Ellen Endo headshot2By ELLEN ENDO

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

— Erma Bombeck (1921-1996), American humorist

I landed after a long flight. The city was new to me, and I was traveling alone. Looking around for the hotel, I spotted a sign on the nighttime horizon that immediately put me at ease. The sign bore just two words: KRISPY KREME.

It has been 11 years since I last visited Japan. Although I remember seeing American franchises like McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks cropping up in Tokyo back then, I wasn’t prepared for the number of U.S. brands that have permeated the landscape throughout Japan since then.

Of all the American products exported to Japan, why is it that our fast food is so popular not only in Japan but all over the world? Not that I’m complaining. When I sent a text message to a friend back in Los Angeles that there was a Krispy Kreme near my Nagoya hotel, her response came in the form of an emoticon sticking her tongue out at me. I took it to mean she was envious.

In the 1950s, the label “made in Japan” denoted cheaply made, low-priced goods. By the 1970s, everything changed. Japanese-manufactured steel, ships, watches, televisions, semiconductors and, of course, automobiles were being manufactured to high standards and under strict quality control.

The Japanese reputation for quality and design continued through the 1980s, and America’s demand for Japanese-made products increased exponentially. An outcry and backlash urging us to “Buy American” and preserve jobs accompanied the trend.

According to Consumer Reports, Americans are often confused as to what actually is U.S.-made. “Letters and e-mail (seek) explanations as to why, for example, frozen blueberries from Oregon are identified as a product of Chile; or why a T-shirt with the words ‘Made in the’ above the U.S. flag comes from Mexico.”

Packaging on the new iPad Mini says it was designed by Apple in California but assembled in China. No wonder we’re confused.

However, it is the fast-food industry that has made an unmistakable impact on dining habits worldwide. Carol Tice, writing for Forbes magazine, reports that McDonald’s leads the pack with more than 18,700 international units. Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts operate in 100 countries, followed by KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).

In Japan, KFC’s third-largest market behind the U.S. and China, Ken-Tah-Kee boasts more than 1,200 locations. It’s not unusual to see the Kentucky colonel wearing a red happi coat instead of his signature white linen suit. While health-conscious Americans demand white KFC, Japan offers dark meat. And here’s the best part: Most meals come with rice and, yes, they have teriyaki flavor if you want it. No, I have to change my mind. This is the best part: Customers can order milkshakes, known as KFC Krushers, to go with their meals.

Speaking of things that are cold and sweet…when Baskin-Robbins decided to venture into the Japanese market 37 years ago, my father was hired as an interpreter. Back in 1978, the biggest hurdle to overcome in the Japanese market was the fact that “a Japanese man will not walk down the street eating an ice cream cone.” That still may be true today. I didn’t see anyone, and certainly no men, walking while eating.

Last summer, B-R 31, as the ice cream giant is known in Japan, opened its 1,000th store there. Aside from offering flavors like azuki bean, matcha, and musk melon, B-R 31 is similar to stores here in America. In total, Baskin-Robbins today has 6,200 locations in 35 countries.

When President Obama negotiated the Transpacific Trade Partnership among 12 Pacific Rim countries, was the proliferation of Chicken McNuggets and Coca Cola taken into consideration? Did anyone mention that since the 1970s, the Japanese have improved our transportation options with better-built cars that are more energy efficient? They also improved television viewing, gaming, and sent us very tasty beer. For our part, we clogged their arteries. Diabolical.

“Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only for food. Frequently, there must also be a beverage.”

                                    — Woody Allen (1935- ), screenwriter, actor, director

Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo or its management. Comments and/or inquiries should be directed to ellenendo@yahoo.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *