There are several brands that no matter where you are in the world, there is a good chance you will encounter them.
This could be something like Starbucks for the coffee industry, or maybe Zara when it comes to clothing. Today however we are going to take a look at one of the most renowned fast-food chains, McDonald’s!
Having said that, today we are interested in just one part of the famous chain, which is no other than McDonald’s Japan.
And would you believe it if I told you that when compared with let’s say, the US version of the store, it bares little resemblance?
And I am talking about the entirety of the menu as well as the special services and store culture.
But I won’t tire you any longer. Without further ado, let’s get started!
McDonald’s moved in Japan in 1971 and have, ever since, opened several stores in the country, reaching an astounding number of over 3000 as of today.
In that span of the last 51 years, they have customized their stores and services to match the local market, as every international chain wants to do to maximize its effect.
As an immediate result, there are many aspects of McDonald’s Japan unique, compared to other countries’ branches, stemming from the cultural differences that characterize the two locations.
Which Nickname Holds the Fries: Mac (マック) or MakuDo (マクド)?
Did you know that in Japan, there's an ongoing debate about the best nickname for McDonald's? It's a battle between マック 'Makku' and マクド 'Makudo.' When this culinary conundrum was posed to a company representative, their diplomatic response was, "There's no definitive answer," and "There's no 'one-size-fits-all' nickname." They're simply delighted to be affectionately referred to by either name.
Interestingly, regional preferences play a role in this linguistic fast-food feud. In eastern Japan and Kyushu, it's often affectionately dubbed "Mac," while in the Kinki region and its surroundings, "Macdo" reigns supreme.
We are going to focus primarily on the differences between McDonald’s Japan and McDonald’s US in this article, on pricing, products, services, etc.
And we will start with no other than the…
There is a different variety of drinks in Japan optimized for the preferences of the locals. These include McFloats, which are Soda and Ice Cream based drinks of many flavors, Vegetable Juice (with some 30 ingredients or something), Sokenbicha, a Japanese tea blend owned by Coca-Cola and Coffee, which we are going to examine shortly.
This is contrary to the Slushies and the smoothies as well as the cold beverages one may find in McDonald’s US.
[The localized country-specific drinks of Mcdonald’s remind me of another specialized Japanese drink menu by the American coffee giant - Starbucks. To read more about Jimoto Frappes of Starbucks Japan, head on to this article.]
In terms of food, let’s start with the signature burgers.
Big Macs are to be found in Japan as well as in the US, however in Japan they are slightly smaller in terms of weight, and also carry a lower price tag.
The superstar of Japanese McDonald’s burgers is by far the Teriyaki Burger and the Teriyaki Filet-o, both of which mesmerize tourists and foreigners every time they try them. These are nowhere to be found but in Japan and they have rightfully made a reputation for themselves.
Also, there is a policy that after 17.00, you can order a BAI burger in the price of a normal one. BAI means double in this case. So, if you bought a double Big Mac with 2 patties, the BAI version contains 4 of them.
Of course, there is an app, and you can also find menus as low as 1.38 $ if you desire.
The character of the brand, not too expensive yet delicious fast-food, hasn’t been tampered with so the very spirit of the store is pretty much the same!
McCafé’s Japan Special Coffee
McDonald’s, for those that don’t know, also runs an international chain of cafeterias called McCafé.
In Japan, the coffee culture is such, that this attempt found a lot of support from the community.
The menu in these McCafé stores is 100% customized to a cafeteria’s style and you will find both a large variety of drinks as well as a special combination of pastry and sweets to accompany your experience.
Speaking of drinks, on top of the normal beverages one would find to a normal McDonalds, here you can also find many unique Smoothies and Frappes all with the option to sit and enjoy!
Of course, it being a branch of the McDonald’s chain, it also has the premium roasted “new latte” and “iced coffee” supervised by the world Barista Champion Hidenori Izaki
We have elaborated more on that subject in the article above so please take a look if you are interested! There are very few chains that will bring a World Champion to approve their products!
The Coffee Wars
Now “the Coffee Wars” is a fascinating title until I add the first half of the name. “Japanese Convenience Store Coffee Wars” is the entire name!
We have a previous article on the subject right here but I will explain briefly why I mention them in this article.
Convenience Stores, also known as Kombinis, are an integral part of Japanese Culture that has been around since the 70’s.
In these stores you can find a very large variety of everyday products, one of which is coffee.
The Coffee Wars, a very fancy name for extremely heightened competition, began amongst the largest chains of Kombinis (namely Lawson, 7-Eleven, Family Mart, etc.). At their very foundation it was a simple “Who will make the best coffee at the lowest price”.
As competition of that sort tends to crown the customer as the winner most of the time, that’s exactly what happened, but we delve much more into it in the post above!
The reason I took the time to mention it is because the whole event had a great impact on the coffee industry of Japan increasing everyone’s level of coffee and it was waged surprisingly, by no other than McDonald’s who are not even a Convenience store!
Their promoting the 100-yen blend in 2008, inspired the later contestants, and having raised awareness and standards this much as a result, even unintentionally, I thought this was quite the remarkable feat!
Meanwhile, the Coffee Wars continue to rage not only among convenience stores but also within Japan's bustling coffee shop scene. In a dramatic twist of events in 2023, a prominent British Coffee Chain boldly opened its first Tokyo store right next to a well-established Starbucks outlet! (You can explore this intriguing development further in this article.)
For those who find themselves inquisitive coffee enthusiasts, we've taken a deep dive into specific regions across Japan that we've affectionately labeled 'Cafe Battlegrounds.' In these areas, the coffee competition is nothing short of a fierce showdown. However, that's a tale we'll save for another day.
Stay tuned as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of Japan's coffee culture, where each sip tells a unique story of innovation and rivalry.
Summarizing everything, I believe that McDonald’s lovers who haven’t been to Japan, definitely have many reasons to do so.
Whether it be coffee or burgers or even McFloats that get you through their door, now you know a bit more about their history and operations and you know more or less what to expect.
Also, you know that like every healthy chain of dining stores, it has adapted quite well to the local landscape, so if you are a tourist, this isn’t going to be your everyday McDonald’s. This is going to be a part of your overall experience of Japan and what it looks like when combined with western fast food. I at least am intrigued!
I really hope you get a chance to visit it for yourself if you haven’t already, and until our next post, may great coffee find its way to your cup.