Dining Sumirakuen ダイニング炭楽園

We decided to try another izakaya 居酒屋 not too far from where we live. I have passed it dozens of times during the daytime, as it is close to the university. So finally we thought it was time to give it a try.

Dining sumirakuen is located in Nishihara, on the corner of Rt.s 29 and 34. It has a few spaces in front of the restaurant, as well as a huge lot across the street. Inside is nicely decorated with plenty of tables and seating, so we had no problem getting a table with no reservation. You will need to remove your shoes when you enter the establishment and store them on the shoe shelf. As with most establishments, there is a “sitting fee” (called otoshi お通し) and they bring you out some sort of appetizer.


They surprisingly have an English menu in addition to the Japanese menu, however, not everything is listed on the English menu, so you may want to check out their specials written in Japanese. One of these is the iburi gakko cheese いぶりがっこチーズ. I ordered this on a whim, since one of the Google reviews said it was awesome; to be honest I was not 100% sure what it was. Anyway, out it came along with our beers… DELICIOUS! Iburi gakko is a smoked and pickled daikon, a specialty of Akita prefecture 秋田県. The slices of smoked pickle were then stuffed with a creamy tasty cheese. It was smoky, creamy, crunchy… a really good combination of flavors that went well with drinking (they recommend nihonshu, a.k.a. “sake” 日本酒, but we were having beer). I definitely recommend coming here in and trying this… it is a very unique dish that I have not seen anywhere else in Okinawa!

We also tried many other small dishes, that were also really good. But the iburi gakko cheese stood out as the most interesting. The beer was cold, the prices reasonable (not super cheap, but reasonably compared to other standard izakaya), and the food was all really ono (oishii). I can’t believe we had not tried this place in the 4 years we have been here… we will definitely return.

New Year gathering, Shinnenkai: 新年会

新年会 shinnenkai: first gathering in the New Year.

Shinnenkai is the counterpart to bonenkai 忘年会 which is the end of the year party. These parties are social gatherings for work, classmates, social clubs, or just friends; they typically involve alcohol, much like bonenkai, or well, any other Japanese social gathering.

This year, the hulau (hula dance group) I am in held a shinnenkai in Naha, at an izakaya just off Kokusaidori in Naha called とぅばらーま Toubaraama (it is named after a folk song from the Yaeyama islands). It is a decent sized place, with a large party room (with a small stage) available for rental. As with most large gatherings, it was a set fee for tabehoudai 食べ放題 and nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can eat and drink).

The food was mostly local-style Okinawan/Ryukuan favorites, and in the regular restaurant part they had menus in English, Chinese, and Korean (seeing as how we were on the main tourist drag of Kokusaidori, this is not a surprise). The had juices, awamori, Orion beer, and various highball (cocktails). Since it was a large group to accommodate, it was set up buffet and self-service style rather than table service (which is more often how it is with group course plans). When there are not large groups reserving the hall, they also offer entertainment such as sanshin, Okinawa folk music/dance, etc during dinner time.

During the shinnenkai, members from each class put on stage performances, there was a raffle, and a gift exchange. It was my kumu’s (sensei, teacher) birthday, so we also got her a cake. Overall, it was a lot of fun and a good bonding experience.

Afterwards, groups broke out to go to nijikai 二次会 (these means “round 2” in Japanese, and then sometimes 三次会, etc.). We went to a westernized izakaya that had a lady’s course menu 女性コース. At this point, our little group was pretty tipsy and went home~

address of Toubaraama: 〒900-0013沖縄県那覇市牧志2-7-25




Hokkaido Uoman: 北海道魚萬

北海道: Hokkaido

Yesterday for lunch we went to a newly built complex made up of mostly some restaurants in Urasoe. We wanted to try this izakaya type place, called Hokkaido Uoman, which serves Hokkaido foods; it is open 24 hours, and although they have morning and lunch specials, you can order off the grand menu any time.

The interior is really fun, and has really interesting “fishing village” elements and decor. It does not feel like you are in Okinawa anymore, but transported up north (and perhaps back in time too). We got to sit in one of the booths that looks like a large barrel. I should have taken pictures but was too distracted looking around. I am easily entertained by the simple details, with the lanterns, the fishing bobs, and various wooden elements.

The menu has a lot of interesting food, and definitely specializes in seafood shipped in from Hokkaido. We ordered a few dishes to split, and everything was really good. The order of 唐揚げいか fried squid rings was enormous~~ my husband was so happy with how fresh they were. He also got the かにみそ crab innards, served in the shell; he said an interesting and tasty treat, though maybe just an occasional one. We also got some typical stuff like 漬物 pickles, cabbage salad, and Hokkaido seafood salt yakisoba. Although some items were a little expensive, our bill only came out to ~2500 yen! Next time we will come for dinner and spend a little more; more husband looks forward to having some of those huge scallops on the table-top grills, and maybe some more crab dishes since all the seafood was good quality here.

