Traveling to Japan? Learn how to drink for less while eating out

Japan is a mysterious place that I believe everyone should check out at least once in their life. The beauty of the islands can bring almost a tear to one’s eye. But after seeing the sights of the day, there is a common theme that everyone loves to do in Japan. Go out to eat! Many times the locals will visit a local izakaya, which is similar to a gastropub. You can sit in among the locals while ordering popular dishes like yakisoba, yakitori, okonomiyaki, ramen, sushi or even get some western delicacies like a hamburger (which isn’t the same as you’re used to) or a pizza.

In many of these izakaya’s (and many restaurants), you’ll find an option where you can drink yourself under the table via 90 minutes of non-stop drinks. It’s called nomihodai. It’s a favorite choice for the locals, but it’s something that westerners are anxious to try as they’ve never usually heard of such a thing. Therefore you can almost see the cringe in the restaurant managers face when a group of westerners goes for nomihodai. While Japanese people usually use some restraint when ordering nomihodai (not all mind you), some westerners will leave not remembering how they got there!

Kirin beer, and lots of it!

Nomihodai usually costs (depending on the location) around ¥1,500 to ¥2,500 yen or around $15 to $25. There are usually two distinct options; the first gets you all-you-can-drink shochu, highballs, wine and happoshu beer (or what I like to call fake beer). Then there is usually an option where you can order sake and draft beer. I would say unless you’re a wine drinker you should take the second option, your liver will thank you.

You’ll often be required to have a certain amount of people in your group to order nomihodai, as well as having a minimum food order. So if you’re planning on going out with a group and ordering food, this would no doubt be your best bet. But, still, in the end, you’ll quickly put away $30-$50 a person for the night, which honestly is still not too bad considering you’re drowning your liver in alcohol for 90 minutes non-stop while eating.

But for those who don’t have that type of money but still want to have their alcohol kick and go out for the night, there is another trick that even local Japanese people don’t give much thought about, and it’s called pre-game. Well, at least that’s what some Americans here in Japan told me it’s called and they even admitted they didn’t do it at first (but now are). Pre-game drinking is where you go to a コンビニ (convenience store) or a スーパー (supermarket) and purchase your beer or alcohol there first. The difference in price is pretty substantial. When you order a single beer in about any restaurant, a 12 oz glass of beer will usually cost $5-$8, but you can get yourself a 16 oz can of beer from a supermarket for about $2.20 to $3 and about $2.90 to $3.60 at a convenience store.

Drinking on the cheap!

So you can easily purchase around $10 in liquor and drink one or two of them before entering the restaurant or club. I will never personally open a beer inside their business as I believe that’s stepping over the line, but drinking before is a great option to save money!

This is a guest post from Nihon Scope, a great blog about news, culture, food and anime in Japan.

Published by Matthew Baxter

Japan travel writer and onsen addict