Living, working, and even traveling in Japan could be quite hectic. You’ll see that you turn to fast food pretty much everyday in Japan just to keep up with the pace of life there. The truth is, though, that any restaurant food in Japan, even at what you would call sit-down restaurants, is fast. I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than 10-15 minutes for my food in Japan. Japanese fast food is a bit different from your synthetic McDonald’s hamburger (though there’s plenty of that too). There are plenty of casual and inviting places where you can get great food at great prices and unbelievably quickly.
The most notorious fast food restaurants in Japan (and now in the US as well) are the beef bowl – “Gyudon” – restaurants. These include 24-hour chains such as “Yoshinoya,” “Matsuya,” and “Sukiya.” Yoshinoya is the largest chain of beef bowl restaurants in Japan. The first one was opened in Tokyo’s fish market in 1899. These chains compete heavily for customers, leading to price wars that have brought down the cost of a beef bowl to about $3. Although the beef bowls are prepared primarily with American beef, an import ban from 2004 to 2006 caused a slowdown in production, and either Australian beef or Japanese beef was used instead. Today beef bowl lovers are able to once again enjoy the original taste. Beef bowl chains serve much more than the beef-on-rice delight; you can choose from a variety of beef bowls prepared with different sauces and toppings, or you can go for something completely different like curry-rice. Everything is prepaid for using automatic ticket vending machines at the entrance.
With the influence of Western culture on Japan, burgers have started dominating the country’s fast food industry. McDonald’s does, however, not have a monopoly over the burger and fries market, as chains such as “Mos Burger” serve very respectable grub. Both in McDonald’s and the Japanese chains, the originally American delicacies are served with a unique Japanese twist to them. The chicken teriyaki burger at Mos is to die for.
“First Kitchen” is another fast food joint in Japan where you can not only find burgers, but also soups, pizza, pasta, floats and ice cream. This chain serves fries in eight different flavors!
If you are using the trains to travel around in Japan, which you probably are, you will come across “soba” or buckwheat noodle stands at almost every station. These places offer simple noodle-soup dishes with various toppings. Ordering and payment are usually settled at the entrance with automatic vending machines here as well. Ramen noodle restaurants, though not always located next to train stations, are just as fast and delicious.
Noodles, burgers, and beef bowls have been long recognized as fast food items, but the recent fast food craze in Japan is “Takoyaki,” which are round grilled octopus dumplings. There is nothing new about the food itself, as it’s consumed regularly at festivals and other occasions, but many Takoyaki specialty stores have started popping up around the country, one of them being the “Gindaco” chain.
And when all else fails, there’s always that 24/7 convenience store around the corner.