Mmmm. Japanese Fast Food. You already know how superior McDonalds in Japan is, but did you know Japan is full of their own Japanese fast food chains (rather than just the upgraded, cleaned up American ones)? Although I can't cover them all, I wanted to go over the best Japanese fast food chains in Japan so you can get your eat on in a pinch while you're over there. Actually, some of these have even made their way over to the United States and other parts of the world – which ones are they? What makes each of these fast food chains so delicious? Read on to find out.
Japanese Fast Food Chains In Japan
Now, when we talk about fast food chains in Japan, I don't mean imported fast food chains like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King and so on. I'm talking about home-grown fast food, where some Japanese person was inspired by the speed, unhealthiness and cheapness of a Big Mac, and said "hey, I want to do that too, but Japanese style."
Sometimes that means creating something that's not-Japanese (food-wise) but then making it Japanese (style, culture, and so on-wise). Alternatively, it can also mean someone took something Japanese (food-wise) and just made it faster and cheaper. Doesn't matter.
I'm going to go over my "favorite" (and I say "favorite" in quotes because I'm not particularly a fan of any of these places, or any fast food in general) Japanese Fast Food Chains and share the cool stuff about them. Let's start with delicious hamburgers.
MOS Burger ( モスバーガー)
MOS Burger's motto is "Making people happy through food." So, if you're depressed and eating food makes you feel better MOS Burger was, like, totally made for you. You pronounce it like "Moss" Burger, so it's not actually a burger joint owned by a "Mo" (at least, not that I know of). Actually, the MOS stands for "Mountain Ocean Sun" … which I suppose are three things that tend to make a lot of people happy. It's Japan's second largest fast food franchise, only behind (you guessed it) McDonalds.
One thing I've noticed about MOS Burger is their burgers. They're freakishly perfect looking, especially on the menu. Normally you see the menu and think… "okay, it's not going to look like this in real life."
But, when you get a MOS Burger in real life, they're kind of suspiciously nice looking… Not perfect like the menu, for sure, but still very shapely.
Their menu includes things like Hamburgers, hot dogs, rice dishes, and (my favorite) MOS Rice Burgers, where instead of having a bun made of bread, you have a bun made of rice.
If there isn't any rice anywhere, it's not really Japanese. I've never actually had a MOS Rice Burger, but just thinking about it in my mouth makes me hungry. Looking at the other Rice Burgers, I think they've picked good insides that match rice well. Not all that strange when you think about it in terms of loose rice. This rice bun just makes eating it faster and more convenient. [MOS Burger's Website]
Sukiya (すき 家)
Oh how I love you so, Sukiya. This place serves gyuudon (beef on rice), kind of like Yoshinoya (see below), though I'd say they do a better job at it (just my preference, Yoshinoya's all kinds of awesome too). While they have the standard beef-bowl combination (i.e. beef, onion, ginger, rice), they also have plenty of other tasty options as well. Though they don't look anything like this in real life, the commercial below will give you an idea.
Mmm, looks delicious, right? And, like many Japanese fast food places, Sukiya is open 24hrs a day. It's such a perfect place to pop in at four in the morning after you've been working all night. Nice and warm and goes nicely with some tea.
There are over 1,000 Sukiya restaurants in Japan and some in China and Brazil as well. Their motto is "Save Time And Money." Now there's something (delicious) I can live by. [Sukiya's Website]
First Kitchen ( ファーストキッチン)
First Kitchen, owned by Suntory (they make beer and soft drinks, mostly), is a fast food chain in Japan that is mostly concentrated around the Kanto region of Japan (that's the prefectures around Tokyo). They serve burgers (most popular, apparently, is the Bacon Egg Burger, which sounds amazing because it has bacon in the name), fried chicken, pasta, pizza, and more.
They're pretty standard in terms of American-Fast-Food-Turned-Japanese places go. There are interesting (but kind of normal) things like croquette burgers, shrimp burgers, and katsu burgers.
The most interesting about First Kitchen, I think, is probably its name, which, when shortened, comes out to "ファッキン" (fakkin)… They're apparently pushing for people to use the abbreviation FK instead, because Fakkin sounds nothing like First Kitchen and a lot like some other word I can't think of at the moment. [First Kitchen's Website]
Yoshinoya ( 吉野家)
You can't write an overview of Japanese Fast Food Chains without including Yoshinoya. Yoshinoya (like Sukiya) is a gyuudon (beef bowl) place. There's a special place in my heart for Yoshinoya – it's fed me many-a-late-nights and also many-a-not-late-days.
There are several things that set Yoshinoya apart. First, there are some in America, so you have a chance to find it (though, I gotta say, doesn't feel the same to me). Second, compared to other places, they've been around a really really long time (1899).
One interesting thing about them is that in 2003, when Japan stopped importing American beef because of Mad Cow Disease scares, they stopped serving their beef bowls (that's like, their main bowl! 0_o). People lined up in giant lines (that's what Japanese people do for fun, line up) to get one last taste of wonderful beef goodness before they switched over to pork. Finally, in 2006 they were able to get American beef back again, and all of Japan celebrated (because, who wouldn't?).
