How to drink cheaply in Japan

Drinking in Japan a picture grabbed from boodoo's flickr stream

People generally don’t know much about Japan but I know in Britain there are a few memes, a few bits and pieces that seemed to have lodged their way into the collective consciousness. We were in a pub once drinking with our Japanese teacher, who was born in Japan and worked in Tokyo in the eighties. We were asking lots of questions as we were all anticipating that we would shortly be travelling to live in Japan. One question was asked that was something like “I heard that in Tokyo if you go to certain places and order a beer it can cost £50 for that single beer”. Surprisingly or possibly unsurprisingly I’d also heard this story – I think most people are aware of it to some extent.

Well basically it’s somewhat plausible if the man in question went for a drink at a hostess bar. This is the type of bar where the seat comes with a woman and you may even be able to choose which woman although this costs a little more. The drinks here are often extortionate and I wouldn’t be surprised if the more exclusive clubs do have £50 beers or even above. In normal bars though – drinks will be much cheaper. That said, the prices here may still be far excess of what you are use to in your home country.

Some suggests follow that may be beneficial to your budget.

1. Try drinking spirits or cocktails instead of beer.

A cocktail picture from Thomas Hawk's flickr stream
Beer tends to be expensive due to a tax on malt. Spirits on the other hand are actually a bit of bargain. All of the spirits are of quite high quality for instance the vodka in a cocktail may be Smirnoff or a reasonable brand name – rather than Tescos own brand with the label removed.

2. Drink the local brew

Imported beers are generally going to be a little pricier – sometimes a lot pricier. For instance Guinness is about 900yen (nearly £5 pounds!). If you’re visiting Japan – you should be trying the local stuff anyway! On the other hand if you’ve been here a while and longing for something from home – Corona can usually be bought for the same price as domestic beer.

3. Ask if there is a seating charge

Some Japanese bars have seating charges – this is usually indicated by a small amount of food that seems to be given to you for free. A small chicken salad, a bowl of roots, peanuts anything in a small bowl usually means a seating charge.

4. Karaoke Bars

Karaoke room pictures from w00kie's flickr stream
If you are going out with a set group of friends – instead of going to a bar it can fun to rent a karaoke box. Depending on the place there maybe just one price per room – in which case it will work out very cheaply when split between a big group. Even if it’s one price per person it will still be very cheap. Often karaoke places will allow you to bring your own food and drink in with you. Therefore you can buy extremely cheap beer at a convenience store or supermarket and just bring it with you. Even if they don’t you can just sneak it in! This is done quite commonly as far as I can make out. Some karaoke places will offer reasonably priced nomihodai which brings us nicely to our next point.

5. Nomihodai

Nomihodai means all you can drink. Many places will offer nomihodai especially karaoke bars and larger bars. You pay a set price for a set number of hours. These bars usually have a karaoke machine lurking somewhere – this will undoubtedly be brought out by the owners of the establishment when they think you’re drunk enough. If you are in a large group it may be worth haggling over the price. Usually there will bars offering nomihodai close to one another so browse for the best price – and be willing to tell one bar owner the other bars prices. This way you’ll probably get the best deal.

The only problem with nomihodai is it’s a set time – after two or three hours you’ll be out on the street – what then? Doesn’t matter because mission success you will be drunk. Some places do have nomihodai all night – notably club pure in Osaka its 1350yen for all you can drink all night. (I wouldn’t really recommend this place though – worth checking out once if you’re after a cheap night)

So there are some options when you feel the need to drown your sorrows! Remember to drink responsibly – when you’re having sambuca lit inside your mouth remember to close THEN swallow – not the other way round).
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