Japanese cuisine first went global when sushi shops spread throughout the urban dining landscape. Today, ramen shops are rapidly taking over the restaurant scene of large cities across the world. The next big thing to come out of Japan is the izakaya. Izakaya is spelled 居酒屋 in Japanese which translates to sake shop where you can settle yourself. The first izakayas were nothing more than extensions to sake shop where people could sit down and drink the sake they had purchased. As drinking always involves some eating in Japan, these places soon became as renowned for their food rather than their drinks. Izakayas or aka chochin, as they are sometimes referred to by the red lantern that hang outside the entrance, are an ubiquitous part of Japanese culture that needs to be understood in its Japanese context.
A commonly used expression in Japanese is futsukayoi, or second day drunk which means having a hangover. Drinking is an important part of the cultural fabric of Japan. It is done to socialize with friends and family, to forge bonds between co-workers, to seal business deals and to determine the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. Some Japanese love to drink, others might enjoy the occasional drink, while others simply cannot tolerate a drop of alcohol. Yet, there comes a time when all need to partake in this traditional aspect of Japanese life. In fact, people who choose not to drink at all may be looked down upon with mild suspicion. Drinking might be be felt as a social obligation but is also one of the rare moments when these same social rules can be broken.