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What does 居酒屋 mean in Japanese? Does it refer to any place that primarily serves alcoholic beverages with less emphasis on food? Does it refer to what English-speakers would refer to by the English word "izakaya", which is native to Japan, typically has a small appetiser in place of a cover charge, and sometimes has smoking allowed?

If there's a difference of meaning between current and past usage, or between a technical definition versus everyday usage, please include that in the answer.

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What 居酒屋 refers to depends on the context.

In its broader sense, 居酒屋 includes any types of pubs, saloons, bars and the like in the world where ordinary local adults casually gather and enjoy alcohol and food. Pubs are typically referred to as "British-style 居酒屋." Take a look at 居酒屋 on Japanese Wikipedia, and it extensively explains how 居酒屋 look like and how they developed in European, Arabian, or Asian countries.

In its narrower sense, however, 居酒屋 only refers to so-called "Japanese izakaya", which typically serve yakitori, edamame, tempura, sashimi, etc., along with some non-Japanese food like pizza. (Many 居酒屋 today are heavily influenced by Western culture and are no longer equipped with tatami or red chōchin.) When Japanese people hear 居酒屋 without any context, they would have almost the same thing as so-called "Japanese izakaya" in mind.

There are many Western-style "pubs" in Japan (like this), too, and they mainly identify themselves as パブ, バル, 酒場, etc. We often just say お店 instead of 居酒屋 to vaguely include everything; one can say "来週の歓迎会で使うお店を探しておいて", and this お店 refers to everything from Japanese izakaya to Chinese restaurants to Hooters to beer gardens.

  • Great. This is exactly the kind of answer I was after. – Andrew Grimm Sep 14 '16 at 5:31
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The Izakaya is more of a mind-set than just one thing. At its most basic it is a place that serves food and drink. The size can range from a single counter and a single table or to something like a standard franchise restaurant. They can have all the things you mentioned. Small portions, large banquette size portions, anything goes. They allow smoking, or don't (sometimes you get your own closed room for smoking), hey sometimes all the rooms are closed and private, others are open and airy. My thought is that there is no difference in the usage as there are places that have been around for 100's of years and as mentioned it's such a broad word that it would be hard to change its use.

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