Although disregarded by some, travelers in Japan will surely find something to enjoy if they decide to explore the world of local fast food. You’ll find various international chains all around, but going to a Japanese fast food restaurant will be a different and new experience. From original inventions like Wagyu burgers to more traditional foods like ramen or soba, there’s so much diversity that you’ll be sure to find the food that you enjoy the most.
Apart from the great variety of foods, fast food restaurants also offer innovative experiences that you won’t see in most Western locals. First, the most characteristic feature is the displays of plastic or wax food that often make an appearance at the front of the sore. These models are crafted delicately and show all of the food’s details from size to ingredients so that you’re only left wondering about its most important characteristic: the taste. Stores also often feature screen menus at their entrance, which makes it easy for non-Japanese speakers since they often offer an English translation option and for those who know what kind of food they want but are not sure of the dish, as food is separated into different categories.
Here are some of Japan’s best fast food restaurants, all with multiple stores you can find along the country:
Hanamaru, sushi bars and conveyor belt sushi
Any list of Japanese fast food restaurants would of course be incomplete if it didn’t include a nice sushi place. Hanamaru is a traditional sushi shop first established in Nemuro, on the island of Hokkaidō. The Nemuro port is one of Hokkaidō’s most significant fishing spots, and fish can be harvested all year round. Taking this to their advantage, the founders of Nemuro created the first store and later established one more store in the Nemuro area, eight in the Sapporo area, and three in the Tokyo Area. Their stores are divided into two different kinds: Nemuro Hanamaru, their kaiten or conveyor belt sushi, and Siki Hanamaru, their sushi bars.
The sushi in the conveyor belts seems radiant and colorful, enough to make anyone’s mouth water. If you go, we recommend trying the Benikaze Shujinko Shōyuduke, sushi made of red salmon roe that has been previously pickled in soy sauce, giving it an amazing umami flavor.
CoCo Ichi, variety in a concept
From Coco’s curry to Curry House Coco and Coco Ichi, CoCo Ichibanya’s multiple names are the first insight you can get into the company’s key characteristic: variety. From a simple concept such as curry, this restaurant chain has been able to create dozens of dishes, so any client is sure to find something that will appeal to their taste. From changing the meat in the curry to offering vegetarian options and even a natto curry, Coco’s has made sure that there are multiple options to choose from. They also have a children’s menu and allow you to choose the level of mildness and spiciness in your dish, as well as the quantity in grams of rice you want to eat. The company was founded in Nagoya in 1978, and 16 years later it had already established over 300 restaurants, having at least one in every single Japanese prefecture.
If you go, we definitely recommend the shrimp cutlet curry, along with their mango lassie pudding for a small dessert after the meal.
Matsuya, anything box set
You will find Matsuya locals almost anywhere you go in Japan. Take a small stroll in any major city and you will most likely see its characteristic red, white and yellow logo. From Gyumeshi to Udon, this restaurant chain offers a great variety of food, but what we think what is most special about them is their box meals. These come with the usual salad, rice, and miso soup, but their main plate can vary from yakiniku or grilled pork to even some Korean food like bulgogi and kimchi. The box meals include children’s options that come with Miffy-themed dishes, and they even have special breakfast box meals as well. The company was first established in Nerima-ku, Tokyo, as a Chinese restaurant, but over the years it opened different restaurants, some specializing in foods like sushi or curry, including the characteristic Matsuya that is so well known these days.
The morning sets are some of our favorites, and the salmon breakfast set is a must-try if you visit.
Shogun Burger, innovation within tradition
To any lovers of burgers out there, trying Wagyu Burgers when visiting Japan is a must-do to broaden your experience. Wagyu meat gives the concept of burgers a great umami-flavored twist, and, although only located in Tokyo, we believe Shogun Burger is the right place to do so. Given its soft texture and mildly sweet flavor, Wagyu meat has been oftentimes considered the best kind of meat in the world. Shogun Burger has eight different locations, each with its own unique and innovative store special burger. Although a fairly new company, Shogun Burger has quickly risen to fame and is currently competing in the 2022 World Burger Championship.
Although they offer a variety of burgers, we recommend going with a more traditional approach so you can experience the unique flavor of Wagyu burgers and try one of their double cheeseburgers.
Yoshinoya, beef with anything
Yoshinoya’s bright orange logos are easy to spot from a distance, and they are the perfect introduction to the delicious food you can find inside. Their motto, “good, easy, and fast” is all we look for in a fast food restaurant chain. The quickness of the preparation of their meals does not affect their quality at all. Offering various kinds of beef bowls or gyūdon, these restaurants are perfect to visit with a friend to try their double-set meals. From green onion and chili oil to kimchi or cheese, the beef bowls they offer have a good variety of toppings to choose from. If beef is not your thing, they also offer pork bowls or even box sets with eel. The company has a long history, as it was established in 1899, and it has even gotten to the point of establishing restaurants in other countries like Australia and the United States.
Their beef bowl with green onion and chili oil is a great dish to try if you like spicy food, and for those who enjoy vegetables, the Rizap beef salad is a perfect choice.
Although quite different from fast food restaurants in other countries, the ones you find in Japan surely are delicious and will give you a new insight into the concept of fast food. Often including traditional foods, these restaurants also have a great variety that will allow anyone to find the one that is the most fitting to their taste.
Featured Photo by Natsuki on Unsplash