How will American fast food affect Japanese culture?


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 a 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.

Here in Japan, I’ve seen a number of American fast food chains chillin’ all over the place: McDonald’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 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.

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 patronize 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 10 years? In 20 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?

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What do you mean, "will"?

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Simply speaking, Japanese do not eat Fast food.

Wrong. As pointed out in "Fast Food Nation," Japanese indeed eat fast food. The first McD's was opened here in the 70's, and Japanese have been getting fatter ever since.

This article is about forty years too late.


7 ( +10 / -3 )

Japan has the best fast food in the world: ramen, soba, donburi. Why sully it with the sugar and fat filled rubbish our friends from America have unleashed on the world?

5 ( +13 / -8 )

When in Japan, I'd hit up McDonalds for a sausage mcmuffin and a coffee...Every couple of months, mind you. Sure enough I'd hear comments about me and my American addiction to it- despite not being American and being in far better physical condition than the average Japanese person my age. Anyhow, I think McDonalds is blamed for too much when customers should just exercise more restraint. As an aside, most of the foreigners who fattened up in Japan did so from pigging out on too much tonkatsu!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Japanese food is NOT more healthy... well, it depends on what you eat. A couple fresh sushi rolls? Maybe not many calories. Veggies? Okay. But... Gyudon? Ramen? Curry? That's a 1000 calorie meal. Check next time you go to Matsuya... this whole "Japanese people eat better" is so false. Not even the portion sizes are that different. And nutrition... white rice is like eating empty calories. It depends on what you eat. Maybe Japanese food was healthier in the past but you don't need to be eating fast food here to be unhealthy. (And to be honest, I find lots of Japanese food bland... give me spices and flavor!)

That being said, I don't eat fast food often, but I like Subway's shrimp avocado sub. Shrimp and avocado is an excellent combination, always wondered why that wasn't a thing back in the States.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I just returned from Tokyo. There is a McDonald"s on the ground floor of my hotel in Shinjuku, and it was always packed with customers. In fact, after a tiring 3-connection flight from Denpasar Bali the first thing I did when I arrived at the hotel was grab a Big Mac and fries (something I would NEVER do back in the States!!!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

As has already been mentioned, American fast food is nothing new so the use of the future tense in this article is out of place. McDonalds and KFC have been here for decades (a fact that McDonalds is specifically highlighting in its current TV ads) as have their Japanese counterparts like Lotteria (not to mention the donburi places like Yoshinoya and Matsuya). Ive been here since the late 90s and except for Subways havent noticed any increase in the presence of American fast food outlets or any increase in people buying that type of fast food. Some of the big chains (ie Wendys) have done the opposite and completely left the Japanese market. The supposed trend that the article is based on seems to solely exist in the authors mind. Perhaps a more interesting approach to the subject would have been to ask why 40 years of American style fast food in Japan hasn`t led to the same alleged health effects it has in the US.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I just want to see more "Subway" sandwich outlets. It's fast food, but really healthy. A roll, toasted if you like, a selection of deli meats, and fresh ('ish) vegetables. If you're feeling a bit less healthy you can add a dressing, but overall a subway sandwich is "fast food" without being automatically unhealthy (unlike McDonalds where you really have to search the menu for a healthy option).

4 ( +5 / -1 )

All right, MacD started in 1971, and MOS Burger in 1972. Still, MOS Burger is no imitation of MacD. It has always had a distinctive menu, and it has always had a different mood and flow to the eating experience. MOS Burger "developed on its on."

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Still, MOS Burger is no imitation of MacD

True. MOS is much slower.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"You are what you eat." I don't think there's anything wrong with fast food. If you eat it regularly and get obese, that's your fault. Not the fast food's fault.

Don't bentos and fried foods at convenient stores fall into the fast food category?

