The Linguistic Activities and Cultural Significance of the Izakaya

Author: Todd Allen (Kansai University, Japan)
Speaker: Todd Allen
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


The izakaya offer a destination in Japan for workers of all classes, for university students, and for tourists to ‘hang out’. These izakaya localities allow for socialising, eating, doing business, and for building rapport, typically with the assistance of alcohol. While these places are found in every corner of Japan, they have been seldom analysed in light of their cultural functionalities and the linguistic activities that transpire between owner and customer.

This study investigates communication in the Japanese izakaya-based drama, 深夜食堂 Shinya Shokudō (‘midnight dinner’). Sociolinguistic analyses of this drama indicate the role of the izakaya owner as establishment owner, mediator of disputes, and counsellor. While the drama is based on the owner, he seldom interacts with customers. The findings also suggest that the izakaya represents a refuge from daily life for customers, and becomes a place of interaction with local communities, filling voids of loneliness. Still, other customers use the izakaya as a child-minding facility or a place to meet colleagues after work.

Overall, this study exposes the cultural significance of the izakaya in Japanese society, as well as the role of the owner of this particular establishment, and how the owner interacts with customers. The study does not suggest the fictional context of the izakaya within the tv series as representative of larger izakaya society, and more so, of larger Japanese society. However, the study offers a snapshot of interactions based on the izakaya community, many of which have been borrowed from real life context. The performativity of and stylizations of characters and their discourses in the tv series does hence become somewhat representative of larger real-life society, and this study seeks to indicate to what extent this is legitimized as a real life representation through TV performance. Further, the izakaya has been franchised globally, and hence engages global customers, while also offering an ethnic symbolic venue for Japanese culture, where tourists both within Japan and outside of Japan look for the izkaya, branded as Izakaya overseas, to eat authentic food, to hear authentic Japanese language, and to experience authentic Japanese culture.

Further, the types of linguistic interactions that occur in an izakaya may not occur in other social settings in Japan, rendering these interaction types unique, and offering researchers an opportunity to view particular linguistic activities transpiring uniquely in a dramatic backdrop.

Keywords: Izakaya