Posts Tagged ‘izakaya’

Danshikai: deals for dudes’ night out

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Following on the success of the joshikai trend, which saw pubs and hotels offering discounts to all-female groups, the service industry has been setting its sights on repeating the same thing for men with their promotion of danshikai — all-male get-togethers. According to Money Zine, a number of hotels and izakaya (pubs) are now offering special danshikai deals.

Ryofukuen in Izu is offering beauty treatments ... to groups of guys.

Currently on restaurant database site Guru Navi, there are 117 establishments offering special packages to men-only groups. A closer look, though, reveals that the danshikai offers, which are often all-you-can-drink deals, are simply repackaged joshikai campaigns. Seeing as all-male groups have been frequenting izakaya since time immemorial, it’s hard to see danshikai as being anything other than the standard lad’s night out … only cheaper.

But what about a weekend away with the guys? Will the joshikai-vacation formula work for men? Is the average Japanese male keen to bunk up with his buddies? Well, if  he is, there are 40 offers from hotels and ryokan available on trip-planning site Rakuten Travel.

Most danshikai campaigns amount to a night’s lodging at a cheap rate, but with a few extras thrown in. At Daitokan in Ito Onsen, for instance, it costs just ¥5,000 per person per night (for a group of four or more), and this price includes a free “danshikai map” of the area. Ryokufuen in Izu provides a men’s beauty treatment as part of their plan.

Sweets plans have also surfaced. Last year the danshikai plan at The Hilton Odawara Resort & Spa offered a choice of nomihodai (all you can drink), tabehodai (all you can eat) and a “sweets plan” (all the cake you can eat) … and according to Money Zine, the sweets plan proved to be a hit.

Is this a sign of the herbivorous times? The link has yet to be made, but whatever the case may be,  if there are indeed large groups of men out there hankering for beauty treatments and all-you-can-eat-cake pig-outs, their needs will be indulged, at a discount.

2011 trends: B-kyu here to stay

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Cheap, filling and locally produced, B-kyu gourmet food has been trending for awhile now in Japan, so much so that rather than being a passing fad, it’s now become an integral part of Japan’s foodie culture. Driven at a grass-roots level by local chefs and fans, simple and satisfying B-kyu dishes are now also available in convenience stores and increasingly in metropolitan restaurants.

Mikihiro Ishiga, from the Hiruzen Yakisoba Fan Association accepts the B-kyu Grand Prix top prize this year. (Kyodo photo)

Though B-kyu dishes can now be sampled at food festivals throughout Japan, the nexus event for B-kyu gourmet is the B-1 Grand Prix. Established in 2008, the event pits teams of chefs from all over Japan against each other. Interest in the event is rapidly growing. At this year’s event last month in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, ticket sales reached a record high, totaling  ¥200,006,000, while a record number of 63 groups took part.

At this very democratic event, visitors get to pick the winners for themselves, by depositing their used chopsticks in a tin at the stall offering the dish they like the best. A win can boost local economies bringing foodie tourists to that area, and it can also get consumers interested in trying out local ingredients used in a dish.

Winning dishes can often get picked up by convenience stores, who then offer a version for sale in their stores. For example, Atami B-kyu Yaki Udon (fried noodles), which came fifth place in last year’s Hokkaido Grand Prix, was on sale for a limited period in Circle K and Sunkus this year. The ingredients for the dish’s trademark sour sauce, which included apples, shitake mushrooms and onions, were locally sourced in Iwate. Another B-kyu dish on sale in convenience stores was Tsuyama Hormone Udon (noodles), which went on sale in Poplar convenience stores.

Restaurants are also getting in on the act. Nakano B-kyu Izakaya has a menu based around the B-1 Grand Prix, allowing citizens in Japan’s capital city to get a taste of local dishes without having to travel. Filling, reasonably priced, and unpretentious, B-kyu dishes are perfectly suited to be served in izakaya (Japanese inns); other similar establishments, such as B-kyu Gourmet Village in Shibuya, also seem to be thriving.