I love that Japanese school provide a healthier meal at school. Sure beats the pizza and chicken nuggets that the base school serve!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The myth about Japanese being healthy... The eating disorders, the smoking, the drinks, the food... There is nothing healthy about eating white rice and pickled veggies. Your average Japanese families does not eat a well balanced meal - they've got genes to thank for being thin but take a look around. The younger generations are overweight and glued to games. "They" don't carry their weight well and stomach fat (where "they" carry it) is a huge indication for future health problems related to weight.

I enjoy subway but don't eat "fast food" all that often. That include conbini fast food that while not a chain place nor American, does count.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

presto: "Probably true, but our bodies not being able to properly digest white rice is a statement from the laboratories. Humans have been eating this food for more than 4000 years, "

No, they've been eating RICE for thousands of years, not polished white rice, which is relatively recent. Until then it was brown rice, which IS good for you.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Bertie: "Even a Japanese bento at a combini is more healthy, and is a balanced meal with fresh vegetables."

It depends on the bento, really, and they're not 'healthier', they're just unhealthy due to different ingredients -- mostly salt and additives.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Bertie: I didn't miss that part of the sentence at all, but I also know that throwing in a bit of cabbage to offset the amount of salt and crap in a bento doesn't excuse how unhealthy it is and more than the scraps of lettuce and onion on a Big Mac make it healthier than a quarter pounder that doesn't.

"I just don't see Offalburger and imitation potato fries as being a balanced meal."

No one said they were. I don't see the "L-chicky" at Lawson's being very balanced either, nor any of the other poor options convenience stores have (and they also offer burgers that require no refrigeration, Bertie, which tells you what?

"Of course it depends on the bento."

And yet you said they are a lot healthier as a whole. Go figure. So which is it? Japanese convenience store bentos are a lot healthier, or it depends? I won't wait for an objective response.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Japanese bentos in Japanese combinis usually contain rice, at least two kinds of vegetable, and meat or fish."

They contain polished white rice, much like the 'instant rice' you can buy dried and heat up in the microwave, which is low-nutrition, high-calorie gut rot. The vegetables also have been stripped of nearly all nutritional value. Then add the sugar-filled ketchup on top of the soggie croquet, the salt laden piece of salmon laid atop said white rice, sectioned off from the meat-like substance called hamburger, the mayonnaise laden potato salad, and the for-whatever-reason RED bottom of the line pork wiener, salty pickles, etc.

"Without talking about specific items, it's rather difficult to compare, don't you think?"

I can nit-pick on how much it is NOT different, if you like. My point was never that one is healthier than the other, but that the idea that 'American' fast food is not healthy but all Japanese food IS by comparison is moronic.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

And even when it comes to American fare such as hamburgers, the MOS Burger chain developed on its own here in Japan before MacD arrived.

You best check that.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There are a few problems with this article, but the biggest is two part: it seems to blame fast-food trends on the US (specifically), and also that by contrast all Japanese food is healthy.

If Japanese life-expectancy and health are decreasing due to fast food, it is the fault of the Japanese who eat it, not the US or other western nations. Second, there is PLENTY of Japanese food that is just as bad, if not worse. Now, a lot of TRADITIONAL foods are healthy enough, to be sure, but the modern diet of 'Japanese food', lathered in sauces filled with salt and what not, are not necessarily so.

What's more, while obesity affects a HUGE number of people in the US and many western nations, said nations have a LOT more health conscientious people as well -- with restaurants clearly stating no MSG, gluten, trans-fats, meat fats and extracts in the oil, etc., whereas I have yet to see a single vegetarian restaurant in Japan. I do know they exist -- a friend found an organic vegetable restaurant outside of Osaka -- but it turns out that 'organic' was just the popular buzz word and a lot of their stuff is frozen imports, and likely the soup base they used for a couple of their soups, which she said were decent, contain beef, pork, and shrimp extract. School lunches? forget it! If your kid has an allergy and/or is trying to avoid certain food products in their meals, they can only bring their own meagre lunches while still being required to pay the school lunch fees for lunches that, while relatively balanced, are chalk full of salt and calories.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I meant to add after the last part that unlike the author, I find myself eating MORE fast food than I ever did back home. While in university for five years I never once ate McD's, and only once ate Burger King (after a pub night). I eat McD's here now (and I'm screwed if a Wendy's opens up nearby!) maybe once a month or so, and convenience store meals more often, simply for the variety.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

