If you’re looking to visit an izakaya, a traditional Japanese pub, here’s some insight about how Japanese people make their picks to help guide yours.

Stopping by an izakaya  is a fun item to add to any traveler’s list when visiting Japan. Usually casual joints that come in many shapes and sizes, izakaya offer all manner of small bites (similar to tapas in that sense), drinks (beer and Japanese sake at the forefront), and are typically packed with coworkers and friends unwinding after a long day. They’re everywhere, too, and usually easily recognizable by their bright red lanterns that begin to glow as the sun goes down.

Recently, drinks and deals website Kakuyasu was curious to learn more about Japanese people’s preferences for izakaya, so they distributed a short survey to everyone subscribed to their mail magazine. A relatively small sample of 162 people responded with the average age being 50.7, but they still shed an interesting light on how people go about choosing which izakaya to visit, especially when it’s for the first time. Let’s take a look at the two questions and results below.

Q1: What are the important factors for you when selecting an izakaya? [multiple selections possible]

● Atmosphere: 62.3 percent
● Food selection, especially in-house specialties: 60.5 percent
● Good value: 50 percent
● Alcohol lineup: 42.6 percent
● Location/ease of access: 42.6 percent
● The friendliness of the owner and staff: 38.3 percent
● Service: 25.3 percent
● Hours of operation: 17.3 percent
● Buzzworthiness: 0.6 percent
● Other: 10.5 percent

Interestingly, the most important variable for choosing an izakaya at 62.3 percent turned out to be the atmosphere of the joint as a whole–more so than anything to be consumed. It appears that customers are more attuned than ever these days to the overall vibe of an establishment. In addition, while the longstanding image of izakaya is of a place that primarily serves drinks with food on the side, these survey takers appeared to prioritize the food even more!

Q2: How do you choose a new izakaya to visit for the first time? [multiple selections possible]

● Outward appearance–exterior looks, including signs, banners, menu, etc.: 63.6 percent
● Web reviews–Tabelog, Gurunavi, etc. (popular Japanese dining review sites): 53.7 percent
● Recommendations from friends and acquaintances: 41.4 percent
● Google Maps: 13.6 percent
● Social media: 9.9 percent
● TV shows, written accounts, magazines: 7.4 percent
● Other: 7.4 percent

In response to the second question, it turns out that Japanese diners really do choose a book by its cover because outward appearance turned out to be the top factor for selecting a new izakaya to visit for the first time at 63.6 percent. If the atmosphere of the place and the selection of food available are of tremendous importance as well according to the results of the first question, then it makes sense that diners want a sense of what the vibe is and to view the menu first before committing to going in.

One other factor that readers may want to note that’s not reflected in either of the above responses is whether smoking is allowed inside the izakaya. While a nationwide indoor smoking ban in restaurants went into effect in Japan for the first time ever in April 2020, very small eateries and izakaya are often exempt from this rule–so just be sure to check first if smoking is a dealbreaker for you (“zenseki kinen” is the Japanese term used to indicate a smoke-free restaurant). Izakaya come in all forms, though, so there’s bound to be a good fit somewhere for whatever you’re looking for, even if you just feel like drinking alone.

Source: PR Times
Top image: PR Times
Insert image: Pakutaso
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