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Most izakaya I've been to have the bartender standing on the other side of the bar, or even consist solely of a bar.

However, I've been to two places that called themselves an izakaya where the bartender is not on the opposite side of the bar. In one of them, the bar faced a wall, while in the other, the bar formed an oblong shape.

One of them seemed to be part of a chain of izakayas, which made me think it was an inauthentic rip-off of an izakaya, a place that was more izakaya-themed than a genuine izakaya. The other was in a touristy area of the touristy town of Takayama, which also made me suspicious that it was an inauthentic rip-off targeting people who wouldn't know what a real izakaya is like.

Are such places regarded as real izakayas?

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I'm sorry, but your question doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Many, many izakayas, including all the large chains I know of (Watami, Shirokiya, Tengu etc) consist entirely of private booths of various sizes, with service direct from kitchen to booth, and thus don't have a "bar" in any sense of the word, much less bartenders standing behind it.

An izakaya is literally a "stay-sake-shop" (居酒屋), meaning a place that sells alcohol for consumption on premises. And because you traditionally eat while you drink in Japan, izakayas serve food, and I'd even posit that this is the dividing line between a izakaya and a (Western-style) bar, not the location or presence of the bar.

Delineating where an izakaya ends and a restaurant starts is an even tougher exercise. I like @TheWanderingCoder's definition of izakayas being primarily for drinking, while restaurants are primarily for eating, but even that can be a pretty fuzzy line in both directions: there are plenty of "gourmet izakayas" that would be restaurants if they called themselves that, and (for example) yakiniku grilled-meat restaurants that also offer all-you-can-drink deals and are primarily intended for people who want to get hammered.

  • I don't anticipate trying to fix my question tonight Japan time. An izakaya being part of a chain doesn't fit what I initially assumed would be regarded as an authentic izakaya - is this assumption also wrong? – Andrew Grimm Sep 13 '16 at 14:23
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    A chain pub is still a pub, just not necessarily a good one. Same for izakayas. Also, plenty of non-chain izakaya also do the all-booth thing. – lambshaanxy Sep 13 '16 at 20:59
  • I've added some information on why I thought such places are inauthentic to the question. Have I communicated my reasoning well, regardless of whether it's based on incorrect, outdated, or insufficient information? – Andrew Grimm Sep 14 '16 at 2:07
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    the "chain" aspect discussed, just re-emphasizes that outside Japan, "izakaya" appears to have an "authentic" and/or "high-end" connotation - that, it seems to me, is entirely missing actually in Japan. consider the western word "restaurant". it's completely value-free. you can have Le Meurice or, McDonalds as a "restaurant" as normal use of the word. Same. – Fattie Sep 14 '16 at 8:08
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    "pub" is a great example. the word can be used for the most achingly authentic traditional "british pub", or it can be used for a crappy franchize pub. – Fattie Sep 14 '16 at 8:10

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