How will it affect Japan? Same way it affected America. By destroying local cuisine and making people fat. Seven billion people on the planet and this is our answer on how to eat? Pathetic.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Future tense, will? Hmm. Head scratching.

What affect does U.S. fast food have on Japanese culture?

Probably next to nothing since the japanese have long had their own version of fast food.

Donald Ash ought to open his eyes to the real japan. Too bad newbies who come to japan get caught up in the faux positive myths of japan and this one; japanese food vs. the world's food and automatically thinking that japanese food is healthier or better in whatever context is simply painful to watch.

Getting back to japanese fast food. Sushi is an easy one to target and lets be honest a lot of the rice that is used for reasonably priced sushi is nothing but a starching, low grade in quality, empty calorie gut filler.

Ramen is a another culprit on the j-fast food menu. Salt, fat, and starchy noodles. Eat that every day and you can make a " Super Size Me " documentary.

Katsudon. I need not say another word.

Beef bowls. Cheap unhealthy crap. Yoshinoya and Maytsuya ought to be the headliners when one wants to bash fast food.

Soy sauce. japan should be known as stroke nation. The number of men in their 50's and older walking around town with one side dangling is breathtaking.

Salty pickled whatevers, Things smothered in thick heavy salty, fatty sauces. Deep fried virtually everything bentos. japanese style packaged goods in convenience stores loaded with salts, oils and names of things one cannot pronounce.

Sake (nihonshu) is so heavy and loaded with sugars it's outrageous.

In saying all those truthful things about j-food and drink. I have no problem consuming them as a matter of fact love them but you will never ever catch me saying that j-food is healthy since it just isn't true.

American meals are also. Oatmeal for breakfast with a berry topping. A turkey sandwich for lunch with veggie sticks. And fish for dinner with a whole grain bread. And this is often ( more or less ) what I eat on any given day and I would take this American style of eating over j-food any day.

Nope, it is strictly the japanese who have themselves to blame for their lust of all things palatably naughty.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

It's all about portion sizes! A serving here is smaller than in its Western counterparts so I think it makes a lot of difference. I myself go to fast food chains at least once a week but I'm slim because I eat everything in moderation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

When they offer fries or drinks here with the choice of S M or L, all for ¥100, take a look inside. The Japanese buy the small, but the Gaijin buy the biggest they can get.

I rest my case.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Question: do izakayas fall in the "fast food" category?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

America thank you for bringing your fast food in Japan. Now Japanese are getting obese.

0 ( +8 / -8 )

Fast Food existed in Japan way before any American franchise chains arrived. Edo-mae sushi is an example. Food has always been sold from street carts, and the basic elements of Fast Food are covered when you have to make the dish all by yourself for a crowd of people at a time of peak demand. And even when it comes to American fare such as hamburgers, the MOS Burger chain developed on its own here in Japan before MacD arrived. The Japanese do not need anyone to explain to them what Fast Food is, and how to do it. In fact, it is the Japanese who are able to take any dish and make it fast food. I have not seen any places in the US that can turn out 20 different types of curry & rice in less than 2 minutes. And it's good, and the menu will include variety and many vegetables. If you wish that a certain dish could be available as Fast Food, hand it over to the Japanese and they will come up with a manual to do it.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Just about anything that can be franchised -- fast food restaurants, convenience stores, coffee shops, family restaurants, etc. -- have set down root in Japan. I think the one common denominator they have is that prices tend to be standardized, and this is a big appeal for people on a limited budget. I like Japanese food, but unless you are careful a sushi meal can run several thousand yen over what you originally planned to pay -- especially if you order one or two alcoholic drinks with the meal. This is not a complaint, but I get the feeling that many, many establishments here count on sales of booze to put them in the black. The restaurants really started hurting soon after police announced tough new laws against drinking and driving. At least with fast food, in most cases booze is not an option.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The ones I knew, that is

