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How to enjoy a night out in Utsunomiya

Japanese restaurants and izakayas can have some rules that, to someone unfamiliar, may seem odd. These rules and manners of course apply to Utsunomiya as well, and so we’ve created a short list of things that visitors might find most confusing. We of course want you to enjoy your stay in Utsunomiya, and you shouldn’t run into any trouble so long as you’re familiar with these rules!

Otoshi (お通し)

Otoshi, or tsukidashi as its known in some locations, is a small appetizer that is sometimes served in Izakaya. This is typically something like some edamame (steamed beans) or a small salad. It is often served without you ordering it, and this can lead to some confusion. Additionally, most izakaya do charge for it — though it should never be any significant amount (200-500 yen). It’s just a customary service and isn’t intended to be a ripoff, so just enjoy the snacks while you check the menus!

Paying at a Restaurant (お会計)

Paying at a restaurant is a bit different in Japan than it is overseas. Your server will typically bring you your bill at the table, but in order to settle the bill you’ll need to head up to the cashier who is usually situated at the entrance to the restaurant. Once you’ve enjoyed your time at the restaurant or izakaya, just take your bill with you to the cashier and you’ll be sorted out in no time!

Music Charge (ミュージックチャージ)

Many jazz bars or music clubs have what is called a Music Charge. This is, essentially, an entry fee that you’ll pay in addition to whatever food and drink you consume in the venue. Bars and clubs will usually have a Music Charge if there’s a performance happening. While some locations do offer some extra services with their Music Charge (such as one free drink, or a free snack) this isn’t necessarily the norm. Be sure you check the Music Charge of a location before heading there, just to make sure you’re not surprised!

Tipping

Tipping is not required in Japan, and often isn’t even accepted. While some higher-end restaurants may charge a service fee, this is usually included in the bill, and does not require additional tipping on your part. Servers can even get in trouble for accepting tips depending on the location or business, so it’s best not to leave a tip unless it’s made very clear that they are accepted.

Riding the bus

The local buses from JR Utsunomiya Station do not accept Suica cards (the multipurpose transit passes available in Japan) and you have to pay by cash. Buses work a bit differently in Japan than they do overseas — you’ll grab a ticket from a machine when you get on, which shows what stop you boarded at, and then when you get off you give the ticket, with the money, to the driver. The fair in Utsunomiya is usually 170 yen one way, but most buses can make change in Japan so don’t worry if you don’t have the exact amount!
We hope that these pointers will be helpful when you head out to enjoy the nightlife of Utsunomiya. Even if it takes some time to adjust to the culture of Japan and Utsunomiya, don’t worry — it’s a beautiful city with friendly people and plenty to do. Kick back, enjoy the food and the drink and the music, and have a wonderful stay!

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