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Best Japanese Fast Food To Try

We usually think about fried chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs, fish & chips and all the take-away, unhealthy meals when being asked about fast food. However, it could be a little bit different in Japan, while fast food can both be quickly dishing out and wholesome. Feel curious about Japanese fast food? We’ve got you covered! Let’s take a closer look at the list of traditional Japanese fast foods and top restaurant chains in Japan.

An insider’s guide to Japanese fast food

Best traditional fast food in Japan

Fast food is not something new to Japan as it was widespread and popular centuries before processed fast-foods arrived on the scene from America.

1. Sushi

Sushi (寿司) is definitely the most famous dish both inside and outside of Japan. The word itself is the combination of “su” and “meshi”, which means vinegar and rice in English. In the old-time, sushi was a type of pickled fish preserved in vinegar. It is considered to be pricey, sophisticated and only made for special occasions like festivals or celebrations. Today, people refer to sushi as the slightly sweet, vinegared rice, paired with either raw or cooked seafood, egg or vegetables.

japanese fast food

Sushi is the most significant dish that represents Japanese cuisine

Sushi comes in many different types. Some popular ones are Nigiri sushi, Maki sushi, Oshi sushi, Temaki sushi, etc. International versions of sushi could include untraditional ingredients such as avocado, cheese, or fried shrimp. Prices typically start at 100 yen per plate.

2. Donburi

Donburi are the quintessential Japanese comfort meal which normally consist of a bowl of fluffy steamed rice and topping like fish, meat, vegetables served in the same container. For a complete meal, donburi is enjoyed with a bowl of miso soup and a side of refreshing salad. In Japan, there are fast food chains specializing in donburi. They are super convenient because you can make your order and payment through a vending machine before picking up at the serving counter. That’s why they are a popular choice of quick meal amongst the office workers. Some of the most typical donburi are Gyudon (beef bowl), Katsudon (chicken cutlet rice bowl), Ten Don (tempura donburi), Soboro don (minced chicken & egg on rice) and  Salmon Ikura Don.

japanese fast food

Thinly sliced beef simmered with onion in a savory-sweet sauce, Gyudon (beef bowl) is probably one of the most popular types of donburi in Japan

Golden crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura served over steamed rice and drizzled with tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce), this ten don recipe is a real treat for a special Saturday night dinner.

3. Yakitori

Yakitori (焼き鳥) is a Japanese dish in which different parts of chicken such as breasts, thighs, skin, liver and other innards are skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over charcoal. In general, yakitori is seasoned with sweet and salty shoyu-based tare (sauce) or simply with shio (salt). This inexpensive dish is perfect to be enjoyed with a glass of beer.

fast food in japan

It is a favorite dish of many, and a must-try when in Japan

A single skewer at a high-class restaurant typically costs between 250 yen and 350 yen, but chain restaurants often sell yakitori for under 150 yen.

4.  Ramen

Having a deep root in China, Ramen (ラーメン) is one of the most popular dishes in Japan in recent decades. It is a type of noodles made from wheat and often served in hot broth. Typical Ramen noodles are thin, yellow, long and elastic.

japanese fast food

Ramen can be topped with roasted or braised pork, bamboo shoots, green onions, eggs  and steamed fish cake

Ramen soup base comes into many different types, from Shio (salt), Shoyu (soy sauce), to Miso (soybean paste) and Tonkotsu (pork bone). This type of noodle is inexpensive and widely available, which makes it an ideal choice for hungry travelers.

5. Udon

Being made from wheat flour, Udon (うどん) is an old noodle that has thrived in Japan for centuries. The noodles are thick, white, chewy, and usually served in mildly flavored broth. Udon broth and topping vary from region to region. Usually, Eastern Japanese people eat udon with dark brown soy sauce broth (koikuchi shōyu) while light brown broth, made from light soy sauce (usukuchi shōyu), is used in Western Japan.

japanese fast food

Thinly chopped scallions, tempura or mushroom are often added as toppings

Udon noodles can be prepared in a variety of ways. Normally, people eat chilled in the summer and hot in the winter. A regular udon bowl at low-cost chains is around 500 yen while udon sold in average restaurants would take you 500 to 1000 yen.

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6. Tachigui soba

Kneaded from the buckwheat fruits and soba flour, Soba is a type of long and narrow shape of noodles that can be enjoyed without broth. Tachigui Soba (standing-up-eating soba) is kinda quick meal while you are traveling, commuting or in busy times. This unusual eating style was first introduced in the  Edo Period (1603-1868). Tachigui soba shops mainly place in train stations and aim at laborers and working-class people who need inexpensive yet nutritious, fresh and flavorful food.

