While visitors may associate Japan with sushi, udon, and teriyaki, that doesn’t mean the cuisine offers only traditional food. International fast-food chains are in abundance across the country, serving up American-inspired favorites and global coffee brands. But you might find a few additional menu items with a distinctly Japanese twist, making a fast-food experience yet another cultural experience.
McDonald’s may be American-owned and founded, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular fast-food chains around the world. Japanese McDonalds’ menus feature many of the classic hamburgers, fries, and shakes, but they’ve also got a few options with a Japanese touch.
Try their Chicken Tatsuta which includes a chicken patty deep-fried with Japanese katakuri-ko and served with shredded cabbage. Or feast on their Mega Tamago, inspired by the traditional Japanese omelet and served on a sesame bun with mustard sauce and bacon. A Sesame Ebi Filet-O Sesame Bun with shrimp cutlets (ebi) is also featured on McDonalds’ menus in Japan, as well as a seasonal Cheese Tsukimi Burger. This honors the festival of Tsukimi when some Japanese celebrate the mid-Autumn moon through offerings and susuki displays.
The Japanese love KFC and it has become a popular Christmas meal thanks to an ad campaign all the way back in 1974. But there are also a few year-round menu items that make a visit to KFC in Japan like nowhere else in the world.
Try one of their Kentucky Fried Rice Bowls which are a local twist on KFC’s “Famous Bowl”. Select from Japanese Terikayi or traditional Kentadon which includes chicken, deep-fried shiitake mushrooms, spicy green peppers, and sweet potatoes on a bed of rice.
You can grab a KFC Bento Lunch complete with chopsticks or splurge on a French-inspired roasted ballotine with fruits stewed in white wine and rolled with chicken. In a country that loves fish, their menu has also featured a few non-chicken items, including a panko-crusted deep-fried salmon fillet.
Can’t decide what to eat, then head to Osaka where the world’s only all-you-can-eat KFC restaurant is located.
You can’t go wrong with a filled sandwich, and Subway has taken the world by storm with its healthy, delicious subs. In Japan, they’ve kept the tradition going with a few unique offerings, including cold-smoked raw ham and mascarpone, herb sausage and a shrimp and avocado combination.
While these might not sound very Japanese, their desserts have more of a local influence, with items like komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) and sesame pound cake, as well as yuzu (a tart citrus fruit) with sour cream.
Starbucks has been embraced across Asia and Japan is no exception. Not only are there Starbucks stores springing up everywhere with unique menu items, but they have also created a whole range of Japan-specific Starbucks merchandise.
Try their matcha frappuccino or lattes inspired by this distinct Japanese green tea or indulge in a Sakura Blossom coffee when the cherry trees are in bloom. They also have a few really indulgent coffee varieties like apple crumble lattes, white tiramisu, and baked cheesecake frappuccinos, as well as a chocolate cookie crumble frappuccino with white chocolate pudding.
You can grab a Starbucks’ tumbler with famous Japanese landmarks and seasonal holidays pictured on their sides (some even glow when your coffee is poured in!) or one of their “Japan Geography” mugs. They feature landscapes from across the country’s 13 regions and make an ideal souvenir for Starbucks fans.
Japan’s Starbucks stores are also uniquely localized, with eye-catching architecture and designs which make each one completely different. The Hirosaki Park branch is set within an Art Deco-style early 20th-century building, while the Kamakura Inaricho branch is more traditional, with a tranquil outdoor pool and tatami flooring.
The Izumo Taisha branch in Shimane also keeps things local, housed within a traditional nagaya tenement house with lattice windows while the new Starbucks, due to open near the Byodoin temple in Uji, is being designed around a Japanese tea culture theme. But the Dazaifu branch in Fukuoka is arguably the most beautiful, with its wooden architecture worth the visit alone.
Japan is set to get another American fast-food chain soon when a Umami Burger restaurant opens up in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighborhood. “Umami” is actually a Japanese word referring to a savory, meaty taste, and this California-based burger joint seasons their meat with a special “umami sauce”.
Their original menu features a number of Japanese influences, particularly in their signature Original Burger which combines shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and a Parmesan crisp. It also offers onion tempura rings and Japanese-style chicken wings which have a soy glaze and shichimi pepper seasoning.
While these crowd-pleasers will make their way onto Umami Burger’s Japanese menu, there will also be a few local additions such as a Teriyaki Burger and a Fish Curry Burger.