Izakayas: The Art of Unwinding in Tokyo


Offered by: George Nobechi (Award-winning, internationally exhibited photographer who launched the Santa Fe Workshops in Asia)

starting at $350/person

up to 2 people

approx. 5 hours

Travel photography

Want to see and capture how locals in Tokyo unwind and let go?

This experience takes you right in the center of Tokyo’s izakaya lanes lit by their trademark lanterns and neons. While the original izakayas started off as houses for sake tasting accompanied by local delicacies, these “lantern districts” in recent years have become inundated with visiting “street” photographers, most of whom are shooting the “same” stuff for their Instagram walls. Izakayas are synonymous with Tokyo culture — this is where Tokyoites meet after work to decompress, drink and eat a little something while socializing with colleagues, bosses, and patrons. Venture out with George and explore some of the older and lesser-known neighborhoods, where making distinctive photos during blue hour and nightfall is still possible and rewarding.

  • Get an inside look at an integral part of Tokyo’s culture. While upscale Michelin star restaurants have their own place, Tokyo’s mainstay food culture and a true local ambiance is still found in the izakaya, a definitive cuisine trend along the lines of sushi
  • Watch izakaya masters (the equivalent of a chef) at work as they pour passion into their craft and patrons liven up the atmosphere
  • George breaks down all barriers to entering an izakaya, which typically do not speak or serve menus in English. In fact, Japanese locals are sometimes nervous about entering a new izakaya. This experience is a true Tokyo experience made visually all the more enticing with George’s help

This experience is most suited for any short-term visitor to Tokyo that wants to go beyond the “typical” Tokyo sights and features. Whether you are a travel, street, documentary photographer or just prefer capturing candid moments that are “authentic,” George takes you to a very real and local experience.

  • Visit 2 to 3 neighborhoods (lantern districts) and unique vantage points, depending on the night of the week
  • Shoot a curated photogenic mix of atmospheric settings both inside and outside of izakaya establishments
  • Patronize an izakaya for drinks for seated access inside and shoot the interior environments
  • Learn about the history of the izakaya and their influence in Japanese tradition and culture

Additional information

Meeting point
George will set a meeting point depending on your accommodation location such that your travel is minimal and easy

Recommended equipment
A “street” photography camera is preferable over a cumbersome, intimidating SLR. A mirrorless camera with a focal length between 28mm~50mm is recommended. Smartphones are also fine for this experience.

Activity level
Medium – some walking involved

Important Notes
To look less “touristy” and to further blend in, it is helpful to not dress in overly colorful sportswear, shorts, have a large backpack, etc. This is not critical of how you dress, but Tokyoites tend to slightly dress up. A collared shirt or slightly stylish top with khakis or jeans work well. Also, note that one round of drinks are included as part of the experience. Additional drinks and snacks are at your own cost. We will be interacting with locals and other patrons within the premises of the izakaya and attempting to take candid, environmental portraits, at opportune moments. Having said that, please be mindful that these are public places and follow George’s guidance before taking out your camera and clicking photos. The heart of this experience is to take in the energy and vitality of an izakaya along with the camaraderie of Tokyo’s patrons. Pictures will follow when appropriate and must not beset the “here to wind down” hallmark of these establishments.