A bowl of Soba noodles with beans, mushrooms and spicy sesame sauce is one of the best choices for vegetarians

To order a place in a tachigui soba restaurant, first, you have to buy the meal coupon on the vending machine and hand it to the shop’s staff. Then find somewhere to stand and wait a few minutes for your bowl to be delivered. You can enjoy the kake soba – steaming hot soba for only 400 yen. Soups with topping won’t cost you more than 700 yen for one bowl.

7. Curry

Originating from Indian cuisine, curry (カレー, karē) has been adopted to Japan since late 1960s by the British and now become the national dish. In Japan, curry is commonly cooked in three ways: curry rice (karē raisu), curry udon, and curry bread. The most popular curry is katsu kare (カツカレー), a dish of regular rice served with deep-fried pork cutlet.

The main ingredients to make Japanese curry are potatoes, carrots, onions and meat (beef, pork or chicken). People usually use basic Indian spice – a special roux which comprises curry powder, flour, oil and other aromatics to put on top of rice. Typical Japanese curry will taste sweeter but less spicy than its Indian counterpart.

fast food in japan

A very common variation of Japanese curry is katsu kare

8. Bento lunch box

A bento (弁当) is a single-portion boxed meal that can be taken away or home-packed in Japan as well as some other Asia countries. A traditional bento box is the combination of rice or noodle as the main staple food, meat or fish, and an assortment of pickled or cooked vegetables.

There are several different types of bento to enjoy, in which the most common one is Makunouchi bento. It is a two-section box with one side containing rice and the other holding an assortment of colorful side dishes. Bento could be decorated to look like people, animals, buildings and cute items such as flowers and plants. You can easily purchase them at many places throughout Japan, including bento shops (bentō-ya), convenience stores or even railway stations.

It is ideal for school children and the workforce alike due to the balanced nutrition and portability

9. Takoyaki

Originated and gradually became popular in Osaka around 1935, Takoyaki (たこ焼き) is one of the best-known street food in Japan. It’s a kind of ball-shaped snack, made from grilled puffs of seasoned batter with pieces of octopus inside. Tako-yaki literally translates to fried octopus and in many places, it’s also called “Octopus balls” or “Octopus dumplings”.

Crispy on the outside and creamy inside, takoyaki are favored by a lot of hungry travellers. Normally, this type of snack will be served with slightly salty takoyaki sauce and seasonings scattered along the top. You can easily enjoy it at street vendors, convenience stores, supermarkets, food courts, and of course specialty restaurants.

japanese fast food

These ball-shaped dumplings go well with cool beer, as a result, they’re available in many Izakaya restaurants

Japanese fast food chain

1. Yoshinoya

First opened at Tokyo Nihonbashi fish market in 1899, Yoshinoya is known as the world’s oldest fast food restaurant and the second-largest chain of gyūdon (beef bowl) in Japan. Nowadays, Yoshinoya has a chain of stores in Japan, the United States, Hong Kong, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

This fast food chain offers a diverse menu with a modern take on traditional Japanese rice bowls. Moreover, it attempts to bring fresh ingredients and quick service at the most reasonable price. Here, you can enjoy a beef bowl with only 270 yen.

japanese fast food chain

Yoshinoya is a family-run shop with  iconic orange-striped shop sign

2. Tenya

If you’re a big fan of tempura, you’ll definitely have to check this one out! Tenya is among the most popular Japanese chain restaurants that serves franchised Tempura and Tendon (Tempura rice bowl). It has been open since 1898 and had more than 150 stores across the country today.

Usual ingredients of tendon include shrimp, kabocha pumpkin, okra, lotus root, oysters, and eggplant. It’s a great dish to enjoy the perfect combination of crispy tempura, rice and sweet soya sauce. Meals are also available with soba or udon noodles. Vegetable side and soup may cost you a small extra fee. At Tenya, you can eat till you drop without breaking the bank as one dish usually costs only between $5–10.

3. MOS Burger

MOS Burger is a Japanese fast food restaurant that has offered hamburgers tailored to the Japanese palate. First born in a small town called Narimasu close to Tokyo, today this chain is the second-largest fast food franchise in Japan after McDonald’s. There are about 1,300 stores in Japan and over 370 located overseas, mostly in Asia. So the MOS Burger team has attempted to create original menus that bring out Japanese food culture using American hamburgers. MOS Burger’s hamburgers feature original sauces with crispy lettuce, fresh tomatoes and savory patties. Vegetables and other ingredients are all sourced domestically and thoroughly selected.

