Posts Tagged ‘fast food’

Drive-thru Nippon: convenience or hazard?

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

While finger-food friendly places like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mister Donuts have all had drive-thru windows across Japan for years, Nikkei Trendy says drive-thrus are evolving. These days, more distinctly Japanese fare is getting the meals-on-wheels treatment . . . though drivers would do well to consider that the hazards of eating them while behind the wheel.

Ringer Hut's new drive-thru, featuring Nagasaki champon

Ringer Hut's new drive-thru, featuring Nagasaki champon

Gindaco is a chain of takoyaki restaurants that has made drive-thrus a big part of its strategy for northern Kanto. Takoyaki is known as a street food, a favorite at festivals and in entertainment districts. Rows of cast-iron shells are filled with dough then usually handed out in paper or styrofoam trays. Right before eating, they’re doused with a brush of brown sauce, a shake of dried nori and maybe a glurt of mayo topped off with a handful of katsuo shavings. The takoyaki balls are usually wolfed down at a standing or seated counter. They’re deceptively steamy under all those toppings, and the first bite often leads to hands clapped over mouths and muffled cries of “atsui!” (hot!).  So they’re not exactly an obvious choice for a drive-thru. At almost the exact same size as a doughnut hole, they may seem perfect for handing over to the driver one at a time — except for all those toppings and their searing temperature. And the window between blistering hot and cool and claggy is narrow.

Ringer Hut expanded on the success of its Kyushu branches and opened its first drive-thru in the Tokyo area at the end of August. The Nagasaki champon they serve is surely one of the least drive-thru friendly foods out there. It’s a big flat plate of crunchy noodles with a slightly gluey sauce filled with vegetables, squid pieces and pink slices of fish cake. Ringer Hut designed a special multi-part disposable serving system for the noodles, two separate lidded plates that nestle neatly into a cardboard carrying case. Ingenious? Possibly. Front-seat friendly? No way.

Matsuya has drive-thru windows for its inexpensive beef and rice dishes. They use a similar compartmentalized container to keep the beef and rice separate until ready to eat, presumably while the car isn’t moving. Even-cheaper beef-bowl chain Yoshinoya is just starting to creep into the drive-thru market.

Tsukemen is even more impossible to eat on the road. The noodles and thick soup stay in their separate bowls, and you dip the noodles into the soup. I’m not alone in thinking that this is not really a road-friendly dish. It was actually a topic of discussion on a Japanese Yahoo! message board. Easy to eat or not, noodle shop Rokurinsha saw the drive-thru as an option.  Rokurinsha added a drive-thru window to a popular shop in Shinagawa to combat long lines of pedestrians that were annoying the neighbors. Instead, now, they’re facing the possibility of long lines of cars.

KFC goes for finger-lickin’ health-conscious goodness

Friday, July 9th, 2010

KFC is set to debut a new health-conscious menu featuring Oven Roast chicken and an array of sandwiches at it's Shibuya-dori location.

KFC is set to debut a new health-conscious menu featuring Oven Roasted chicken and an array of sandwiches at its Shibuya-dori location.

Earlier this year McDonalds rebranded 13 of its stores in Tokyo locations, such as Shibuya and Roppongi, giving the inside and outside appearance of the stores a facelift, perhaps to better match their swankier Japanese surroundings. More recently, Nikkei Trendy is reporting that Kentucky Fried Chicken is undergoing a more drastic rebranding of its own, pitting the Colonel and his Christmas chicken giant against Ronald McDonald’s fast food empire.

The first KFC restaurant debuted in Japan in November 1970 in Nagoya and quickly gained popularity, riding a boom in Western culture that can be partially attributed to the Expo ’70, the World’s Fair held in Osaka. Since then KFC in Japan has become strongly connected with Christmas, thanks to a 1974 marketing campaign that was inspired by a group of foreigners who, unable to find turkey, decided to celebrate Christmas dinner with fried chicken.

KFC in Japan has long been forced to innovate to survive the cut-throat fast-food industry. With this new marketing campaign, however, KFC clearly wants wants to tap into the health-conscious market of women and young people. The centerpiece of their experimental “next generation” menu, available only at the Shibuya location, is Oven Roasted ChickenAdvertising material eschews french fries, giving the option instead of salad and tea. Included is a marinade sauce heavy on bell peppers. In addition to a variety of salads, the menu also includes a Brazer (ブレイザー) chicken fillet sandwich, a broccoli chicken roll and an avocado shrimp sandwich. This move to healthier fare is ironic given that the U.S. KFC is currently hawking the Double Down, a sandwich that replaces bread with two cuts of fried chicken.

KFC might be best served imitating Subway rather than McDonalds: The sandwich maker has been successful with vegetable-centric advertising.

KFC might be best served imitating Subway rather than McDonalds: The sandwich maker has been successful with vegetable-centric advertising.

Nikkei Trendy seems impressed with the new items and equally so with the décor, which is sleek and chic, not unlike the McDonalds changes. While the main opponent of KFC may be McDonald’s, the company might be best advised to look closely at the marketing campaigns of Subway. The sandwich maker has firmly established the fact that in Japan, Subway is about vegetables. The company name is always given as “Subway (of vegetables)” (野菜のSubway), and their slogan is “Put vegetables into every day” (毎日に野菜をはさもう). It is unlikely, however, that KFC’s changes will be able to match Subway’s commitment to freshness: On July 6, the company opened a new location called the Yasai Lab Marunouchi Building in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo. The “Lab” will feature organic vegetables grown hyrdoponically on-site. Fresh veggies from the in-store gardens will be available starting in October.

The Shibuya-dori KFC location will debut the new menu on Friday, July 9.

What’s in the cards for the future of sumo?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

akawashi_625

One of sumo’s two present yokozuna (grand champions) may have just cemented his place in the sport’s history last weekend, but far fewer people were watching than just a decade earlier. Could playing cards help rekindle interest?

The traditional Japanese sport has been simultaneously battling two nebulous forces: controversy and apathy. Not only are popularity and new recruits dropping, but at the same time a number of scandals continue to fester. There was the hazing death of a young wrestler in 2007, the recent accusations of special treatment of yakuza bosses in Nagoya and an assault charge and civil suit filed this month by a tokoyama (sumo hair stylists). And, of course, few have forgotten the marijuana busts.

Long before these pratfalls, many of Japan’s purist (and arguably nationalist) fans were already decrying the influx of non-Japanese grapplers – including the two present yokozuna, both  Mongolians – and their lack of deference to the sport’s rigid and time-honored traditions. Asashoryu, last week’s victor and 24-time winner of the Imperial Cup, has been repeatedly criticized for his behavior, which may seem tame when compared to Western athletes but is considered barbaric by sumo’s strict standards.

Controversy generates attention, so one could argue that such scandals actually help sumo attract more eyeballs, but certainly not enough. Interest in sumo among younger generations has been waning for some time, overtaken by video games and J. League soccer, the youth’s pro sport of choice.

What to do? One proven method of garnering attention in Japan is by developing your own line of adorable character goods. Enter Sekitori-kun. The name for these chicken littles is a play on the word sekitori (関取, top-ranked wrestler) and the kanji for bird (鳥) which also has the sound “tori”. The characters are packaged as playing cards similar to the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! brands – with strength, endurance and other fighting characteristics mapped out – and then handed out to kids at tournaments.

Is the pre-teen demographic what they’re aiming for? That would explain the recent flirtation with fast food – I’m imagining Asashoryu-shaped Happy Meal toys at McDonald’s by 2010. If Japanese kids buy enough of them – and eat enough of those hamburgers – then sumo may form its next generation sooner than expected.

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