lifestyle

Setagaya burger master goes for traditional touch

78 Comments
By Chris Betros

Man cannot live by hamburgers alone. Well, Hirotsugu Hagiwara practically does. Tucked away in a side street in Sangenjaya, Setagaya Ward, is a delightful gourmet hamburger restaurant named Hara Kara where the amiable Hagiwara serves up healthy and filling gourmet burgers – and he eats them every day, himself.

Actually, Hagiwara – who is around 40 -- admits that he never had a hamburger until he was about 20. “I didn’t think they were very filling. I always preferred rice,” he recalls, sitting down in his restaurant. After studying service and hospitality at Toyo University and then Rikkyo University (and some part-time work at MOS Burger), Hagiwara says he felt like drifting. “It was the bubble economy and everyone was getting jobs, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. A travel agency offered me a job, but I decided to travel for a year to places like Okinawa. My friends were working for big name trading companies and banks, but they recommended that I stay away from those companies, so I applied for a job at McDonald’s.”

That was the Den Fujita era at McDonald’s when the legendary entrepreneur was taking the fast-food giant ahead in leaps and bounds. Hagiwara spent six years at McDonald’s, learning management at its hamburger university and working as a store manager at locations in Kawasaki and Yokohama, where he is from. After that, Hagiwara moved to Four Seeds where he spent eight years as a sales manager for the company’s Hawaiian burger outlet Kua Aina.

“By this time, I was ready to go out on my own and last May 14, I finally opened my own restaurant here,” he says. The name of the store – Hara Kara – is old Japanese which denotes eating and drinking camaraderie among family and friends. “The idea was to create a gourmet burger restaurant that was not Americanized like all the chains and other shops. This is a Japanese hamburger restaurant with traditional touches.”

Hara Kara’s burgers, which are charbroiled on a grill, are certainly tasty and filling. The avocado and pineapple burgers (950 yen and 1,050 yen) are popular with women, while salarymen go for the triple burgers (1,450 yen), says Hagiwara, The 152-gram patties are made from New Zealand premium beef. The menu includes such Japanese touches as Karuizawa pickles and "asari" (clam) chowder.

“Customers appreciate how healthy our burgers are. The fries are cooked in canola oil and I use mostly natural ingredients, no ketchup and just a bit of sauce. The burgers are low in calories and not greasy at all. I think this is one reason why we get a lot of older customers,” says Hagiwara, adding that he got the stamp of approval from his parents. “Of course, the burgers were a bit too big for them. I had to cut them in half,” he said.

While the prices may seem high – ranging from 850 yen to 1,450 yen – that is about par for the course for gourmet burgers in Tokyo. “Customers are mainly in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” says Hagiwara. “We especially get a lot of women and they are the key. These days, if a restaurant is not popular among women, it won’t do well. Foreign customers have started coming in, but not so many yet. Those who do come tend to return with friends. Up until now, I didn’t create an English menu because I didn’t want to make the atmosphere too Western. Rather, we prefer to talk to foreign customers and explain the items. However, I am now thinking about an English menu.”

Hagiwara, who lives above the restaurant, starts his day around 10 a.m. “Lunch is still the busiest time. Evenings tend to be a bit quiet,” he says. Since he is in the store every day, he eats burgers daily. “Naturally, I get a craving for other food and go out before we open or in between lunch and dinner. I wish I could find a good sushi restaurant in Sangenjaya,” he laments.

For research, he occasionally visits other gourmet burger restaurants to check out the opposition, and vice versa. “Someone from Baker Bounce came in for lunch today. We all know each other and I think it is important to know what the competition is doing. But I don’t go to McDonald’s or other chains. They are not our competitors.”

Hagiwara says he has not had to advertise yet; media come to him. Hara Kara has been featured in several Japanese magazines already. “I have a blog which is popular. Word of mouth is always the best advertising tool,” Hagiwara says. “It is just good to see customers come in and enjoy a burger that I made for them. That is the biggest pleasure for me.”

