Tonight I went to McDonald’s for the first time since arriving in Tokyo. It was actually for research purposes – not out of homesickness – because I am teaching a special extra-curricular class next week about ordering at fast food restaurants in the US. I wanted to check out the differences between here and there. If the few parts of Tokyo I have been to are any indication, the golden arches may be nearly as omnipresent here as in they are in the US. There is one near my train stop at home, one next to the station I exit for work, another one a few blocks away from my job, and one near my co-worker’s home station. (If you’d like to keep track, that’s at least one every mile so far). And, in Omiya, where I did my training, there were two within one block of the station….They were so close that you could pretty much stand outside one and look over at the other to see which one had the shorter line. (Starbucks has the same level of saturation here, if not greater…there are 3 within a 2 minute walk of my work).
Before I came to Japan, I had heard rumors about the McDonalds restaurants here. One rumor was that the workers there wear really nice shirts, and bow-ties – much like a waiter at a fine dining establishment. That was not true of this McDonalds. Though the uniforms were button down shirts, they looked much like every other fast food uniform I’ve ever seen in the US. Another rumor I heard was that the quality of the food was far superior in the Japanese franchises. So far, I can’t confirm that one either. Though my sandwich and fries were hot, fresh, and tasty (as they should be), as far as I could tell, they were nearly identical to anything I’ve had at a Mickey D’s in the US.
A third rumor, which IS true, is that they serve different items to cater to the local palate. Though the main classics are all there – Big Mac, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Chicken McNuggets, etc – the menu is much smaller here, and there are also some uniquely Japanese bonus items, such as the salt & lemon chicken sandwich, the “mega teriyaki burger”, a breaded pork cutlet sandwich, and in addition to the regular filet of fish, a shrimp version (filet of shrimp!). Also, because of their great love of corn, you have the option to choose sweet corn as a side dish instead of french fries. I had to ask for ketchup. I’m not sure if that is just how they handle the condiment distribution, or if it is not thought of as a natural companion for french fries here.
Drink options were similar – coke, diet coke, fanta, ginger ale… I ordered a filet o’ fish “set” (instead of a meal they call it a set), with which I would normally get a Hi-C orange. They didn’t have that, but had Minute Maid orange, which is probably the same thing. However, I elected to go with an iced Earl Grey “milk tea” instead. THAT was different. I’ve never, never, ever seen Earl Grey iced tea at a fast food restaurant, and i have never, ever been offered the option of milk to go in the iced tea that they did have. Milk tea is readily available here in bottled form from the convenience stores and vending machines. Like the name suggests, it is simply tea with milk (usually sweetened). Not that strange of a concept, but something you certainly won’t find mass produced in the US.
The portion sizes seemed the same to me. On average, Japanese portion sizes tend to be smaller than what we get in the US (with the exception of ramen soup which is served in bowls you could bathe an infant in), so I expected that the sizes at McDonalds might also be reduced, but the sandwich and french fries seemed pretty much the same. The drink, however, was smaller. I got a medium, and it was the size of a US small. I also did not see any option on the menu for Super Sizing! They have happy meals here as well (of course), but it is called a “happy set” and they come with a toy, which McDonald’s is still allowed to advertise here (unlike in the US now where the P.C. police have cracked down).
Please enjoy some photos: