McDonalds in Japan and Cultural Differences
McDonalds has existed for around 70 years around the world, dominating the fast food industry. From its cheap and recognizable menu to its fast service, McDonalds has become a staple for many, from busy business workers to students on nights out. The first Japanese McDonalds was established in 1971 in Ginza, initially not gaining as much popularity as it now enjoys (Kumazaki). The Japanese food market was not as familiar or taken with hamburgers, popular in the US, the homeland of McDonalds. Nevertheless, over the years the chain managed to overcome the obstacles, cultural and otherwise, leading the restaurant to become incredibly successful.
An American chain, McDonalds’ food and strategies were initially tailored to the tastes of Americans. However, the culture surrounding food, and otherwise, in Japan, differed significantly, forcing the chain to adjust its strategies. Firstly, obento, boxed lunches that are intricately arranged and carry a cultural meaning behind their structure and contents, play a significant role in the Japanese food culture (White). Mothers prepare daily obento boxes for their children to take to school and represent several important Japanese values – such as, order and individual roles of all citizens. The thoughtfulness and care behind the creation of obento boxes shows the attitude of the Japanese towards the importance of such values and sticking to them.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that an American chain was difficult to be made appealing to the Japanese market at first. Although today it is widely accepted that, due to globalization, food and culture have traveled around the globe, half a century ago food preferences were largely culturally oriented. Establishing a restaurant with an American menu might have seemed foolish at first but once McDonalds started to customize its items to the Japanese tastes its popularity started to grow.
The chain started to add dishes that were more similar to the traditional Asian cuisine, such as fried rice, and curried chicken and rice. Today, the menu includes unique regional items from Teriyaki burgers and Ebi Filet-o to Shaka Shaka Potato Butter Soy Sauce and McFloat soda with ice-cream (Shardlow & Floyd). By increasing creativity and innovation and adapting to the cultural preferences in Japan, McDonalds was able to reach the popularity that it is known for around the world.
However, the contents of the menu were not the only challenge that McDonalds faced. Unlike the individualistic US, Japan’s culture puts a big emphasis on community, and meals are often occasions for bringing people together. Many of the traditional dishes, such as rice, are shared between all the people at the table – unlike the individually portioned hamburgers McDonalds is famous for. Moreover, the structure of the restaurant itself, focused on the quickness of the meal rather than its enjoyment, does not create a communal environment.
McDonalds has become increasingly more accepted and more popular in Japan, as it has globally. However, it still serves as an example in the startling cultural differences that can be observed around the world. Japanese game shows have shocked people all over the Internet for years. Moreover, foreigners are often surprised by the fascination with anime, from child to adult content, the existence of used underwear dispensers, and the various fascinating events such the Belly Button Festival. From an American perspective, some of the values, traditions, and practices of Japanese culture might appear surprising and even peculiar. However, it is more than likely that American traditions can also appear strange or shocking to non-Americans, which highlights the importance of curiosity in learning about other cultures.
Kumazaki, Takashi. “McDonald’s Japan at 50: The Highs and Lows of its First Half-Century.” Nippon. 2021. Web.
Shardlow, Ju, and Charlie Floyd. “We Tried 15 Unique Menu Items at McDonald’s in Japan — Here’s What They Were Like.” Insider, 2019. Web.
White, Mary. “O-Bento.” About Japan, n.d. Web.