Sangenjaya 2-16-8, Setagaya Ward. Tel: 03-6323-1760. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and dinner from 6pm (last order 9:30 p.m.). Closed Monday nights, except holidays. Nearest station: Sangenjaya. Hagiwara’s blog (Japanese only) can be accessed at http://ameblo.jp/hagisann/

© Japan Today

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78 Comments
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I dont mind if he has an English menu or not. But saying 'he didn't want to make the place too Western' sounds like he was worried about not attracting a Japanese customer base. Hence, if the Japanese customers saw an English menu, they might assume the place is frequented by foreigners and not come again. Sounds bad, I know. But I can see some customers reacting this way. And no blame to him at all, given that his business will succeed or fail based on the number of Japanese customers he attracts.

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If you people can't read Japanese menus,then you need to start learning Japanese if you're here in Japan. You're not going to expect to see Japanese menus in UK, AUS, US etc. Typical gaijins always complaining about lack of English menu blah blah blah.

Like all the Japanese customers who came into the TGI Fridays in San Francisco I worked at during college and left when there was no Japanese menu.

Service industry means expecting customer and exceeding customer expectations. A new GM of our unit had a Japanese menu created and we were full every night. Dur hur hur, see service means service. Every customer needs service FROM THEIR POINT, not the provider.

Dur hur hur, service hints SERVANT. You serve the customer, not the other way around. Unless you just want ONE demographic to serve, as 90% of Japanese businesses want.

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Kua aina Kua aina Kua aina Kua aina I love this place. Anyone who loves burgers and doesn't live near one, sucks for you. The french fries and onion rings are fab too. I'm salivating right now thinking of this......

Yeah, looks like he worked there and ripped them off. I work in Sangenjaya but will stick to Kua aina in Shibuya. Just wish they would open one in Shinjuku though.

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sorry, unless it is a tofu burger on a rice bun, it is an american burger. He cut his chops at the Golden Arches, which is a masterful business at logistics, marketing and process. Then he learned to make actual burgers that sell for a lot at Kua Aina. I am not seeing anything Japanese about what he is doing.

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I know that many people are brainwashed by the feel-good happy meal media blitz. -And I understand that. But do you really want a burger that came from ~1,000 cows (1 Burger).

-there are other options out there from people that take more responsibility with their food.

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"I'm just surprised he didn't find Japanese beef to be cheaper wholesale"

I'd have been surprised if he did.

He should use U.S. beef and plaster American flags all over the joint and play country music, I betcha sales would EXPLOOOOODE!

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You need to appreciate that you are getting 20yrs of burger experience and a quiet place to sit down and eat.

-I do think some of his story is pure bull though, but he has suffered enough.

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Good for this guy! He did it the right way... learned the ropes at other establishments while noting the pitfalls to avoid in the process. Once he felt comfortable regarding the process, he started his own business. I don't care how high up you go in the management chain, you'll never get rich having a career at McDonald's (or any other chain for that matter).

I'll take the guy at his word regarding where his beef (and that it IS beef) comes from. I'm just surprised he didn't find Japanese beef to be cheaper wholesale.

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The Burger Meister is not going to serve up 'roo burgers.

'Poo burgers? They could be the next rage, you know.

Did you enjoy your "Japanese cultural" burger with avocado?

Big Boy, 1950's, still works anywhere.

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The Burger Meister is not going to serve up 'roo burgers.

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If this Burger Meister starts serving up 'roo burgers - and refrains from "explaining the menu" to me in English when I just wanna eat - I will try his shop next time I'm rolling around Setagaya Ward.

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"Maybe since he uses all New Zealand beef, we should all go there"

If that be the case, might as well go to BK, since they also use NZ beef. And a Whopper costs one-third as much as a burger made by the Setagaya burger master!

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I am surprised at how many of you are critical of this man and his store, especially since none of you have been there. As I said above, I went there, purely by chance, and I enjoyed his avocado burger. I found Mr Hagiwara to be very friendly and willing to chat about his store.

Oh and by the way, not having an English menu does not make the place unwelcoming to foreigners, as so many of you erroneously seem to think. There are zillions of restaurants in Japan that do not have English menus. They welcome foreign diners. The fact that this is a hamburger restaurant doesn't mean that the menu has to be in English.

I suggest those of you who live in the neighborhood try the burgers before making uninformed and arrogant opinions. You reading this, tmarie?

