Word of the Week: ~放題 (hōdai)

Posted: 17th March 2022

Hello and welcome to the Ippo Ippo Japanese Word of the Week!

This week's word is...


~ほうだい / hōdai

Although a dictionary will throw up a whole list of definitions, the main meaning of 放題 (hōdai) is "as much as one pleases" or "all you can", as in...

食べ放題 (tabe-hōdai)

食べ (tabe) is from 食べる (taberu - to eat), making 食べ放題 (tabe-hōdai) the Japanese for "all you can eat"!

食べ放題 (tabe-hōdai) is quite a common option at a lot of izakayas in Japan, but it wasn't something I came across until I was an exchange student there.

While "all you can eat" seems a fairly simple concept, there are typically a few rules, including a time limit or only being able to order from a certain menu. As you may expect, the more you spend the greater your options.

For example, this yakiniku restaurant offers a three course all-you-can-eat option (90mins) with:

  • A selection of 70 dishes for ¥3,278 (approx. £21)
  • A luxury option with 100 dish options for ¥4,818 (approx. £31)

What's more, children under primary school age eat for free, while primary school age children eat for half price and those aged 65+ get a ¥550 discount!

By the way, watch out if you're ever shopping or dining out in Japan: you may need to look a little closer for the price including consumer tax, which is currently 10%. Quite often both prices (with and without tax) will be listed alongside one another.

Oh, and if what you're picturing is a buffet meal with budget ingredients (as like what you'd usually get in the UK), you're in for a pleasant surprise! While buffet dining is a thing in Japan, 食べ放題 (tabe-hōdai) is generally something separate, essentially giving you the run of a restaurant menu and allowing you to order dishes as you fancy them, typically sharing with others at your table.

飲み放題 (nomi-hōdai)

If you're out for a meal, be it with friends, family or colleagues, you may wonder what the drink options are.

If you scroll down the page of this other yakiniku restaurant, you should find an image of some drinks with the characters 飲み放題 next to it. This restaurant is offering:

  • All you can drink (100mins) for ¥1,419 (approx. £9), with options including beer, highballs (a type of cocktail), shōchū (a spirit) and soft drinks

While some places offer a separate option for all-you-can-drink soft drinks vs alcohol, if you're dining as a group you're likely to find that everyone will need to select the same menu, as otherwise it's not possible to keep track of who's drinking what. This can make it a little pricier to go out with a group if you don't drink alcohol, although then again, £9 may seem worth it!

食べ飲み放題 (tabe-nomi-hōdai)

This is a wonderful mishmash of two words made into one very handy bit of vocab: 食べ飲み放題 (tabe-nomi-hōdai) - all you can eat and drink!

If you got excited reading about the all-you-can-drink option above, it's worth bearing in mind that this is only available when selected along with the all-you-can-eat menu.

食べ飲み放題 (tabe-nomi-hōdai), while a lot of fun, tends to be somewhat abused by those experiencing it for the first time. This is not to say you shouldn't feel free to indulge - it's "all you can eat/drink" for a reason! However, there were, for example, izakayas near my old university in Japan that would simply refuse big groups of exchange students because they knew how much we would order!

If you want to avoid overdoing it - or indeed getting caught out by a bit of smallprint you overlooked or misunderstood - it may be worth going with a Japanese guide or someone else familiar with Japanese izakaya culture the first time you try it.

A Few More Uses of 放題 (hōdai)

The fun with 放題 (hōdai) doesn't end at eating and drinking! Here are some more ways you can use it:

1) 親がいないので、遊び放題だ (oya ga inai no de, asobi-hōdai da)

My parents are here so I can play/have as much fun as I want.

2) 図書館では本が読み放題だ (toshokan de wa hon ga yomi-hōdai da)

At the library you can read as many books as you like.

3) 宝くじに当たってお金が使い放題だ (takarakuji ni atatte o-kane ga tsukai-hōdai da)

I won the lottery so I can use as much money as I want.

I hope this was useful, and provided a fun little insight into both some Japanese language and culture!


Note: None of the restaurants here are affiliations of any kind. They are simply my random internet search finds!

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