Last month “Tokyo B-kyu Gourmet Chronicles,” Tokyo’s B-kyu version of the insanely popular Michelin Guide, was published. A guide to well-established local neighborhood eateries, which might have been passed over by the more elitist diner, the book’s emphasis is on eating well for under ¥1,000. With the economic downturn set to continue, it’s no wonder that this trend for homely cooking has taken root in Japan’s food culture.

Table for one? Right this way

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Eating yakiniku alone can be embarrassing but a new restaurant aims to change that

Many people in Japan feel that slapping some meat down on a sizzling grill while chatting about your day is a fundamentally social experience. That’s probably why you’ll get some strange looks if you go into a yakiniku restaurant and ask for a table for one. But a new restaurant in Ueno has taken away the stigma for lonely yakiniku lovers.

Hitori (one person), which opened on April 14, caters exclusively to solo diners. Each booth in the restaurant is equipped with its own grill and servings are just enough for one. The layout is reminiscent of an Internet cafe as the booths shield the diner from prying eyes, allowing them to indulge their carnivorous gluttony without shame.

Rocket News, who went to evaluate this new dining experience, gave it the thumbs up, describing the meat as extremely reasonable for the price: slices of karubi (beef ribs), for instance, come in at ¥250 and harami (tender meat from the diaphragm) is ¥190. They also think the restaurant will be a big hit with female diners.

According to “What Japan Thinks” a survey taken in 2009 by DIMSDRIVE shows that Japanese diners are particularly reluctant to eat yakiniku alone: Only 4 percent of respondents said they often ate out alone at yakiniku restaurants. The survey also showed that while women are comfortable eating out in fast food restaurants and cafes, they were significantly less likely to eat out alone in sushi bars, ramen stores, beef bowl restaurants and izakaya (taverns).

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Hanami dilemma: to jishuku or not jishuku

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

This year’s hanami in Tokyo is set to be one of unprecedented sobriety. In respect to the recent tragedy in the Tohoku region, the cherry-blossom-viewing parties traditionally lubricated with liberal amounts of alcohol are being discouraged by park authorities. Many officials are calling for citizens to show self-restraint (jishuku).

Revelers from hanami past (Yoshiaki Miura photo/The Japan Times)

As our sister blog Yen For Living pointed out, this seemingly well-intentioned approach makes little economic sense and is only adding to the woes of the service industry, which is already suffering from rolling blackouts and shorter business hours.

However, according to Tokyo Walker, one izakaya chain is taking a unique approach the dilemma of whether we should revel or not. The Takada-ya chain of pubs, which has 54 branches nationwide, launched a special party course menu from April 4.  The course, which includes dishes such as tempura and shabu shabu, costs ¥3,000 for groups of four and upward, and ¥500 yen of that will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross and other such organizations.

Takada-ya is already participating in the relief effort. With the cooperation of other businesses they’re working to distribute food to those in the disaster-struck areas. In Hitachinaka in Ibaraki Prefecture on March 20 and March 30 in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture they served up warm soba noodles. They plan to do the same in the future in Fukushima and elsewhere in Miyagi.

Takada-ya isn’t the only company to find a loophole in the jishuku guidelines.  American Bar Oldies, in Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, will be hosting a drinking party to raise money for victims of the disaster on Sat from 7pm (reservations are necessary). According to the bar owner’s blog, his high school friend, who was getting a bit sick of the atmosphere of self-restraint, suggested the idea.

Not everyone believes it’s necessary to do your drinking indoors out of respect. A sake brewer in Iwate has made a video in which he calls for people to enjoy drinking sake made from the regions hit by the earthquake to stimulate economic recovery. Elsewhere on the web, a site called Save the Tohoku Nihonshu has been launched to showcase the sake of the disaster-hit breweries.

So for those about say “kampai” under the blossoms, do it with respect and buy a nice bottle of Tohoku tipple from your local sakaya.

