Izakaya in My Sights

We are off to Japan for about seven weeks. During this time, I may not be as busy with my blogs/posts as I would be when home. For this, I apologize.

With the exception of Australia, my home country, my favorite place in which to travel is Japan. And one of the reasons – and there are many – are the izakaya. They are peculiar to Japan. Put simply, they are places to eat, drink, and socialize. Perhaps the nearest equivalent is the pinxos bar in the Basque region of Europe.

Attempts to reproduce izakaya in other countries invariably fail. The ‘vibe’ cannot be transported. There are izakaya in Australian cities, and pinxos bars too. They are ersatz. To find a genuine izakaya you must go to Japan.

They are not hard to find there. Janet, my partner, has literally fallen into one in Nagasaki as I outlined (13 October 2022) in a previous blog. It has been estimated that there is one eating place in Tokyo per one hundred people. Apparently, this is the most favorable ratio in the world. Not all these eating places are izakaya, but a substantial proportion would be.

In 1989, a sociologist named Oldenburg, introduced the terms ‘first place’, ‘second place’, and ‘third place’. ‘First place’ is the home environment, ‘second place’ is the work environment, and ‘third place’ a haven beyond these two, free of the agendas they entail. It is a place characterized by egalitarianism, where people of varying backgrounds – rich and poor, local and out-of-town, prominent and obscure, powerful and powerless – can mingle together as equals. The Japanese izakaya are examples of ‘third places’.

They are places of cultural significance, culture here taking a small ‘c’. They are the valves of pressure cookers. They are places where light hearted banter is the order of the day, places in which to pause and reflect, places where all machinations are out the window. They are necessary and wonderful places.

We have them in Australia too. It should not take you long to figure out where your ‘third places’ are. Perhaps they are not so well integrated into the social fabric as are izakaya in Japan, but they are there. With third places, we stay in contact with the big picture in a perfectly relaxed manner. We are better able to keep things in perspective, to maintain our sanity.

Without third places, we are truly diminished.

So, sayonara for the time being. I will try to post something while I am away, but there are no guarantees. I might well be enjoying myself too much in an izakaya somewhere.