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The Japanese Attitude toward American Fast Food

The Japanese Attitude toward American Fast Food



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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Reece Otsuka. Originally submitted for Japanese Culture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with lecturer Jennifer Cullen in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Reece Otsuka. Originally submitted for Japanese Culture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with lecturer Jennifer Cullen in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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11 May 2011
The Japanese Attitude toward American Fast Food
Abstract:In recent years, there has been a boom in the number of American fast food franchisesabroad. McDonald’s and other such chains have prospered in Japan; the island nation has thesecond largest number of McDonald’s stores, surpassed only by the United States. There have been a few theories offered which attempt to explain why the Japanese have such an interest inthese franchises. One view, offered by Love and Watson, argues that McDonald’s could nothave succeeded in Japan without first undergoing radical cultural changes, since it wasintroduced as an American product. At the other extreme, Traphagan and Brown argue thatrather than conforming to the lifestyles of the Japanese, fast food franchises have blended intocustoms and tradition, promoting communality and relationships.While both points make valid arguments, several factors are left out of each one thatresults in an inconclusive answer. This paper takes both arguments and attempts to fill in the blanks left by each individual viewpoint to form a conclusive statement on the Japanese opinionstoward American fast food. Location and demographic are concluded to be the two mostimportant factors in determining the success of American fast food franchises in Japan.Branches near metropolitan Tokyo promote the fast-paced, individualistic style of the metropoliswhile those in rural areas cater to familial lifestyles which foster community and tradition.Franchises in Japan attempt to appeal to all lifestyles and tastes.
Shrimp burgers, teriyaki chicken subs, melon soda, hamburg (Japanese ground beef  patties) pizza: these are some of the eccentric items that one can get in Japan at fast foodfranchises such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Pizza Hut. These items certainly arenot present at their respective restaurants in the United States and these establishments are nearlyas successful in Japan as they are in America. The introduction of these foreign foods has hadsignificant impacts on Japan and its people. Some believe that these American fast food chainscould not have succeeded in Japan without first undergoing major cultural changes due toexisting Japanese attitudes toward foreign entities. An opposing point of view is that theJapanese were able to embrace McDonald’s and other places because they allow for theexpression of long standing of Japanese cultural patterns. This essay attempts to analyze thesediffering attitudes toward these fast food chains and draw conclusions from them about thefactors that influence their attitude toward American fast food franchises.The Japanese share the same basic rice diet of all East Asian peoples, but have beenunique in their self-disciplined attitude toward meat, until just recently. Shortly after theintroduction of Buddhism in the sixth century, the Japanese were bound by a doctrine whichdetailed the legal prohibition of the “consumption of land-dwelling animals” (Watson 166).From that time till about the thirteenth century, the official Japanese diet consisted of fish andvegetables (Watson 166). Beginning in the early 1200s, trade with the European countries beganto introduce Western-style influences to Japan. The Dutch introduced corn and potatoes, whilethe Portuguese taught the Japanese a batter frying cooking technique, which is now known as
(Hays 2009). The first Japanese to embrace Western foods were the elites who ate it toshow their sophistication. They enjoyed drinking beer and eating biscuits (Hays 2009).
Even though the Japanese began to eat meat during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), it wasnot until World War II did the consumption of meat increase. This is probably attributed to thefact that the Japanese considered the consumption of large amounts of red meat to be barbaric before the 20
century (Watson 166). Bread also was not introduced to Japan until the mid1950s, but since then the consumption of bread has greatly increased and in some cases hasreplaced rice in many Japanese breakfasts. However, bread is primarily consumed at breakfastand sandwiches are not very popular amongst the Japanese. Although bread and meatconsumption has risen drastically in recent years, many Japanese, especially those belonging tothe older generation, still consider dinner unfulfilling if there is no rice present. This is probablywhy most Japanese consider hamburgers to be a snack rather than a meal (Watson 168).While Western food was first established in Japan during the Meiji Period, it took untilabout the 1970s before the first American fast food restaurant became established in Japan.Surprisingly, the first major chain to appear in Japan was not McDonald’s, but Kentucky FriedChicken, which arrived in 1970 as a joint venture between Pepsi Cola and Mitsubishi. Todaythere are about 1,118 outlets nationwide (Hays 2009). McDonald’s did not enter the picture untila year later when it first opened its doors in Asia in front of the Matsuya department store in theGinza district of Tokyo on July 20, 1971. During its first day of operation, the store made about$3,000 (Love 424-25). Today McDonald’s is by far Japan’s most popular fast food chain, and boasting over 3,500 stores nationwide, Japan has the second largest number of McDonald’sstores in the world, trailing only the United States (Schlosser 242).John Love, in his book, analyzes the worldwide marketing of McDonald’s, expressingobstacles each international chain of the franchise has had to overcome. In one of his chapters,
 Exporting Americana
, Love takes a standpoint that McDonald’s in Japan could not succeed

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