lifestyle

Doggy bags slowly infiltrate Japanese dining scene

22 Comments
By Mayumi Saito

Diners do not flinch at the generally big portions served in U.S. restaurants. It’s not necessarily because they can finish but know that they can take leftovers home. If you ask for the same option at Japanese restaurants, however, most would refuse, citing the lack of boxes ready and fear of food poisoning.

Consider the agriculture ministry’s 2001 report that the customers’ leftovers constituted 58% of food waste at restaurants nationwide. In fiscal 2007, 11 million tons of food were reportedly discarded from the entire food industry, one of the highest figures among the industrial countries, despite Japan’s lowest self-sufficiency rate.

Yet, the recent ecology boom may be changing the Japanese perception toward food leftovers. Last November, Yokohama Kokusai Hotel, Shin-Yokohama Kokusai Hotel and Tachikawa Grand Hotel started doggy-bag services after buffet parties for the first time in the hotel industry. According to the hotel group’s general manager, Toshihiko Sato, takeout is limited to 11 items of bread, pasta, meat and dessert that are confirmed safe after several hours on a bacteria test. The customers are still requested to eat their leftovers on the same day.

“Our patrons praise and have given the most positive feedback on the doggy bags among all our environmental measures,” Sato says. He explains that the new service has curbed kitchen waste from the hotels to be recycled into livestock feed and fertilizers by 7%.

While Kokusai Hotel Group serves disposable boxes made from corn powder for the doggy bags, Italian restaurant Osteria Lucca in Hiroo, ,has been providing reusable boxes since 2008. Owner chef Shuichiro Masuya says that the restaurant’s customers are mostly regulars and happy to take leftovers from the usually large portions.

“As a professional, I don’t let them take raw food like carpaccio. But if it’s a meat dish, I’ll even hand them a recipe for the next day. I can’t stand watching food wasted,” he says enthusiastically from his experience working in an Italian restaurant in China. Leftovers also cost a recycling fee, Masuya explains, at the contracted rate of 1,000 yen for 10 kg.

Osteria Lucca’s reusable doggy bags were co-produced with design company ReacJapan Co. The design company has released several models of foldable, plastic boxes for 399-890 yen, enabling different restaurants and customers to carry since 2008. According to president Isao Miyazawa, the product was inspired by the members’ overseas experiences along with Fukushima Prefecture’s “bring your own Tupperware” campaign.

“Doggy bags are taken for granted in the U.S. and many parts of Asia. We wanted to spread the custom in Japan, too. People in this country used to take leftovers home after weddings just a few decades ago,” Miyazawa says.

Like-minded people founded non-profit organizations DoggyBag Committee in Tokyo in March and Doggybag Promotion Business Cooperatives in Saitama Prefecture in April last year. ReacJapan Co promoted their doggy bags together with the former group at events and festivals in Tokyo neighborhoods and beyond.

Thanks to their campaign efforts, now more than 200 restaurants carry reusable doggy bags and so do over 250 stores across the country. Large supermarket chain Ito Yokado Co’s 107 stores just started carrying the Reac Japan’s boxes in January, and the design company has shipped 85,000 boxes so far since their launch.

Miyazawa says his company gets many positive responses from small restaurants where main chefs manage the entire food stock. But large restaurant chains still show anxiety despite their in doggy bags.

Seven & i Food Systems Co, which operates Denny’s and other restaurant chains, is one of them. “We haven't ruled out using doggy bags. But it’s premature to offer them before they are accepted by Japanese society,” spokeswoman Teruko Yamase says. “We take full responsibility for the food even after customers take them home.” Then, she lists issues such as some food being unfit for doggy bags or the hygiene condition inside the customers’ used boxes. “Our mission at the moment is adjust the portions so there won’t be leftovers,” Yamase concludes.

DoggyBag Committee reported their late December survey results that 90% of the respondents supported taking home leftover food from restaurants. The 332 people surveyed nationwide ranged from teenagers to those in their 70s.
 Only 8% of them opposed taking leftovers home, citing hygiene concerns or embarrassment of looking bad.

According to DoggyBag Committee, 30% of the respondents answered that they knew what doggy bags were, which is way above the 1% in 2008. “Interest in doggy bags is definitely rising nationwide. We need to keep on spreading the custom,” commissioner Keiichiro Yamamoto says.

