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Eating McDonald's in Japan: A Comparison to American McDonald's

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Peter shares his knowledge on various hobbies and life experiences including sports, travel, photography, web marketing and more.

Which patty reigns supreme? Find out!

Which patty reigns supreme? Find out!

Eating McDonald's in a Different Country

Almost everyone has been to and eaten at a McDonald's. But how many people from one country have had the opportunity to have McDonald's in a different country?

I have had that opportunity, and it has opened my mind in some ways to how international business works.

I would like to share some of the differences I have noticed between Japanese and American McDonald's, such as unique menu items, the size of the meals, and the atmosphere of the restaurant. But before that, I would like to start with a little history of this fast food chain in Japan, along with a little bit about how I came to experience it in Japan.

Japanese McDonald's teriyaki burger!

Japanese McDonald's teriyaki burger!

The International Demand for McDonald's

In 1971, McDonald's was already running strong in America. But internationally they had only a few restaurants in countries such as Canada. However, that year the first McDonald's was opened in Tokyo, Japan, where it quickly became hugely popular. Soon after McDonald's opened there, Japanese companies started to join in on the fast-food business. Yet, because of McDonald’s first mover advantage, they kept ahead of their competition. McDonald's employed an aggressive strategy of starting several hundred new restaurants every year. Today, Japan has the second most McDonald's restaurants in the world at about 3,600. They have a goal of reaching 10,000 restaurants by 2020.

2001 was the year I first experienced McDonald's in Japan. It was also the year that my family and I moved from Texas to the small Japanese island of Okinawa. Since then, I have lived in Japan, only now spending my fall, winter, and spring in college in America.

Here's the Tamago Double Mac! Tamago is Japanese for egg. It looks delicious!

Here's the Tamago Double Mac! Tamago is Japanese for egg. It looks delicious!

Japanese vs. American McDonald's

The Menu

I have had many opportunities to eat at Japanese McDonald's, and from the time I first stepped into one, I knew it was different from an American McDonald's.

To begin with, I want to look at the menu differences. Most people have a basic knowledge of what McDonald's here in America sell. Items such as the Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Happy Meal, Chicken McNuggets, and McFlurry are well-known items. These items exist in Japan, but a variety of other exotic items are also available. Burgers such as the Mega Mac, Bacon Lettuce Burger, Teriyaki McBurger, Ebi Filet-O, and McPork are quite common and popular in Japan. I am amazed at the vast difference in just the burger menu items between America and Japan. McDonald's has found a way to tailor their products in Japan to fit what the Japanese people want while keeping the McDonalds feel of things. This is the first important key to McDonald’s success in Japan; their adaptability to international markets and tailoring of products to fit consumer demands.

In this comparison of drink sizes in America and Japan, you can see that Japanese sizes are much smaller.

In this comparison of drink sizes in America and Japan, you can see that Japanese sizes are much smaller.

The Product Sizes

Along the same lines of tailoring menu items comes adjusting product size. I was shocked when I first came back to America for college and went to a fast-food restaurant to eat, where I noticed the enormous size of the drink containers. The large size fountain drink container at a McDonald's in Japan is much smaller than a large one here in America. Along with that, free refills in Japan are not usually allowed. One example of the size difference is shown in the number of calories in a large coca-cola. In Japan, that would be 181 calories.

In America, a large Coke would be 310 calories. Clearly, the American size has nearly double the Soda and calories in it. French fries seem to follow the same format of being smaller or less in quantity in Japan. All in all, it appears that McDonald's in Japan has found that it is better to sell smaller portions of their food. One reason, I suspect, is because of the smaller size of the Japanese people. In any event, product size is a concern when dealing internationally (and perhaps in America, too!).

Here's a new, very stylish McDonald's in Japan. Would you visit one in America if they looked more like this?

Here's a new, very stylish McDonald's in Japan. Would you visit one in America if they looked more like this?

The Atmosphere

Finally, the atmosphere in a Japanese Mcdonald's is very different from that of the normal American McDonald's. I am not really sure what the cause of this is, but McDonald's in Japan has become a popular hangout spot, more than just a cheap place to eat. Also, breakfast is a busy time for American McDonald's, but in Japan, it is typically slow, with few customers. I think that Americans see McDonald's as an in-and-out convenience-type store where cheap food can be quickly purchased. Japanese diners see it more like a restaurant, as a taste of what America might be like.

Clearly, McDonald's in Japan will continue to succeed as long as it is a popular place to eat. American restaurants should try to follow the Japanese example. The addition of coffee beverages in American McDonald's is a step in this direction, encouraging customers to stop and enjoy their coffee. But it is hard to get away from being a fast-food restaurant after so many years of being just that.

International Business Is Complex

In the end, I have become aware of the difficulties of international business. McDonald's has shown a unique example of ways to cope with changes in culture and consumer attitude. I think this is an important item for Americans to learn; that other cultures are very different and have unique demands. If someone doesn’t realize this, maybe they should just stop by a Japanese McDonald's and see what they can learn.