I'm not complaining about there not being an English menu. I'm complaining about the fact that he even needs to comment on it - and on his English leech skills. To a reporter for an ENGLISH website!! "I want to talk to them" - do you think they want to have a nice chat with him? Doubt it. They probably want to order, sit down and eat. Like all the other customer who go there. Why doesn't he "explain" the menu to everyone, not just the foreigners? It is the love/hate with all things Western that the Japanese really haven't come to grips with yet. He is a fine example.

Did you enjoy your "Japanese cultural" burger with avocado?

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I agree New Zealand Lunch Meat. baahhhaaa buhaaa

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Scrap the Engrish menu idea, keep the prices exclusive.

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Maybe since he uses all New Zealand beef, we should all go there and ask him where he buys it. I have only seen at international school carnivals New Zealand meat and it was bhaaaabuhaaa Lamb undercooked.

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I ate there today, and not bad, but just a burger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!But I am amazed about all the negative comments.

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About the burgers. I cant really take anyone serious who would call MCDonalds or Wendys a good place to eat burgers.

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Wendy's is not here and good riddance and BK is just another chain trying to make a come back with Aussie beef. Wrong. Aussie beef are fed with inferior grain and makes a big difference in the taste of the meat. Grainy and lacking juiciness.

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"Years in Japan and I never once had a decent burger at a decent price"

You poor thing, you've never been to Wendys or BK, have you? Well, Wendys is, sadly, gone, but BK is making a big come back! That being said, BK most likely cannot touch the Setagaya burger master's burgers. After all, BK may flame-grill their burgers, but it's gas flame.

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Foreign customers have started coming in, but not so many yet. Those who do come tend to return with friends. Up until now, I didn’t create an English menu because I didn’t want to make the atmosphere too Western. Rather, we prefer to talk to foreign customers and explain the items. However, I am now thinking about an English menu.”

And you wonder why restaurants here come and go at an alarming rate, with this lack of nous! And I thought hamburgers were western? (Or were they really invented in Japan in Edo and exported to America?) I'd be putting the menu on every table in Chinese, Korean and English - in this economic climate - and when one charges up to $15 for a hamburger(!) - one cannot be picky about customers.

Good luck to him, I hope this venture succeeds and taked business off those other heart-attack inducing burger chains - pity I detest the taste of hamburgers or I'd go there!

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While the prices may seem high – ranging from 850 yen to 1,450 yen – that is about par for the course for gourmet burgers in Tokyo. “Customers are mainly in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” says Hagiwara.

Ho! Exclusive burgers; it works. Who wants to eat with teens and 20-somethings anyway?

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Sarge, I think by "decent" burger, branded is not referring to fast food joints. I mean i enjoy a BK burger too, but its not even in the same category as what we are talking about here.

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"Years in Japan and I never once had a decent burger at a decent price"

You poor thing, you've never been to Wendys or BK, have you? Well, Wendys is, sadly, gone, but BK is making a big come back! That being said, BK most likely cannot touch the Setagaya burger master's burgers. After all, BK may flame-grill their burgers, but it's gas flame. The Setagaya burger master CHARCOAL grills his!

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Years in Japan and I never once had a decent burger at a decent price. I live in the heart of cattle country here in the US now- all grass fed, no hormones, no chemicals, no nothing ! Just acres and acres of grass and hay. The Japanese wife and I have been getting re-aquainted with many of the local burger shops for the past few months and after every outing she says the same thing- "how did you ever survive in Japan" ? "The hamburgers in America are just amazing" ! I have to agree. AS for this New Zealand meat- I saw this being sold at "Kaldi" throughout the Tokyo area. Not much in the fry pan, I suggest mixing in some ground up garlic and putting it on the BBQ. And since you got the coals going dip some pineapple slices in brown sugar and toss them on the grill till they glaze- eat em as is or on vanilla ice cream... the ladys love it !

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Whoa, lookit the size of the slab of avocado on that burger on the right! ( a better photo is in this week's Metropolis )

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"just a bit of sauce" and using "asari" for clam chowder -- Japanese touches? Or just being cheap? A good burger is about simple quality and oomph. Cut out trying to be fancy or delicate.