Trends in Japan 2010: food and drink

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This year’s hottest product, quite literally, was taberu rayu, a spicy sauce that made it into the top keywords of the year and even beat smart phones to the top spot of Nikkei Trendy’s hit product list for 2010. Back in July we reported on how the chili-infused condiment, which contains minced onion and garlic, had gone from a foodie novelty to one of the Japan’s hottest new sauces in just under a year. Figuring out that it tasted delicious on burgers, big-name brands like Mos Burger picked up the trend and ran with it. The chain’s crunchy rayu burger, designed by Terry Ito, was a huge hit this summer.

Sales of All-Free were suspended in August due to high demand

Japan’s unusually hot summer was cited as part of the reason behind the taberu rayu craze (spicy food is said to be cooling in hot weather), and other brands profited from the sweltering temperatures as well. Stocks of Japan’s favorite retro ice lolly Garigari-kun were dangerously low at one point during the summer, causing makers to officially apologize to disappointed customers. Suntory also found it hard to keep up with demand for their new All-Free non alcoholic low calorie beer, and in August, according to Daily Yomiuri, were forced to temporarily suspend sales until September.

One of the more unusual food trends to break over the summer was the new Tokyo-based fad for chowing down on a big bowl of ramen noodle broth for breakfast. The idea is for busy workers to stock up on calories ahead of a grueling day, enabling them to either skip lunch or grab a small snack on the fly during the day. While the number of restaurants serving ramen has increased in recent years, the trend hasn’t quite reached epidemic proportions yet. The idea of morning mochi provided an attractive alternative to those seeking a seeking a hearty breakfast at home: Marushin’s Good Morning Breakfast Mochi, launched in April this year, proved much more popular than the company initially expected with sales figures 180 percent higher than the company’s typical mochi sales.

On the marketing end of things, dozens of companies tried to cash in the Ryoma Sakamoto boom, spurred by the popularity of the yearlong NHK taiga drama “Ryomanden.” Be it associated with burgers, soft drinks, ramen chips, curry, or beer — the face of the legendary samurai was everywhere.

Dining out continued to get cheaper during 2010 as izakaya scrambled to outdo each other with cut-price deals. The biggest gimmick of 2010 was offering free drinks of shochu to get customers through the doors. Another gimmick, which isn’t so new but was in full effect during 2010, was the use of cute young girls to entice male custom. We’re not only talking about Hooters’ arrival in Japan, which opened its doors for the first time this year in Japan but other establishments such as Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub and Nadeshico Sushi, which also entered the restaurant market: Both establishments hired bevies of cute girls to serve food to, mostly likely, an exclusively male clientele.

Ready, set, EAT all you can in 15 minutes

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

How much food and booze gobble up and guzzle down in 15 minutes? This is the challenge presented to patrons at Viking Izakaya Odaidoko Sakeba, where they can eat and drink as much as they like for ¥375. Opened in Yokohama last month, the place is already fully booked at weekends with customers eager to wolf down as much food and drink as they can within the allotted time.

Eat and drink all you can, as fast as you can

Eat and drink all you can, as fast as you can

Viking is not a tall blond Norse marauder but a self-service buffet and this one offers items such as oden, nabe (hot pots) and salads, as well as beer, shochu and cocktails. Customers are not limited to sticking to the 15-minute rule, but simply pay for an extra 15 minutes once the time is up. The concept may well catch on.

This year has seen a cut-throat price war among izakaya looking to break even under poor economic conditions and all kinds of tricks are being implemented to attract customers. Earlier this year we wrote about the trend of izakaya offering free shochu to customers and one price establishments selling dishes and drinks for prices as low as ¥270.

The concept of tabe/nomihodai (all you can eat and drink) deals is not new, but the shorter time period is. Typically izakaya offer these deals for periods of 90 minutes to two hours, after which time the (typically wasted) group is kicked out. We suspect that allowing customers to stay for as long or short a time as they like could cause problems for staff.