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why is it that McDonalds is more popular in Japan than in the UK, Germany, or Australia?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

susano: It probably has a lot to do with the affinity for all things western here and in other Asian nations.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I'm curious to know how Subway fits into this. The only thing 'fast food' about Subway is that you get your food fast. Granted, if you only eat their fries or have your subs lathered in salad dressing it is not very healthy at all, but suggesting this shop is fast food but a sandwich made at home is not is foolish.

And back to Japanese food again, polished white rice is extremely unhealthy -- our bodies cannot properly digest it, among other problems. Eat brown rice.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

How will American fast food affect Japanese culture?

They will become addicted to the e-numbers in the food, and no doubt end up fat. Everyone knows a fast food diet is dangerous, yet people still stuff themselves with this cr@p. It WILL damage the Japanese over time.

Fatty and high salt/sugar content food products should be taxed higher to put people off buying it them. It's too late for America and the UK... Japan can stop it happening to them.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"Japan has the best fast food in the world: ramen... donburi"

Har! Kaiten sushi is pretty darn tootin' good though!

Most Japanese kids think Makundonarudo is Japanese food.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Anyone that knows anything about eating well would tell you that subway is NOT a healthy alternative. The buns are loaded with sugar for starters. The meats are mostly processed. I could go on.

Why eat fast food when there's just so much good food here in Tokyo?!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The obesity and diabetes pandemic is just around the corner here too.

Next time you marvel at the comparative affordability of your supermarket bento, take a close look at what has made it so inexpensive (cheap, additive laden, processed ingredients), and delicious (more additives, fat, fructose, salt, MSG).

Time for affluent Japan to get wise to the poverty diet that their peers elsewhere have long eschewed, and stick to Big Food and their shareholders!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

One interesting tidbit I heard way back when I came to Japan is that originally all McD's in Japan had their signs and most everything else written in Katakana, the reason being that the head of McD's Japan could say it was a Japanese restaurant. Not sure if it's true or not, but sounds like the kind of thing someone might claim, and anyway that's changed.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

wipeout - yes indeed, for that reason, I have stopped eating convenience store food - for my health.

I have regular health checks as a matter of course, and never has anything shown up that suggests a medical problem. I simply prefer not to have so much sugar in my sandwich that I get a sugar crash.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Amazing how places in America, schools included, are trying to ban saturated fats. Nowhere else to make money on the crap so push it to foreign countries.

United we stand, united we fall. Translation would be, If we Americans are gonna die fat, then everyone will die fat.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Why is it that McDonalds is more popular in Japan than in the UK, Germany, or Australia?

Is it? I don't know.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. There's fast-food pretty much everywhere in Japan except the lucky few hamlets. I would personally prefer to replace most McDonald's with a Burger King or A&W for burgers and Subway(most outlets globally ) for a healthier alternative. But more often, I prefer a bento from a Mom & Pop shop anyday! I rarely darken the doorway of KFC, though I do like it more the McD. The only fast-food I'd like to see in Japan is Taco Bell( or Del Taco). My limit for any fast-food is twice a month ; I make my own lunches fresh or leftovers otherwise. Healthy choices are up to the individual.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

And where is the proof that Japanese food is inherently "better" or "more healthy" than foreign food?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Why eat fast food when there's just so much good food here in Tokyo?!