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@ironchef I can assure that there would be very few sushi restaurants in London that do not have a Japanese menu. Maybe he wants to keep his Japanese women customers to himself and does not want them running off with gaijin.It is also not westerners that he may be precluding it is Koreans,Chinese and many others who use Englishmore than Japanese. You are the one that makes no sense. You admit that English is "generally used...". That means it has been chosen surely? people choose to use English and nearly everyone in the world except for Japan is proficient at it.

@combibento Your explanation makes the most sense. This is interesting discussion because as well as @goddog there are others who fancy themselves as small bar/restaurant owners and so many of them go belly up in the first few months

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@michaelqtodd, check out tmarie's comment. I seriously doubt that he's limiting his customers. Most of his clients are Japanese women anyways. It's like saying if a sushi restaurant in London doesn't write a Japanese menu, it's limiting its customers there? On another topic, why aren't the Western countries (US, UK, Aus) going bilingual then? You make no sense.

@KaptainKichigai Since when has English been "chosen" as the international language? I never heard of such a thing. I may agree that English is generally used around the world in settings where there is no common language, but I can't recall it being chosen.

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I personally don't care whether he has an english menu. But he's trying to hammer home the point that his "burger" shop is not the typical American chain deal but a traditional Japanese burger shop. Here's a news flash...HAMBURGERS ARE NOT JAPANESE! FRENCH FRIES,no matter what oil you cook them in, ARE NOT JAPANESE! The only thing Japanese about this place is the name, the guy making the food, and the attitude towards Western culture.

Putting avocado or pineapple on a burger has been done ad nauseum. It's nothing new and doesn't make it gourmet. Mos Burger's negi miso burger is a better example of a Japanese style hamburger than this guy's.

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I get it; he owns a shop in a relatively upper-class area of Tokyo and wants to justify the 4 years he spent studying "service and hospitality" at a university. (Money well spent.) So he tries the 'small izakaya' atmosphere yet lacks the skills to serve a varied menu. Who knows, the burgers may be good. The only reason he is trying to distance his shop from "Western" influences is because he would not survive if the place looked like just another mos burger. Solution? Make the burgers arbitrarily expensive and don't include english on the menus.

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I'm not going to Setagaya any time soon to sample his burgers since there is a Kua Aina near by.

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Many restaurants have high prices just to keep a certain "element" from dining there and thus create a better ambience for their chosen well heeled clientele. Perhaps this is one of those restaurants.

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This guy has no originality, what so ever, having stolen the menu ideas from Kua Aina, avocado burgers and even the clam chowder. I guess higher prices, was his only original idea. For a good burger go to Kua Aina, its a better deal, bigger burgers, and at least the menu is in English. Dont be fooled by cheep inflammations of the original Kua Aina

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I'm a big fan of Japanese food, but I'll agree with whoever it was who said that his attitude is snotty. I don't see the need for modifying everything to suit what a few elitist food snobs see as being "Japanese tastes". It seems a lot of them wolf down anything that swims, slithers, crawls or flies, but can't be bothered to give something foreign a decent shot without changing it.

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Actually, Hagiwara – who is around 40—admits that he never had a hamburger until he was about 20. “I didn’t think they were very filling. I always preferred rice,” he recalls

Sounds like an exciting dude:p

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gosh, he looks like a burger xb

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Isnt this an ENGLISH websight for Japanese news? Isnt his burger shop featured willingly and happily ON this ENGLISH websight? So OBVIOUSLY there is a need for ENGLISH in Japan and online and EVERYWHERE as the International community has chosen ENGLISH as the International language. Therefore ANY country or shop or human wanting to reap the rewards of international business, culture, experience etc.etc. needs to learn and offer ENGLISH. The Western Hamburger is an American staple. Authentic Japanese restaurants in the USA offer a Japanese menu.

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morriconelover after 6 years of compulsory English classes in junior high school and high school, some limited English should be expected. And this is Tokyo not some back off the beaten town. This is Tokyo. The world language is not Japanese. Expecting some English is not a demand, it is just common sense.

