How Will American Fast Food Affect Japanese Culture?

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American Fast Food in JapanMmm, mmm, mmm! I will be the first one to tell you that a McDonald’s chicken sandwich with a large order of crispy, lightly salted, golden fries followed by the sweet frothiness of Triple Thick Strawberry Milkshake* can be pure taste bud bliss! The effect is intensified when I’m stoically focused on training and eating right. I’m in training mode as I’m typing this…man I hope this post doesn’t knock me the freak of the “eat right” wagon.
*I don’t think they have Triple thick milkshakes in Japan.*

Here in Japan, I’ve seen a number of American fast food chains chillin’ all over the place: Mc Donald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s (they’re making a comeback it seems), KFC, and Subway (does that really count?). It’s hard to say which chain is my favorite, though. I have always been a fan of Wendy’s because the sandwiches always seemed more robust than most chains, if that makes any sense. Wendy’s has these great-tasting, old-fashioned burgers/sandwiches, which I loved; I DO enjoy a good frosty, too. McDonald’s of course has the milkshakes, french fries, and crispy apple pies down to a franchise science. KFC on the other hand just knows how to put together a good meal: juicy chicken with mashed potatoes, and other side dishes that no other chain can really match. The truth is, I can’t choose! I like them all equally for different reasons.

Despite how good it can be, it is very rare, that I eat fast food. When I lived in America, I was much more apt to stop by and grab a bite or something sweet from my local fast food joint. I would go so far as to say I would eat fast food 2-4 times a month. Here in Japan, though, I’d say I eat fast food maybe once every two or three months…if that. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t grab something from my local コンビニ (convenience store) from time to time, but my fast food intake in the last four years is lower than it has ever been. I feel a lot healthier for it, but for me, Japanese food is like a tasty, healthy novelty, so I’ve kind of gotten hooked. Conversely, American fast food is like a novelty here in Japan. People in Japan love fast food just as much as Americans do. Okay, maybe not just as much, but they are going and it must be profitable, otherwise chains wouldn’t just keep popping up.

Japanese Fast Food I’m definitely not a fast food basher by any means. It’d be silly of me to preach about “The fast food machine being evil…” because I do patron these businesses on occasion. Out of curiosity, though, I do sometimes wonder what impact American fast food culture will have on Japanese society.

In America, the busier people become, the more popular fast food seems to become. Of course this doesn’t apply to every person, but as a whole, there is a growing trend of fast food consumption when there is less time to cook. Japan is a society of very busy people. Businessmen, businesswomen, and researchers are always packed on trains after late days at work. More and more I’m starting to see Japanese workers hopping on trains with McDonald’s bags in hand, trying to catch a quick bite before the last legs of their commutes home.

What exactly will this mean in ten years? In twenty years? Will the growth of fast food culture in Japan lead to bigger waistlines and a health-related issues down the road? I’d like to believe that because Japan does such a good job of providing a healthy, balanced diet in many of it’s schools, that people will think of fast food as something they treat themselves to from time to time, but only time will tell.

What do you think?

Donald Ash

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  • Sarah

    I can’t wait to eat freshness and MOS burger when I’m in Japan next month. I don’t eat fast food at all normally but I love those 2
    Oh and yes, Subway should definitely be on your list! Have you seen the ingredients?? Believe me, it ain’t healthy, even the bread has preservatives, colours, flavours etc. The ham is like 60% meat, so gross.
    I love your blog btw

    • Donald Ash

      I have to agree with you there, MOS Burger is pretty darn good, too.
      I guess it would be hard for a lot of chains that big to be totally healthy just based on how their business are run.
      I didn’t really look into the Subway ingredients, that’s interesting stuff.

      P.S.-Thank you for the feedback, Sarah!

    • petaris

      MOS Burger is awesome. I haven’t eaten at a Freshness though. I have noticed that French fries in Japan taste a lot different and I am not really a fan of them. And don’t bother looking for the ketchup.

      As for fast food in general, I would consider ramen and yakisoba shops to be prime examples that go way back before the import of McDonalds.

  • Kurt

    Weirdest one I ever saw was in Amman Jordan…..Popeye’s chicken! WTF? Remember being in China many times, anticipating a wonderful chinese lunch with our distributor only to have them show up with bags of KFC sandwiches. I did notice fast food in Japan tasted a tic different, maybe just a tad less greasy than in the U.S.

