Free “Otoshi” at Izakaya – Japanese Gesture of Hospitality | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Free “Otoshi” at Izakaya – Japanese Gesture of Hospitality

By Yae Sep 27, 2018

How often do you go to an “izakaya” – a casual type of pub that is popular for after-work drinking in Japan? There are many types of izakaya in Japan that offer a huge variety of Japanese dishes in an informal bar setting!

When entering an izakaya, it is very likely that you will get served a small appetizer you did not order from menu. This small appetizer is known as “otoshi” in Japanese, and often it is free. How come there is this special dish in Japan? Let’s find out the meaning behind the otoshi in this article!

1. Why Izakayas Offer “Otoshi” to Customers?

Otoshi is a small appetizer for all customers who enter the izakaya as they are waiting for their ordered food. After customers order, they need to wait for the food to be made and served, so the otoshi’s purpose is to act as an appetizer, which prevents customers from getting too hungry and irritated. Drinks would usually arrive at the customers’ table immediately after being ordered so guests at izakaya can enjoy drinking while eating otoshi for a short while. Waiting time will feel much shorter and do not become a problem to customers, especially at service hours when the izakaya is crowded.

And how was this small appetizer named “otoshi”?? Let’s see in the next part.

2. “Otoshi” is the Japanese Way of Showing Hospitality

“Otoshi” is written Japanese as “お通し” with the kanji that can be understood as “to pass through, go through.” Hence, this word bears the following meanings:

  • Waiters or waitresses inform the kitchen that they’ve gone through new customers’ tables.
  • Waiters or waitresses have passed the food or drink menu to the customers at each table.

Japanese people created this “お通し” to show hospitality to the customers, and the dish is understood to send this message: “Thank you for waiting. It takes time to prepare your dish so while you’re waiting, please enjoy this appetizer as a small token of our appreciation.”

Another interesting note regarding this unique appetizer is there are actually two ways to speak of it in Japanese. We normally say “otoshi” in the Kanto region, but we say “tsukidashi” in Kansai region. So, if you’re traveling around Kansai area and having dinner at an izakaya, don’t be confused when hearing the work “tsukidashi.” It has the same meaning as otoshi.

3. Some Izakaya Charge Money for Otoshi

Most izakayas offer customers Otoshi for free but some izakaya charge it. Why?

Here in Japan, many Japanese people go out for drinks at an izakaya after work or visit bars at night. Usually, people have dinner at the first place they visit, and just enjoy drinking at the next rounds. Hence, if people choose izakaya for the second or third round and only wish to order alcohol, these izakaya shops will not gain much benefit from a few beer orders.
To make sure they make a good profit, some izakaya offer customers otoshi and charge it as a base entering fee.

Generally, the price for the otoshi is about 300-500 yen depending on the izakaya. Some more luxurious izakaya can charge up to 1000 yen or more but this is quite rare.

4. Can We Refuse Otoshi?

Even when otoshi is to express hospitality from the izakaya, some people prefer receiving it due to 2 main reasons:

  • This is not what I want to eat.
  • Why do we have to pay extra for what we did not order?

Sadly, there are certain people who think this way about the otoshi service in Japan. In this case, should they refuse the otoshi? This depends on the izakaya! Some izakaya accept this request but some do not. If you don’t want to pay any extra charge for otoshi, it’s better to check the izakaya shop’s website before entering. If you look for the top menu, most izakaya clearly states whether or not they will charge extra for otoshi or for the table.

It’s better to not choose the ones that charge the otoshi if you feel like it is not necessary. However, as otoshi is the way to express hospitality, it’s better not to refuse it as courtesy but try to experience them!

Hopefully, after this article you have now learned about the way otoshi works at izakaya in Japan. Whether you like it or not, many Japanese people perform the otoshi manner at their own home by serving their homemade otoshi for their partners or family, which is referred to as “otsumami” in Japanese.

Also, when you try eating the otoshi at certain izakaya shops, it could be your chance to find out the dish quality of the izakaya before you order the food. I hope you will have fun trying some otoshi at izakaya and finding your favorite one!