Continue reading about tabehodai campaigns →

Summer pick-me-ups for salarymen

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A salaryman sleeper, obviously in need of a kakigori shampoo

A salaryman sleeper, obviously in need of a kakigori shampoo

The weather is taking its toll on all of us, but there’s no doubt that things must be far worse for Japan’s army of long-suffering salarymen who are struggling to make it to work every day in the blistering heat. We thought it would be nice to take a look at a few new services on offer this summer that might make the life of these beleaguered businessmen just that little bit more bearable.

First up is the refreshing kakigori (shaved ice) shampoo that’s being offered for the first time this summer by a Yokohama hairdresser. The perfect way to cool down your hot head after a day in the office, the ice is mixed with a menthol shampoo then gently massaged into your tingling skull for that minty fresh feeling.

Then there’s Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub, a new izakaya outside Kanda Station that opened its doors Aug 18. It’s a traditional-style retreat for tired office workers in their 40s and 50s, but the hook here is that drinks are served by cute girls wearing hot pants who are happy to give you a free back massage if you request one. Ah, bliss!

Mibyou Salaryman Shindan (rundown businessman diagnosis) maybe sound depressing but it’s actually a fun new website run by health-drink manufacturer Yomeishu. Designed to help those with a poor work-life balance, it asks questions like “Do you do too much overtime?” and “Do you finish your food faster than others?” to gauge how stressful your lifestyle is. It’s worth doing the quiz just to watch the animated salaryman act out your answers. For example, if you answer yes to the question “Do you like meat more than fish dishes?” your little salaryman will chow down on a drum stick while his waist expands.

If ice shampoos, massages or internet advice doesn’t cheer up Japan’s put-upon businessman, perhaps Salaryman Man can help. This cartoon by Takashi Taniguchi elevates the humble office worker to superhero status. With the aid of his trusty meishi, he flies through the sky, defeating evil.

Photo credit: soul_flow

Drinks on the house . . . all around

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Recession hit restaurants and bars all over Japan are actually giving away free drinks and food, in a desperate effort to attract new customers. In the new penny-pinching climate, normal discounts just don’t cut it with many and customers are now looking out for free offers, half-price discounts or bars that charge only ¥300 per drink or dish.

Watami are offering 50% cash back this month

Izakaya chain Watami are offering 50% cash back this month

The free drink offer is becoming increasingly popular in izakaya’s (Japanese pubs) where a free glass of shochu can get evening rolling. Shochu is a clear liquor made from rice, sweet potato or barley; cheap for the establishment to supply, it’s fairly potent (around 25% alcohol) and is a good way to get customers to loosen their purse strings. However, there are places that offer other drinks. Wall Bar Dining are giving away free glasses of beer and Izakaya Kakumei in Ginza, which opened June 4, offers not only free shochu but sake and umeshu (plum wine) as well.

Unlimited free snacks are also a good way to attract new business. Standing bar Q in Ebisu is offering free tabehodai (eat all you can) homemade smoked bacon. As soon as you enter the store you’re given a large platter of the stuff and invited to pig out – pun intended. Steak Burger and Salad Bar Ken, which opened in May this year, offer limitless servings of curry for customers who order steak.

Half-price menus have also been popping up, with popular izakaya Watami offering 50% cash back for a limited period. We also recommend Il Chianti in Kichijoji, who give an amazing 50% discount on pizza and beer every Monday night.

Back in October last year we reported on the rise of the ¥300 standing bar, since then prices have been slashed even further. Kechi yasui izakaya, loosely translated as “pubs for misers,” which price any dish or drink at only ¥300, have been popping up all over the place. Nikkei Trendy reports that in April, izakaya chain Watami went one better by starting up a chain of ¥250 izakaya – amazingly this price includes sales tax.

Last month I went to a slightly more upmarket, ahem, ¥270 izakaya in Shibuya. Though the clientele were mostly in their 20s, my Japanese friend and I noticed that nobody had brought a date. She commented that anyone who tried to bring a girl here would definitely be dumped for being stingy. While the dishes were a bit on the slim side, the beer servings were a decent size and the atmosphere was cheap but definitely cheerful. We say, bring on the bargains!

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