Some Western culinary influences in Japan, including Portugal (tempura) and the Americas (teppanyaki), have been so integrated into Japanese cooking, it is difficult to differentiate them from more traditional Japanese cuisine like sushi and kaiseki. Standard Japanese meals usually include rice, soup, pickles and an entree, like fish or vegetables.
Drinking in groups at bars, clubs and other nightspots after office hours is a popular Japanese pastime. Every city, town and village has an abundant number of drinking places that can be very crowded in evening hours. The biggest cities have sprawling entertainment districts crammed with bars, pubs, discos and nightclubs. At Japanese-style bars, a modest snack is often served with the first drink.
If you need to be budget-minded, avoid the very expensive hostess clubs unless someone else who is a regular customer is picking up the bill. You can also ask the concierge at your hotel to suggest nearby nightspots where prices are reasonable.
Beer: The most popular drink in Japan, beer is served draft from the tap or in bottles of lager. Bottles come in small (330ml), medium (500ml) and large (633ml) sizes. The bottles served at most pubs or bars are either small or medium. Draft beer comes in jugs or mugs at beer halls. During the summer season, open-air beer halls, some on the roofs of department stores, draw large numbers of beer lovers. The price for a bottle or mug of beer can vary somewhat by type of drinking spot, but is within a range of 400 to 900 Yen from small to large. This does not apply to the hostess clubs, where prices can be astronomical.
Sake: Japan's own native rice wine is the national drink. Sold in large bottles at liquor shops, it is not served by the bottle but in small ceramic flasks, from which it is poured into a small drinking cup. You can ask to have it served warm or cold. You can also state a preference for dry or sweet taste. Whichever type you like, sake's smooth and mellow taste makes it the ideal companion to Japanese cuisine. Sake can be deceptive, so drink it quite moderately in order to avoid a hangover.
Whiskey: Prices of domestic and imported whiskies tend to vary by type of drinking spot, but a single shot is usually 500-700 Yen for a domestic brand and 600-800 Yen for an import. Most Japanese people drink it mizuwari—with ice and mineral water. Expensive glacier ice, said to lend the most delicious taste to whiskey, is a current fad in Japan.
Wine: Both domestic and imported wines are served in restaurants that serve Occidental cuisines. A Chinese variant, lao chu, is served in Chinese restaurants. Upscale wine bars that feature good wines (and appropriate snack foods) have gained in popularity over the past few years.
Shochu: This distilled spirit made from sweet potatoes, wheat, sugar cane or other bases is similar to vodka. It can be drunk straight, on the rocks, or in cocktails. Once held in low esteem, it is now quite fashionable among young people. The most popular brands do not have the strong flavor that most people disliked. It's served at most Japanese-style bars at a reasonable price.
from Kate's Global Kitchen:
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This page modified January 2007
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