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ironchef if shops want our money they should provide a menu we "The Customer" can read. It's called "Customer Service" Knowing Japanese is not a prerequisite of being in Japan. And for some of us who really have no need to deal with the crazy culture who surrounds itself with not telling anyone anything of real value, why should we? As for this shop, a traditional burger far from that. An X Mac staff member, pointless. Their service sucks.

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I have to agree with smartacus though, I've been to the States plenty of times and I've never seen a Japanese menu in a restaurant, let alone an Arabian or Zulu one...lol Let's face it, It's japan after all. Still, I'd love to try their avocado and pineapple burgers. Reminds me of the time I ate that awesome Avocado extra bacon burger from Carl's Jr. when I was staying in Rosemead, L.A. a few years ago.

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sorry "unchain"

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There's a place called "unchained farms" in Souka saitama...goodness. But im not big on these overpriced japanese "gurume" burgers, there's no real Burger taste.

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Could not see where anyone complained about a lack of English menu. I suggested that it would limit potential customers not having it. If Japan wants to be part of the future they need to go bilingual fast as China and Korea are doing. It`s gajin not gaijins by the way.

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I wrote an English menu for a gourmet burger shop once. They gave me about 10,000 yen in shop gift certificates. Really good burgers there. Everytime I eat at McD's I have to head for the bathroom!

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If you people can't read Japanese menus,then you need to start learning Japanese if you're here in Japan. You're not going to expect to see Japanese menus in UK, AUS, US etc. Typical gaijins always complaining about lack of English menu blah blah blah.

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and a little bit of soy sauce;)

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Wanna make good hamburger patties? Add onions, a bit of beefstock and a tablespoon or two of Aussie Vegemite to the mix!

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Hagiwara san is simply limiting his potential customers. Sounds like he is doing at more of a hobby than a business.

It sounds like he is in business in Japan (where people speak Japanese).

I don't think his bottom line will suffer too much by losing the business of foreigners that can't even read a menu. But it sounds like he can translate for you if you want to try his burgers.

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@tmarie. Want english speaking staff?...Go to america then. I dont really think it makes sense to judge a place by an article. this isnt even a food review, but just a short interview.

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Mcdonalds is pure shit. Burger King is somewhat better. Living in Copenhagen though means that most cafes have their own signature burger. Most cafe burgers here are around 2000 yen, but thats Denmark for you. I think i would like to try that Setagaya burger. I have been several times to Kua Aina, which i like, and can eat Mos Burger also, although i dont think theyre that good. I think people are being way too negative here. Why the hell should the guy use Kobe beef??...That would make the burgers crazily expensive. And the people who think that western food in Japan is crap...well, try to go to places that actually serve good food instead of being cheap. I have eaten at french, american....you name it places in Japan. There are good as well as bad places. But how is it possible to make bad american food?...American food can hardly be called fine cuisine.

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mmmmm hamburger, but No ketchup? what's up with that? If I am around I may give him a try, I do like a tasty burger.

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"I didn’t create an English menu because I didn’t want to make the atmosphere too Western."

Hagiwara san is simply limiting his potential customers. Sounds like he is doing at more of a hobby than a business. Looking forward to your restaurant @goddog.That was a good tip

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I am surprised at how many of you are critical of this man and his store, especially since none of you have been there. As I said above, I went there, purely by chance, and I enjoyed his avocado burger. I found Mr Hagiwara to be very friendly and willing to chat about his store.

Oh and by the way, not having an English menu does not make the place unwelcoming to foreigners, as so many of you erroneously seem to think. There are zillions of restaurants in Japan that do not have English menus. They welcome foreign diners. The fact that this is a hamburger restaurant doesn't mean that the menu has to be in English.

I suggest those of you who live in the neighborhood try the burgers before making uninformed and arrogant opinions. You reading this, tmarie?

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Man cannot live by hamburgers alone.

No, but it is possible to live on "konbini onigiri" from my experience.

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Whatever: Log Kit Sasebo burger from the stand in front of the Daiei. 600 Yen and just loaded with goodies.

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this place has been open for 8 months. i give it 8 more.. then its back to managing mickey d's. sorry, thats just the reality.

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you're putting yourself out there goddog. Insulting us by saying no one can make a hamburger while planning on opening your own restaurant? Please tell us where and when the grand opening is. Let us find out for ourselves just how amazing your burgers are.

