and call a daikou to go home. A daikou is essentially a driver who drives you home in your own car (while another car to take the driver back follows from behind). It makes getting home safe and so much easier!

The Japanese ‘Nomiya’

The Riverside is the equivalent of my local pub, and rightly serves as the social community of the town where I live. It is run by owner Mika Koyama, 49 years old, who, ironically, is not a drinker herself.

By - Ben K.