So far, we’ve talked about izakaya (the casual comfortable watering hole, like Japan’s answer to Cheers) and the tachinomi (if you like to drink but don’t like chairs).  Both are fantastic locations to go with friends, or on a date.  But, what if you just want to drink and flirt without fear of being shot down?  Well, the “snack bar” might be right for you.

We aren’t using a Japanese word then providing a translation, because the term used in Japan, スナックバー is pronounced “sunakku ba”… Snack bar, quite literally.  Small snacks are served with drinks, though they may have a ‘bottle fee’ in order to hold onto a bottle for a customer.  These bars don’t charge an entry fee, though they often charge by the hour.  This is because the real attraction is not the liquor or the snacks, but the company kept.

Women are employed at snack bars to flirt with customers.  This is not a highly guarded secret; everyone knows they’re doing their job, but if they do it well enough, nobody really cares.  A “hidden charge” of a snack bar may be the quiet encouragement for the customers to buy drinks for the women they’re chatting with.  While this can drive up the bill, it can also be unhealthy for the employees, having to drink every night.  Many snack bar workers also tend to be older than the pretty young girls employed at hostess clubs (which we’ll talk about at the end of the week).

Japan is a country where over-working is glorified.  Many salarymen find themselves working long hours and off the clock, just to meet expectations.  This lack of time and increased stress has led to various services, such as paying to cuddle with a cute girl in 30 minute increments, or in this case, paying to have a girl flirt with you, sing karaoke with you, and laugh at your jokes.  Even married men may visit snack bars, for the “harmless fun” of it.

Snack bars, not unlike fictional stories, require some willing suspension of disbelief.  The customers know that the woman they’re chatting with is paid to call them “manly” (rather than hairy) or “smart” (rather than nerdy), but the effortless fun can make it difficult to resist.

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a mid-week break from our discussion on Japanese drinking establishments, to talk about the art of pouring sake.  Why is it an art?  Because it’s Japan, that’s all the reason you need to make something into a ceremony!  After that, we’ll be right back to our series, continuing with Japanese cocktail bars.

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