Which is so much healthier is it?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I have found that the additives and preservatives in convenience store food outweigh its deliciousness. Ever looked at the ingredients lists? Even if you don't understand what they all are, the number of ingredients alone should give you pause. I get a horrific sugar rush when I eat conbini sandwiches and lunchboxes, for example. Even something as basic as a rice ball has a bunch of crap added that you don't want to be eating; and as people have said, the rice is not very nutritious at all.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Fast Food = FAT, diabetes, heart disease,.... may fix the social security problem in Japan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

susanoNov. 11, 2012 - 03:35PM JST

Why is it that McDonalds is more popular in Japan than in the UK, Germany, or Australia?

duh?..well known fact that anything and everything american is naturally popular in japan

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

"will" ??


after wwii was won by the west, the us became the filter for what "the west" is, and us culture came in here in a big way, you have to remember they had only come out of sakkoku a few decades beforehand. Europe, on the other hand, already was the West, and therefore didn't have such a strong hunger for the us's version of western culture beyond mild curiosity.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

And back to Japanese food again, polished white rice is extremely unhealthy -- our bodies cannot properly digest it, among other problems. Eat brown rice.

Probably true, but our bodies not being able to properly digest white rice is a statement from the laboratories. Humans have been eating this food for more than 4000 years, And properly cooked, especially the shinmai [new harvest rice] is extremely tasty, and if eaten in moderate quantities and combined with vegetables, fish and miso soup, not harmful. Try to tell whole populations to stop eating white rice and actually all white foods, such as white bread, white (refined) sugar, white noodles, etc.

Clinical and laboratory tests never tell the whole story. The joy people get from certain diets, as long as they don't result in extreme overweight or obesity, can be very beneficial to one's well-being. Indulging in an unhealthy food bomb once in a while is OK, I think. Japanese food culture has been affected by other countries for ages. American food culture is still a young culture that won't overshadow the one Japan has. Most people will continue to favor a bowl of ramen, udon, soba, donburi, sushi, tenpura, okonomiyaki, nikujaga, karaage, toriten, oden, and fill in the missing links, over the fast food from the US that has already been mentioned here.

Japanese people are very receptive to foreign influences and willing to try anything. They will make their choices and enjoy them. Those who don't enjoy them won't come back, ever.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Japan has the best fast food in the world:

Oh that is quite debatable

Why sully it with the sugar and fat filled rubbish our friends from America have unleashed on the world?

Don't be a snob.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

While a Japanese diet is better than westerners in general, this blind thinking that the Japanese have about rice some times makes my blood boil. I have been told that "rice is good for brain", what a load of rubbish no better than a potato or a carrot. I found the following about rice. Refined white rice has a higher glycemic index than brown rice, meaning it breaks down into glucose much more quickly after being eaten than brown rice. Foods with a high glycemic index can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Brown rice takes longer to break down because it contains more fiber. A Harvard study showed that eating five or more helpings of white rice per week increased the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 17 percent, while those who ate two servings of brown rice per week reduced their risk by 11 percent.

Read more:

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Most traditional Asian foods are healthy.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )


You missed the last part of the sentence:

Even a Japanese bento at a combini is more healthy, and is a balanced meal with fresh vegetables.

Of course it depends on the bento. There're bentos that are not so good, it's true.

I just don't see Offalburger and imitation potato fries as being a balanced meal.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )


To answer your question more precisely:

Japanese bentos in Japanese combinis usually contain rice, at least two kinds of vegetable, and meat or fish.

These offer a more balanced meal than a slab of meat-like substance, a sliver of lettuce and imitation potato-less potato fries.

There are, of course, combini bentos that offer LESS than this and fast food burgers that are BETTER than this.

Without talking about specific items, it's rather difficult to compare, don't you think?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )


Which is so much healthier is it?

Yes, yes and yes.

Almost anything is healthier than hamburgers that contain mostly offal, "potato" fries that don't even have a distant relationship to potatoes and "bread" that tastes like expanded polystyrene.

Even a Japanese bento at a combini is more healthy, and is a balanced meal with fresh vegetables.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

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