5 Essential Phrases for Japanese Izakaya
If you have plans – or hopes! – to visit Japan, a brilliant way to prepare is by picking up a few handy phrases you’ll be able to use while there.
In bigger cities especially, you’ll find that a lot of Japanese people understand at least some English. However, that’s not to say they definitely feel comfortable using it!
Wherever you go in the world, learning some of the local language can be a great way to show respect for and interest in the culture of that place – and what’s more, it can make your visit a whole lot more enjoyable!
In this post, Japanese tutor Elly Darrah of Ippo Ippo Japanese introduces five key phrases for anyone thinking of visiting izakaya (informal bars with drinks and snacks) in Japan.
Scroll to the bottom for a special offer code on their upcoming online course, Travel Japanese.
So: let’s get started!
We’re going to kick off with the fun stuff today.
This first phrase is not one you’ll find in many lists of “essential Japanese phrases”, but it is one that you’ll hear in pretty much any izakaya. Let’s break it down…
- Toriaezu: for now, to start
- Nama: short for “nama biiru” – draught/draft beer
Put together, what does it mean?
“I’ll have a draught/draft beer to start” – a handy phrase if you’re not quite sure what to go with.
This is popular with many Japanese people partly as it avoids wasting others’ time while you decide your order – especially at larger nomikai (drinking parties).
Even if you’re not a beer fan, we recommend listening out for this one when you see other people giving drinks orders.
Once you’ve got your drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), it’s time to say “kampai” – cheers!
In Japan, it’s common when drinking in a group – even in a casual setting – for everyone to say “kampai” together. Don’t be shy – you can say it nice and loud!
Depending on the izakaya, they may serve some snacks or smaller dishes to go with your drinks (o-tsumami), or potentially some larger dishes generally meant to share with those you’re drinking with.
Before tucking in, have a go at this phrase: itadakimasu! Literally it means “I humbly receive”, but practically speaking, it’s similar to “Let’s eat” or “Bon appétit”. You can read more about the meaning of itadakimasu and watch some examples of it being used here.
If (like me) you find this phrase tricky to remember at first, try thinking of the mnemonic “eat a duck I must”!
A handy phrase across all kinds of situations, dōzo has several meanings, including “here you go” and “go ahead”. In an izakaya, you may hear it when being guided to your seats (“kochira e dōzo” – this way please) or being handed something such as a menu (“menyuu dōzo”). You yourself can try using it when handing something to one of your fellow diners, or perhaps offering someone a seat next to you.
Top tip! If you’re passing food to someone else, be careful to avoid doing it from chopstick to chopstick. This is a big no-no in Japan because it looks like a funeral rite whereby people pass the bones of a cremated person between one another using chopsticks.
Done with your meal? Show your appreciation with this handy phrase, gochisō-sama!
You may also hear the longer (politer) version of this, gochisō-sama deshita.
This phrase is used at the end of a meal to express gratitude: essentially, “thank you for the meal”. While dining, listen out for how other customers use it. You may hear people say it as they leave the izakaya or restaurant.
Another time you can use gochisō-sama is if someone has treated you to a meal, in which case you can say “gochisō-sama (deshita)” to the person after they’ve covered the bill.
I hope you enjoyed these five phrases!
If you’re planning on visiting Japan, check out my online course, Travel Japanese, where we’ll be learning loads more practical language and cultural tips.
Special offer: use the code TRAVELJAPAN22 for 10% off this course!
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