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By the way, that generic taste of institutionalized hamburger and meat is the product of nutmeg. Japanese cooks learned it from the occupational army chefs after world war two. I hate that taste. reminds me of meatloaf at elementary school on Long Island NY. We need a recipe and cooking forum here on JT

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None of you guys know how to make a burger juicy no matter what the beef. Take a small portion of matsutake mushrooms and finely chop them and add them into the meat and spices you use. I do not know how to explain how much and what spices as it is an art and all done by experience and feel. The mushrooms do something to keep in the fat and juices when seared and man, amazing and with no mushroom taste.

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tried a Sasebo burger last year after hearing how wonderful it was. Most tasteless piece of s**t I've ever had.

The best hamburger I've had that wasn't from McDonalds or Burger King was from a guy in Osaka selling them for 500¥ outside a strip club. Had all the fixins and was charbroiled. The guy was from St.Louis.

Western food in Japan, for the most part sucks a*s anyway Always Japanized to some degree in a bad way. Give me a Big Mac any day. TMarie I'm with you 100%.

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Entirely too precious.

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I gobble a hamburger when I am racing for time. McDs good thing is they are there almost wherever you want them to be. BUT the burger tastes like rubber, plastic and paper!! MOS on top of my list. Pineapple burger should be good. Avocado, I don't know.

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This is a Japanese hamburger restaurant with traditional touches.”... The avocado and pineapple burgers

sounds really Japanese.

I wonder why there are so many "gourmet" burger restaurants in Setagaya-ku?

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I really hate this mentality that they can copy something from the west, change a few things and then be snide about how is it not western. Tradition? What is tradition about it beside the snotty Japanese attitude that he has about Japanese food being better - and NZ beef? Why not Kobe? Oh right, costs too much.

No English menu because he wants to talk to customers? Great. Can the rest of his staff speak English? Doubt it. Does he not want foreigner customers?

Will never go based on what has been written here.

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Good luck to the lad...why doesn't he use Japanese beef which is far better than NZ or US produce....I dream of a kobe or Hida beef burger!

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Does he put beetroot in them? Hard to imagine a real New Zealand burger without that. Seems very expensive for such a simple thing to make though I guess the rent is high around there. What a fascinating life this dude has had in the burger industry!

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What is a phcycie? Never had a great burger in Japan. Good, yes, but I always make better. Really good burgers in London now though....

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american beef is hormone laced. NZ beef is au naturale - pseudo-range fed - hence the price premium. Kudos for an alternative to wendy's and MacD (not to mention micro burgers at mos).

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Bit out of the way, though.

You can get to Sangenjaya from Shibuya as quickly as getting to Shinjuku. There's not a whole lot else to do there, unfortunately.

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It does say he is thinking about making an English menu.

May have to check this place out.  Bit out of the way, though.

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hamburgers are the epitome of western food. you will NEVER make a japanese hamburger.

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I actually went there a week ago. His burger really was good, one of the best I have ever had. I asked him where the beef comes from and he said New Zealand. I didn't mind not having an English menu. Prices are a bit steep though and have to admit Burger King is still my preferred choice.

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Give the man a break he's just trying to differentiate his burger shop...

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I am planning to open a restaurant, so I always go out and check what others are doing. He should be using American Beef though. It is the tastiest.

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“The idea was to create a gourmet burger restaurant that was not Americanized like all the chains and other shops. This is a Japanese hamburger restaurant with traditional touches.”

Aah. The ancient Japanese tradition of hamburger.

Seriously, is there nothing Japanese won't try to faux tradition-, uniqueness- and touch too? Not just curry, "Japanese style pasta" or maccha frappuchino, but take the clam chowder he mentions...the thing that makes this thing so traditional...the clam is plucked from the ocean here. That makes it a Japanese clam chowder.

How faux does it get, and, why are so many people buying into it?

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so if you put some other sauce on a burger instead of ketchup, it becomes a "gourmet" burger?

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Let's see if I got this right: this guy doesn't make an English menu because it would make the atmosphere "too Western". And he's selling hamburgers?!?! Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, is he?

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