Although I have not yet made it to Hokkaido (in October I will fix this, as we have a fall foliage viewing trip planned already), I really enjoyed this restaurant. If you are living or staying in Okinawa and want a small taste of Hokkaido, I think this place is really nice, even though I have no idea if it is “authentic” Hokkaido taste, at least the much of the seafood is from there. The menu even has pictures and English words, so not to worry if your Japanese skills are low.

address: 〒901-2101 沖縄県浦添市西原2-4-1 (P’s SQUARE Building, 2nd floor)

Izakaya: 居酒屋

Izakaya are Japanese-style bars. But these are really nothing like American-style bars.

Often there will be an all-you-can-eat (食べ放題 tabehoudai) and all-you-can-drink (飲み放題 nomihoudai) option, which has a time interval, 90 minutes, 2 hours, or even up to 3 hours. Sometimes this is a bit risky, and you encounter some cheap, watered down beer… usually it depends on the pricing and the place. Most dishes are meant to be shared and are more appetizer style then full meals.

Izakaya are a great place to hold an informal gathering of coworkers, friends, classmates, etc. I have found Japanese people get much louder and outspoken at these gatherings, it is a good place to learn about people. For instance, I participate in a hula dance class once a week and we held a 忘年会 bonenkai (end of the year party) at a local izakaya to celebrate the success of our Christmas show. After months of nervously struggling to express myself in Japanese, I found out one of the members speaks somewhat decent English and studied at a US university for 3 years. Sigh. So, maybe I will use English when I am stuck on Japanese now.

A word of warning: some places have a “sitting” fee, which basically ensures that you spend some minimum amount. They will bring out a small appetizer dish that is “required” to purchase. Usually it is cheap, ~300円; this is done in lieu of an entrance fee. This is called “otoshi” お通し.

A tip: if you want draft beer, just order “nama” 生 (and how many you want). Draft beer is nama bi-ru 生ビール, and for short, just nama will do.

Another thing to remember: the drinking and driving BAC is very low 0.03, so always take advantage of public transport, taxi, or DAIKO services! DAIKO is a service in Japan, where someone will drive your car home for you (teamed up with a taxi). It is very convenient and fairly cheap, just a little more than a regular taxi one-way. And much cheaper than a DUI.

In Okinawa, one of the izakaya I like is called Paikaji ぱいかじ and it has a location near to the university. It is more local food and has Ryukuan entertainment on weekends. You and your party get a private room (with a bing-bong so you can ring for the staff when you want to order something), unlike in a western bar. It also has cheap beer specials.

Next time you are in Japan or Okinawa, be sure to stop by a local izakaya (the more salary men, the better).



Paikaji address: 〒901-2211 沖縄県宜野湾市宜野湾3丁目15−19

Skewers: 串 

串 kushi: skewer. The kanji even looks like a skewer, so easy to remember!

串屋: kushi-ya, the place where you will find grilled or fried skewered food. Kushi-yaki 串焼き is grilled, kushi-katsu 串カツ is fried. Similarly, there is 焼き鳥 yakitori which is grilled chicken and 炭火焼き sumibi-yaki which is charcoal grilled foods. All of these tend to mean skewered food in different variations.

In my opinion, these tend to be great drinking establishments; you can order individual sticks and small dishes over the course of the night.

Even though I do not eat meats, there are often times many other types of skewers and side dishes I can eat. Commonly you will find shiitake mushrooms, onions, shishitou peppers, garlic, potato, corn, tofu, ginkgo nuts, eggplant, lotus root… I also like edamame to snack on, and most establishments will serve you raw cabbage with tare (たれ sauce) for free. My husband likes the spicy cucumber pickles, too.

The kushi-katsu are fried, so this can be a little bit heavy while drinking. But fried foods and beer do seem to go well together. One of my favorites is 紅生姜 benishouga (pickled ginger). It sounds a little odd, deep-fried pickled ginger, but give it a try! Something about the flavor is really good to me. I always order it when we go to fried skewer restaurants.

There are even some chains that do all-you-can-eat kushi-katsu where you fry at your table! You get a plate and pick up the foods you want (meats, fish, vegetables, etc) and bring it back to you table, slather in batter and go. I warn you, you will smell like a fry pit when you leave; luckily they have storage underneath you seats for any jackets, purses, etc to protect them from the smell. It is a unique and fun experience, though, so try it out when you are in Japan.

Rakkyou: らっきょう

The best part of spring is riding my bicycle around the neighborhood, scouring the farm boxes for fresh vegetables. Rakkyou are currently in season here in Okinawa.  They are kinda like shallots… but their flavor is wonderful as pickles or as tempura.

Recently, we had “izakaya” night at home. Izakaya 居酒屋 means Japanese style bar/drinking place.  I was gifted an expensive seishuu 清酒 from Niigata prefecture after a research meeting with a company president. That is another topic for later. Anyway, we made rakkyou tempura which really goes well with alcohol! Refreshing.