Oh, and if you go to a Yoshinoya, stack up on the ginger. It's free and delicious. Yum. [Yoshinoya's Website]
Coco Ichiban Curry (CoCo 壱番)
Like Japanese curry and want it fast? Like your curry with lots of stuff, like natto, tonkatsu, and chicken, in it? Well, have no fear, Coco Ichiban Curry is here.
Personally, I can't get enough Japanese Curry (it's so easy for a terrible cook such as myself to make). I only put boring things like onions, carrots, and sometimes meat in mine, though. The first time I went to Coco Ichiban I was amazed by all the options. I think I got a combination of katsu and croquette – it was giant and awesome.
There are a bunch of these in Japan as well as some others around Asia and California/Hawaii. But, if you're looking to get a quick curry fix, Coco Ichiban is your place. Just don't be overwhelmed by all the available options. [Coco Ichibanya's Website]
Pizza-La ( ピザーラ)
Pizza-La is the most successful pizza company in Japan… but when I say "Pizza" don't think I'm talking about the stuff you're used to. Japanese pizza has "different" ingredients. I'm not saying they're bad… in fact, they're delicious… but there are a lot of ingredients you probably aren't used to.
Roast Chicken, Mozzarella, & Lemon
Bob Sapp flavored / SUPER Italian
Anyways, those sound pretty good, right? Other pizzas include Bulgogi, several things with mayo, hot dogs, and all the normal pizza things I'm not mentioning because you've seen it before. Their motto is "All the taste and toppings you want on a pizza, straight from our oven to your door!" and their mascot is a person with a pizza for a head. He makes good faces.
There's just no "neutral" when it comes to Pizza-La-kun. [Pizza-La's website]
Ichiran Ramen ( 一蘭ラーメン)
Delicious fast-food ramen. Even though Ichiran is pretty close to fast-food status, I don't think I've ever had ramen outside of Japan that's as good as this stuff. It's tasty – not something I'd compare with McDonalds or something like that, despite calling it "Fast Food." Maybe it's the nostalgia, but if I had to choose any Japanese fast-food place, this would be the one.
At Ichiran Ramen, you sit in solitude. You're in a booth, and it's just you and your ramen.
To buy the ramen, you don't even have to talk to anyone either. Just go to the machine, pay there, and turn in the ticket it spits out.
You can concentrate 100% on your (awesome) ramen. If you finish your noodles but want more, just put your plate on the button in front of you and a bell will ring in the back. Someone will grab your bowl and fill it with some more noodles as long as you still have the soup to go with them, making it a pseudo-all-you-can-eat style place.
Now, I know it's not supposed to be fun eating alone, but I think that's because most places make you feel bad (i.e. most tables are a table for at least two, if not more people). This place is made for being alone which gets rid of the guilt and the judging. Just you and wonderful ramen.
Let's Not Forget…
There are plenty of other Japanese Fast Food Chains that exist that I haven't added to the list. There are probably some that I've totally missed (whoops) – but, here are some I didn't really want to talk about a lot but ought to be on the list, along with a little about them.
Beard Papa's is a dessert place, so I'm not sure if it counts as fast food, but it's fast, and it's food, so we're going to include it. Their focus is cream puffs, and they're located all over the world (most of their stores are in Japan, though). You definitely have a pretty good chance to find this place in your own country though, at least compared to some of the other Japanese fast food joints.
Becker's is owned and operated by JR (that's Japan Railways, the people who do a lot of the train stuff in Japan). I'm guessing they thought "hey, we got tons of people coming into our stations on trains, I bet they're hungry for burgers" so then they just made a burger place. They're all about freshness here, too – if a bun gets more than 1.5 hours old, they toss it (so wasteful, though!). Still, it's pretty tasty.
Freshness Burger, as you can probably tell by the name, is also all about freshness. They stress the organic / fresh ingredients side of things, which is what differentiates them from the other burger fast food joints out there.
Lotteria Just another fast food burger chain – there isn't much that differentiates it from the other places, though it tastes fine, and I'd rather go here than McDonalds (though, McDonalds Japan is kinda good).
Pepper Lunch is a "fast-steak" fast-food restaurant in Japan and Asia that has a pretty interesting cooking method. The founder, Kunio Ichinose, wanted to make a place that served high quality fast food that didn't require a chef (cheaper and faster that way, I guess). They use metal plates that are heated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit by an electromagnetic cooker. The meat, vegetables, and other things get cooked and the customer decides when to eat them.
What Will You NomNomNom?
Now, I'm sure there are a bunch of other Japanese fast-food places I'm missing, but I'm pretty sure those are the main ones. Which ones caught your fancy? Which ones made you hungry? For me, it was definitely having to remember Ichiran Ramen and it's deliciousness (I'm writing this at dinner time, arrghsddjkfd).
One thing I do know, though… writing this article reminds me how terrible most American fast food chains are. Where are our standards? :(