A Drinkers Guide to Useful Drinking Terms in Japan*
*Work in progress.
by Matthew M. Kaufman
Tachinomiya (立ち飲み屋 ）a standing bar.
Kakuuchi （角打ち）A combined liquor store and bar that sells canned and simple bar food. You usually can take cans and bottles of out of the refrigerator and drink them at the bar. Whiskey and sake is served at the counter.
Izakaya (居酒屋）- a pub with tapas like dishes
Yatai (やたい) An outdoor stand.
Part I: Bottle Sizes
The most important kanji you need to know for tachinomi: 瓶 Bin (bottle). The largest size is 大瓶(daibin in Kansai dialect or obin in standard Japanese). They are usually 633ml but some are 643ml. The middle size is 中瓶(chubin), which is 500ml. The smallest size is 小瓶(shobin in Kansai dialect and kobin in standard Japanese), which is 334ml. If you see this on the menu 大瓶600円 then get the hell out of there. A true tachinomi jedi will pay no more than 500 yen for a daibin. Anything under 400 yen is a great deal.
Part Ii: Snacks and Side Dishes
1. tsumami つまみ is the term snacks or side dishes that go well with alcohol. Anything from peanuts and edamame to yakitori and sausages. The term ”ate” from (“sake no ate” 酒のあて) is more commonly used in Kansai.
2. The small appetizer dishes are served with your drinks are called “otooshi” (お通し) or “tsukidashi” (突き出し) Some nomiya make you pay 200 to 500 yen for tsukidashi as a cover/table charge but this practice is not common in cheap tachinomiya. You cannot avoid the charge by refusing the dish, but it is cheaper than leaving a tip.
3. Another great term is “sakana” (肴) which can refer to a side dish of food and/or shit talking while drinking. Badmouthing someone or gossiping in order to take the drinking session to the next level.
Example sentence: 彼らは上司の悪口を肴にして酒を飲んだ. They badmouthed their boss to give added zest to their drinking.
Part III: Shochu
Another good kanji to know: 焼酎 shochu. I’m no shochu expert and there are several good sites on the web in English. Oyuwari shochu (お湯割り焼酎), shochu and hot water, is a tachinomiya standard that usally sells for 180 to 300 yen a glass. You can get it wih ume or lemon (I prefer lemon). It will warm you up in the winter and make you feel (slightly) better if you have a cold. I like it because whenever I order one at a new place, the master and customers are usually surprised (in a good way). It helps to break the ice in a crowded nomiya full of regulars. You usually have a choice between barley (mugi), sweet potatoes (imo), buckwheat (soba), or rice (kome).
A good tachinomiya will have lots of old faded paper harigami (張り紙 or 貼り紙) on the wall with the names of dishes and prices. This place has the “permanent menu”/harigami combo with the all important tape overs. Old tape on the harigami is another good sign. I’m not sure if there is a special word for the permanent menu on the wall.
Part V: Taishu Sakeba
Kanji of the day: 大衆酒場 (taishuu sakaba): a cheap drinking spot, a saloon, a pub. For the record, I have never heard anyone say “taishuu sakaba” once in 20 years of living in Osaka (Or maybe they did say it and I had no idea what they meant. Shows how much I know). The kanji 大衆酒場 is found on the signs and noren of many tachinomiya and cheap bars. Here it is on the awning of Heihachi in Juso (which burned down in a fire).
Part VI: Under The Tracks
Two more important terms: ガード下 (gaado shita) “under the tracks; area under the girders of a railway or highway (often used for shops, bars, etc.)” and 高架下(koukashita) “under a girder bridge；under the elevated structure”. This is where you can find many cheap tachinomiyas and dive bars such as Ibata in Juso and Ikoi in Nakatsu. (Tokyo has Yurakucho). Kobe has 地獄の谷 Jigoku no Tani (Hell Valley–not be confused with the one near Noda Station in Osaka). It’s located near the West Exit of JR Kobe Station.
The Society of Girder(ガード下の学会) is a club led by Kobayashi Ichiro that explores areas under the tracks. They’ve published several books and articles (including an extensive guide to Osaka that can be downloaded on PDF. If you think that the group is made up of trainspotters, otaku and middle aged ossan, guess again. Most of the participants who joined the Girders tour of Umeda and Nakatsu last November were young women. A PDF of the Osaka tour can also be downloaded under the heading of 関西ガード下ツアーが紹介されました http://www.underguard.org/
A place that is difficult to enter is called “hairi-zurai” (入りづらい). This does not mean that the staff or customers will not welcome you..it describes the hesitation you feel before opening the door and walking in. The noun form is hairi-zurasa and some bloggers rate a place like this: 入り辛さ：★★★☆☆
鯨飲馬食 (ゲイインバショク gei-in bashoku) is an old Chinese and Japanese term that means “Drink like a Whale, Eat Like a horse.” 鯨のように多量の酒を飲み、馬のように多量の物を食べること It was taught to us by our good friend Tatsuya. Many people have not heard this obscure term and think we made it up, but it is real. It has become our group motto.https://kotobank.jp/word/鯨飲馬食-488149