The word you are looking for is nomihodai and it means all-you-can-drink!
But that’s not the only kind of Japanese all-you-can-drink! There are other words to know!
Drinking Culture in Japan
If you’re interested in learning about the drinking culture in Japan, I wrote a blog post about it a while ago. The biggest secret is that drinking is considered normal!
All-You-Can-Drink Soft Drinks
If you want soft drinks in Japan at a restaurant, you are likely to get just one serving. Refills are almost never free, unless you know the ins-and-outs of Japanese culture and language.
Yes, you can get unlimited soft drinks in Japan. You need to find a place that has a “beverage bar”! What this means is that you can actually order a glass and you can drink all you want from the beverage bar / “drink bar”. You’ll find it at many busy restaurants, I’d say about 15% of restaurants might offer this service. Typically you’ll find them at family restaurant type establishments, including Gusto, Saizeriya, and Joyfull.
Nomihodai is a type of beverage service that comes with all you can drink. You can find it at many izakaya, some restaurants, a couple of internet cafes, and even at karaoke establishments.
Izakaya: These bars in Japan are all over the place and are common places for salarymen to come drink after work if they have had a long and stressful day.
Net Cafes: Raum (means space in German) is a chain of internet cafes, with one located right in the heart of downtown Shinjuku near the station. It’s got all the internet cafe amenities you expect including private booths, comfortable chairs, free manga, and self-service drinks. But the difference with this net cafe is there’s all you can drink alcohol and it has beer and cocktails.
Warnings About All You Can Drink in Japan
There Are Some Soft Limits
If a restaurant feels you might be getting out of hand with drinking too much they will often simply slow down service. You may order a drink but find it takes 20 or 30 minutes to get to you. Or they may pour little or no alcohol at all, or they’ll be smart and do a very thin “top pour” so you think there’s still alcohol.
Also they won’t hesitate to throw you out if you’re bothering other customers. Now this is pretty rare. Being loud and excitedly talking will not get you thrown out. It’s mainly if you look like you would physically fit another person that causes them to worry about you.
Be Warned Of Extra Fees
Otoshi is a kind of cover charge charged by restaurants as a seating fee, due to the price of rent in Tokyo. Often this fee is pretty reasonable, like $3-$5. You’ll find it in other cities, but not as frequently. Be wary of getting gouged by higher charges. Some unscrupulous businesses add a “service charge” and don’t call it “otoshi” in order to trick patrons.
In fact, this can go far beyond just a few dollars. Some places, especially those with hostesses that are dedicated to your table, will offer amazing drink specials but tack on tons of unheard of fees ranging from nighttime fees to hostess fees to table charges to bottle charges and beyond. Often you might even know you’re going to be charged for a service you’re receiving until you’re brought the bill at the end.
One common such fee is a “night fee” which can be 50% of your bill and is charged to you if you stay at the facility after a specific time, such as midnight or last-train. This is a common surprise fee at a girls bar.
Avoid Street Callers
If someone is encouraging you to drink at a place on the street, that is that person’s job and they receive a $5-$10 commission on your visit. That means prices will absolutely be higher. What’s far worse is that some tourist have reported being drugged and having their debit cards used for thousands of dollars at these sketchy establishments. Avoid these places at all costs. They are known to prey on tourists.
Watered Down Drinks
Some nomihodai establishments will serve you 20 drinks and you’ll notice you never really get drunk. This is because some places shadily water down their drinks so that they don’t have to spend much money on the alcohol they’re serving. Be wary.