4. Matsuya

One of the biggest chain fast food restaurants with more than 1100 locations throughout 33 Japanese prefectures. Overseas stores are available in China, Taiwan and America. This restaurant serves typical Japanese breakfast grilled fish, tamago kake gohan (raw egg mixed into rice with soy sauce), beef bowl and curry rice. A combo of donburi and tofu soup costs only 380 yen. Moreover, miso soup and tea are free served at Matsuya, making it the best deal for budget travelers.

japanese chain restaurant

For those looking for a late night meal – or just a cheap one, definitely go check it out

5. Sukiya

Being the leading fast food chain in Gyudon game, Sukiya has been serving gyudon at 2,000 outlets nationwide since 1982. A regular-sized bowl of this delicious meal costs only 350 yen. The price of a set menu including gyudon and side dishes such as Miso soup, green salad, kimchi, cheese, raw egg, etc is about JPY500 to JPY700. You can also order curry, other donburi with tuna or minced chicken, and teishoku with classic traditional Japanese fare, such as grilled salmon, stir-fried beef, or shogayaki.

6. Hotto Motto

Hotto Motto (ほっともっと) is a Japanese fast food chain offering fast, fresh cooked boxed lunches for take out only. It has more than 2600 stores which could be found all over the country, from rural enclaves to bustling city centres. Bento box is a huge Japanese food culture, and you will be amazed by the variation of bento box Hotto Motto has to offer.

The chain serves a variety of Japanese classics including Karaage chicken, pork and chicken katsu, Teriyaki salmon, and many others. At Hotto Motto, purchasing meal tickets is controlled by ticket machines.

7. Hamazushi

A family-friendly restaurant and casual dining spot for people and groups of all types. From booths to counter seats, there are seating options to fit every group’s needs. Hamazushi aims to expand globally and spread the joy and tastes of Japanese sushi.

Special seasonal menu features sushi made with items at the peak of their flavor and freshness

This restaurant offers an extensive lineup of menu items, with more than 100 varieties of sushi, deep-fried foods and noodles. Sushi here, which are made of the freshest and tastiest seafoods, normally cost only 110 yen per plate (before tax). Hamazushi could be found in malls, restaurant halls, or storefronts with the dark blue sign.

8. Marugame Siemen

Marugame Siemen is extremely popular within Japan as well as all over the world, as they expanded to 13 different countries with 223 locations abroad. This restaurant features excellent noodle taste, quick service, and super affordable prices. Its menu offers a range of udon dishes starting at 280 yen.

This is how you’re gonna order at a Marugame Siemen store: first you pick the type of udon you want (kamatama, kake, bukkake, zaru, etc). Then the staff will almost immediately hand you a bowl with your noodles inside. After that, you go down the line with your tray, pick up any tempura or onigiri that you want, and pay.

9. Gindaco

Gindaco is known as the King of Takoyaki in Tokyo. A chain of restaurants specializing in Takoyaki, they can be found in many shopping centers and train stations. It also has stores in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. For 500JPY you can get a box of six dumplings, each roughly the size of a golf ball. The real sell is that you can choose from a wide variety of toppings; from mentaiko cheese to curry sauce, with new flavors being introduced every month.

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10. First Kitchen

First Kitchen was originally a hamburger restaurant and first opened in Ikebukuro, Tokyo in September 1977. The staple menu since its founding has been Bacon & Egg Burger. Nowadays, you can come to this fast food chain to enjoy not only hamburgers but also pizza, pasta, fried chicken, desserts and more. The restaurant is noteworthy for its flavored French fries, called “Flavor Potato”.

It originally started as a burger chain but expanded into other food and drink offers

Some special items on the menu that you definitely gotta give it a try are the Yangnyeom Chicken Burger (deep-fried chicken with special Korean sauce and cheese), or the salt & lemon chicken burger.

11. Lotteria

Lotteria was first launched in the 70’s in Tokyo as an East Asia fast-food chain. After 50 years of development, it has managed to spread across Japan and many other countries throughout Asia. Lotteria can be found in large shopping malls and in many popular locations, there are over 40 in Tokyo alone.

Being similar to an American style burger outlet, this restaurant offers typical fast-food items such as burgers, fried potato, fried chicken, salad, drinks, shakes, desserts and more! Some of its signature burgers are Matsuzaka beef burger – with their signature sauce on top,  Teriyaki burgers and shrimp burgers.