Challenging the majority of restaurants’ and customers’ conservative mindsets, their campaign from Tokyo is now branching out with avid supporters in Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka and Gunma.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


22 Comments
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not true, took many doggy bags in japan

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Except for sashimi and sushi, I took doggy bags everywhere. Chinese, Italian, Indian, you name it, I did it.

Just ask for "mochi-kaeri" - 持ち帰り - I doubt any restaurant would refuse you (except eat all you can types)

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Now if only the portions would warrant taking something home.

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I doubt any restaurant would refuse you.

Wrong, many restaurants do refuse by explaining, "Gomen nee, dame desu yo. The food might go bad and we don't want to be liable for that." (a sumimasen as she bows and smiles, then turns to walk back to the kitchen, muttering under her breath, "moron.")

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If they say no, pull out your own plastic bags and put the food in there. That is what I do.

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goddog - smartest comment Ive read today! Whats the problem? Just BYO bag!

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People were taking food home 20 years ago when I first visited Japan.

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doggy bagging is a service that the restaurants can refuse if they want to but i don't see how they can't refuse if you bring your own bag. if they say you can't, then you should get a partial refund.

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I rarely go to restaurants, but once in a while I will (say something like 3-5 times since '91) and that is when I ask for a small portion as I will have seen what others were receiving & knew that was a meal or two in just one dish.

On rare situations I have noted most will ask for a "doggy bag", since the meal was THAT big, & know basically all will use it the next day.

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Sorry for the above relates to restaurants in Canada, not the USA & definately not Japan for I have never travelled out of Canada for some 40+ yrs in rare conditions.

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never had a portion big enough for a doggy bag, so dont really need it

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Was just thinking. When I was much younger, we used to get a doggy bag, and when we brought the stuff home, it went into Fido's bowl. He loved it.

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@InTheKnow I totally agree. it's pretty rare to have leftover food at restaurants in japan.

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I have never been in a situation that I needed a take out box in Japan. And as veteran of many restaurants in America I know that we don't even say "doggy bag" among the staff. We say take out box.

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I get full with just two bites of sandwich. But I am hungry often. Almost all the time, my bf orders in such a way that he can eat part of my food. But many times, we would take whatever that is remaining. I never had any problem in Japan. They never refused. they would sometimes, give me the foil and the styrofoam box so that I can pack it myself. It was never a problem.

Why do we have to say doggybag? Never feel shy to ask. Never waste food. SO much of hard work goes into making it. In some countries the restaurants themselves as if the guest wants the remaining food to be wrapped to take out.

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who's ever had anything left on their plate in japan ?

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Uh... Eat the left overs on the same day? Have these people heard of refrigerators? It keeps things cold and helps to keep bacteria at bay.

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Doggy bag for a buffet? Honestly, can they not get anything right here?? Most places I've been to abroad will charge more if you leave anything on your plate! They are just being asked to be ripped off.

I used to work with a teacher who would bring her own bags to yakiniku and whatnot to take meat home - order more than we could eat on purpose, bag the rest. I'm all for a doggie bag of left overs but honestly some people are so stingy it is shocking.

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i bring my own plastic container to the restaurant to pack up

the chinese restaurants here in Canada puts way too much on a plate. General rule is, if there are 5 people in a table, we would only order 4 dishes, but sometimes, my mum likes to over order... so we doggy bag it, but i want to be environmentally friendly, so I bring the plastic containers now instead of another styrofoam box.

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I started using taking uneaten food back home when I moved back to Australia (yet another country known for high numbers of obesity) after living in Japan for a number of years. I never have (past and present) the need for a doggy bag in Japan but my family and I were bloated when we started eating in Australian restaurants, we could only eat half of what was served. Even now, we still share dinner quite often.

Looking at people in the same group as myself (mid-40s), it is sad but not surprising to see there is a large percentage of overweight and unhealthy people. I saw a few plump Japansese in my time but not many are anywhere near some of the people I see here.

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who's ever had anything left on their plate in japan ?

That is all I could think about while reading this. Especially at lunch, I walk away a little hungry or I am hungry in a couple hours. That said, I am not advocating for the wasted portion amounts restaurants in the US serve.

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ditto. It must be for some women, who usually eat a bentou box so tiny, you can barely fit a bite size tamagoyaki and cherry tomato in it.

It's great to know it's beginning to be socially acceptable to bring back home, some left over nattou curry, during the evening commute. (^_^;)

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