    • Donald Ash

      Kurt!!! OMFG! How the freak have you been??? Long time, bro! Yeah, man, that fast food is something serious. I know it’s not something a person should eat on a regular basis, but it can be a nice treat on occasion. All things in moderation I suppose.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jared.harrill Jared Harrill

    For such a healthy culture there is an awful lot of salt and oil being, and overly cooked veggies consumed.

    • Donald Ash

      Yeah, with too much salt and oil, guess it’s hard to stay healthy for long.

  • Jeffrey

    A little late to the party with this topic. I first ate at McDonalds in 1979. Outside of the U.S., Japan has the highest concentration of fast food restaurants in the world.

  • Parker

    I suddenly remember the documentary “Super Size Me” when I saw this post. :P

    • Donald Ash

      Oh yeah, Super Size Me was a good documentary. It’s hard not to think about it, right? Especially since fast food is just so popular :)

  • Vivian Morelli

    I LOVE your blog!! I can’t believe I just found out about it!! You have very good insights about Japanese culture, I’ll keep reading.
    http://www.vivianlostinseoul.blogspot.jp/

    • Donald Ash

      THANK YOU SO MUCH! You’re blog is cool too. I’ve been meaning to watch Lost in Translation again since I’ve been here for a while. I’m sure a lot of it is so true to life. I appreciate you coming by to check out my blog.

  • Taro

    Hi Donald,

    The problem you mentioned has long been the issue of the diet in Japan, some pay attention to it and other don’t. I will skip this.

    If you like the bentoh – boxed meal, do try to have it at the shop which focusing only on the bentoh business. There are still some family-runs-bentoh-shops in town, or else, the franchised bentoh shop such as “origin bento”. These two types are my recommendations.

    http://www.toshu.co.jp/origin/menu/menu.php?kubun=2

    Not every but the shop like convenience stores and supermarkets, they must deal with great number of item and avoid the risk of causing food poisoning, as a result they are said that using the artificial preservatives – against the indication to the label on bentoh box that tell they don’t.

    The said companies express they don’t use the artificial preservatives. But under the regulation. The duty of indication is depending on the kind of the preservatives and its amount. If they were not listed or their amounts under the duty of indication, naturally, these give the loophole.

    Since “convini” and supermarket cannot concentrate on only the item of bentoh but innumerable, not to have any law suit by the customer ate their bentoh and came down with food poisoning or by the shareholder who got angry with the stock price slump caused by the incident. Imagine to take advantage of the loophole is nothing but attractive for the manager of the big company.

    Before knowing the matters above, I used to ate the bentoh at convini and found the experience that daily consecutive consumption of their bentoh casued dullness both physically and mentally.

    The shop specialized in bentoh – whether it was a family business or franchised one – they take care only about the meals they prepare, and as far as I know, they don’t use the artificial preservatives. The former style shop often serves you delicious foods sometimes even at lower price and the latter shows you at affordable price.

    For the dignity of convini and supermarket business, I must add the tendancy of the Japanese. Not a small number of the people are apt to eat convini & supermarket bentoh a half day later after the purchase, but as for the bentoh-shop “bentoh” will consume within a few hours. And if you ask the bentoh shop workers the expire day, they will tell you “within a few hours after the perchase”. Of course, there are many who eat it immediate or soon after the perchase, yet now you know another reason of the double standards in bentoh business.

    Many non-Japanese people go to the place of world-widely known fast food restaurant or the domestic modern franchised one which has frequently English menu. However there often wait the delicacy undiscovered by you at the family running restaurant or bentoh shop with – at least – affordable price.

    I hope I could provided some useful informations, insights and suggestions to you and your readers.

    With apology of my broken English.

  • rpc

    Well Japanese if they are in a hurry for a meal usually they result to buying bento boxed food at a grocery store so thats why the fast food restaurants are probably not quite as crowded as they could potentially be. I think Japanese will still stick to bento more over fast food throughout the years ahead because they were raised on that food so it always has an aquired taste in their heart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Epke.bauer Dennis Bauer

    It is already a part of Japan since 1971, so it already part of the culture

  • jean-luc

    j’aime beaucoup votre blog tres interessant surtout que je pars pour tokyo lundi merci de vos astuces

    • Donald Ash

      Merci beaucoup, mon ami.

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