12. Coco Ichiban

Established in 1978, Coco ichiban – also known as Cocoichi, is a chain restaurant specializing in Japanese-style curry rice. It is famous for serving quick and easy curry at cheap prices (from 500 to 1000 yen). You may be spoiled by a big range of Japanese curries, from traditional ones like Chicken Cutlet curry to unique ones like hamburger curries as well as vegetarian options. One special thing about Cocoichi is that this chain let you customize your meal by choosing how much rice you want, the spice level (from 1-10) and optional toppings coming in nearly 40 varieties.

Cocoichi is famous for its rich and creamy curry sauce that has a variety of ingredients. It tastes less spicy but amazingly savory.

13. Sushiro

Kaiten sushi is a fast food style where plates of sushi are served on a conveyor belt that goes around the restaurant. And Sushiro is the leading conveyor belt sushi chain in Japan that has been founded for over 30 years. This chain is the largest of its kind in native country, selling some 1.36 billion plates of sushi annually at 530 outlets.

Sushiro’s outstanding quality and relatively affordable prices can’t be beaten. Most of the sushi cost 100 yen plus tax per dish including both innovative and original dishes. Moreover, it isn’t just sushi at Sushiro, the restaurant also offers a wide variety of side dishes and desserts. One of the most typical feature of conveyor belt sushi restaurant is the unlimited self-serve green tea. Sushiro has a digital menu at every table. You can order your sushi from a touchscreen, it comes around on the conveyor in dishes marked with your table’s color. They use hi-tech IT system to monitor sushi plates rotating around on the conveyor belt. They have English, Chinese and Korean language settings.

14. Mister Donut

Mister Donut, also known as “Misdo”, is one of the most popular chains in Japan. It was first founded in the US and has maintained a presence in Japan since the 70s. Nowadays, the total number of stores is over 1,300 locations throughout Japan. This chain attempts to transform the world of sweets and wowing customers with innovative flavors.

The primary offerings included doughnuts, coffee, muffins and pastries. Donuts are between ¥100 and ¥250. They quite often release some special Japanese-style donuts, which are made from traditional ingredients such as mochi, green tea and bean paste. Their signature donut is called Adzuki Bean Mochi Puff, a chewy puff pastry doughnut topped with white chocolate and mochi and Hokkaido azuki bean paste filling. Not only donuts but you can also enjoy pasta, ice cream and even dim sum at Misdo.

Frequently asked questions

1. What is the most popular fast food chain in Japan?

The top 8 fast food chains in Japan:

1 – McDonald’s (68%)

2 – Mister Donut (45%)

3 – MOS Burger (33%)

4 – KFC (28%)

5 – Subway (11%)

6 – Lotteria (8%)

7 – Krispy Kreme (5%)

8 – Freshness Burger (4%)

2. Is there a Mcdonalds in Japan?

McDonald’s has long been opened in Japan (more than half of a century). With roughly 3,600 branches nationwide and a planned 10,000 restaurants by 2020, Japan has the second highest density of McDonald’s restaurants in the world.

McDonald’s in Japan offers some particularly awesome items available for consumption. Some of them are the McPork, Teriyaki burgers, the Full moon cheese tsukimi burger, Cheesecake McFlurry. Normally prices fall to 500-700yen/one.

3. Is KFC different in Japan?

KFC is wildly popular in Japan. The fast food chain has more than 1,200 locations there, making it the fried chicken chain’s third-largest market behind the U.S. and China.

Here are a few differences between KFC Japan and the U.S. version.

  1. Dark meat chicken is popular.
  2. Rice is featured prominently on the menu.
  3. There are only medium and small sized drinks. Large size drinks generally do not exist in Japan.
  4. Unlike most Japanese fast food, KFC in Japan is a lot more expensive.

4. What American fast food chains are in Japan?

American fast food in Japan:

  • McDonald’s
  • Burger King
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
  • Pizza Hut
  • Mister Donut

Conclusion

So, that’s pretty much about Japanese fast food. If you’re visiting Japan, don’t forget to go sightseeing and try traditional, homegrown fast food. You won’t be disappointed.

About Haruto Suzuki

Haruto Suzuki is a senior food and drinks blogger at Question Japan. He has a background in F&B industry and also experience of running his own Japanese restaurant in Tokyo for over 10 years. Therefore, he has a great knowledge of Japanese cuisine. So if you want to discover Japan through its unique traditional cuisine, Haruto Suzuki’s blog will be a great source of information for you.