After work : いざかや, ガード下, 赤堤灯。

A couple of friends are heading to Japan next month.  Their first trip.  I have some great restaurants and other places to recommend in Tokyo and Kyoto.  All sorts of cuisines and price ranges.  All in all, though, my favorite restaurants are the low key, working stiff, cheap, grilled chicken-on-a-stick-type joints.  You who travel around know that these are really the best places.

Most commonly, these cozy, friendly, local holes-in-the-wall are called “izakaya” and sometimes “akachochin” (“aka“/red + “chochin“/lanterns with whatever the specialty of the house is shine and advertise out front).  In Tokyo, behind the shockingly expensive Imperial Hotel, in Chiyoda Ward near Yurakucho Station, there are a series of pedestrian tunnels under an elevated section of the Yamanote train line.  Jammed into these tunnels are numerous akachochin, called “gahdoshita“, literally “under the overpass” restaurants.  Pictured above is one of them I frequented over the course of five or so days in Tokyo, almost two years ago to date.  That fellow in the foreground to the right is one of the cooks, taking a photo of some *Japanese* tourists . . . just out-of-frame to the left.

Yakitori with plenty of bainiku, shisomaki, gyuuroso, little grilled shishitou . . . and draft beer.  This is all good and simple and delicious and inexpensive fare.  I’ll be referring my friends — and in May taking a group of MBA students — to these kind of places, as well as to the more “refined” restaurants.  Count on that.

Motsuyaki "gahdoshita".  Under the Yamanote Line.  Tokyo.  2007.

Motsuyaki “gahdoshita”. Under the Yamanote Line. Tokyo. 2007.


Friends after work at an akachochin.  Tokyo. October 2007.

Friends after work at an akachochin. Tokyo. October 2007.


Friends at an akachochin in Kyoto.  2007.  That's the cook/owner in the background.

Friends at an akachochin in Kyoto. 2007. That’s the cook/owner in the background.


Izakaya, late afternoon before the evening rush.  Ueno, Tokyo. April 2008.

Izakaya, late afternoon before the evening rush. Ueno, Tokyo. April 2008.

.               .               .

A few more photos from more recent times:

Harumi-ya. A great hole-in-the-wall. San-jo Street. Kyoto. 2011.


A friend’s mom looks on as another round’s poured. Ichi-ban Yakitori. Kyoto. 2011.


Fantastic sake bar (with owner, his granddaughter), Kiyamachi-dori. Kyoto. 2011.


  1. Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to visit a real Japanese izakaya….*drool*

      • letsjapan
      • September 10th, 2009

      Well, it’s just a little plane ride away, is all. No prob. And the thing is,
      you’ve got the atmosphere to go along with the food, which I hope these
      pics at least hint at. These are boisterous, exuberant, upbeat places for
      friends and colleagues to gather, eat, drink, decompress and enjoy one
      another’s company.

    • Jane
    • October 1st, 2009

    oh I LOVE places like this!!
    It’s the best! And I suppose I can always point to what I want with a smile, and say kudasai? That’s about all I can manage. 🙂

      • letsjapan
      • October 1st, 2009

      I’ll send you a 1-page primer. You and your traveling companion then give me 15 minutes on the phone and I’ll have you pretty well primed. Of course, you can always take a Japanese friend of yours out to dinner before you travel and let them give you skinny on ordering, but that can make for sensory overload. At the end of the day, “sumimasen!” (“Excuse me!”) “so*re” (“that”) and “ko*re” (“this”), and saying “bee*ru” while holding up 1 or 2 fingers for the number of mugs/bottles you want can get the intrepid foreigner through Eating in Japan. Domo and Kudasai are good, too, of course. 😉

      • letsjapan
      • October 1st, 2009

      P.S. – and, yes, you’re right: these ARE the best places. I love all types and atmospheres, but these are “home”.

  2. Your photos are great, those catches the real Japanese atmospheres. Izakaya is a casual pub in Japan and you are able to enjoy Japanese real food & Sake with reasonable prices. You don’t need to be nervous even if it’s your first vist. People are friendly and like to help for foreigners for ordering menu if you wonder what to eat.

      • letsjapan
      • February 21st, 2011

      Dear Sachiko,

      Thank you so much. Yes, I wanted to catch the atmo of these places. When I look at these natsukashii/懐かしい photos I can almost smell the yakitori grilling on the hibachi!


    • Scott
    • June 15th, 2011

    I love izakaya! They are indeed cozy and friendly, in fact for me they are much nicer and friendlier than pubs here in Scotland. I feel it’s easy to go an izakaya and enjoy good conversation, food and drink with welcoming strangers. It is really tough to describe the atmosphere to someone who has never been, but your photo’s do well at capturing it.

  3. Japanese culture can sometimes seem impermeable, but these photos suggest otherwise. Look at those smiles!

    I must say – the black and white photo is striking, and not only for it’s composition. I can’t remember ever seeing a photo of a lone person in a public place in Japan. The general impression is of crowds everywhere. Clearly, that isn’t so.

      • letsjapan
      • April 28th, 2012

      Beautifully and aptly put!

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