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McDonald's Going Big in Japan

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Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM

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Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported on what it may have perceived to be a case of irony: In Japan, where citizens traditionally eat a healthier diet, live longer, and weigh less than their American counterparts, McDonald's has launched Big America 2, a marketing campaign featuring four brawny, drippy burgers seemingly at odds with the market.

The quartet are named for and possibly inspired by places in the United States. For instance, the Miami burger is crowned with tortilla chips. The Idaho burger boasts a deep-fried hash brown cake, bacon, and a pepper-mustard sauce. The Texas 2 burger is the largest of the bunch, oozing chili, cheese, and bacon from its three buns. Still, anyone who thinks such a campaign is destined to flounder in the land of dashi and pickles should think again.

First of all, ranging from 542 to 713 calories apiece, these burgers are mere sliders in comparison with the bulging, crassly over-topped behemoths common in the United States. Hamburgers are also incredibly popular in Japan, where, at downtown Tokyo lunch spots, they're no longer desperate imitations of what Japanese cooks perceive to be the American standard.

They're inspired, delicious, and, in their own way, authentic creations, not because they conform to our notions of hamburger excellence, but because artful, careful cooking and composition--the sequence of ingredients added, the ways in which they are layered, how toppings are applied and in what order--exemplify Japanese culinary traits. Plus, some burger joints in Japan traffic in eccentric, playful toppings like cinnamon and baked apples or broccoli crowns, for example, a cultural tendency the Big America 2 burgers clearly echo. According to the WSJ:

"The strategy in Japan seems diametrically opposed to McDonald's U.S. strategy: a continued focus on healthier eating options," says the article. "Though McDonald's in the U.S. still offers hefty items, such as a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese listed at 740 calories, nine meal-size salads and a fruit-and-walnut salad for snacking are on the menu as well. The U.S. website features a steaming bowl of oatmeal, studded with fruit. In Japan, there's only one salad offering -- a puny side salad -- and no oatmeal."

The explanation is that Japanese people don't go to hamburger restaurants to eat salads. For that, they have salad restaurants.

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