This one is kind of a no-brainer. Since its founding in 1940, and subsequent purchase by franchisee Ray Kroc, McDonald’s has sky-rocketed to become the most ubiquitous fast-food chain the world over, operating in a staggering 119 countries around the globe. In Japan, it’s referred to as Makku, and is comfortingly familiar because it has all the favorites you’d expect, while offering unique Japan-only twists.
While staples like the Big Mac are there for those looking for something they’re accustomed to, there are plenty of other options. From the Teriyaki McBurger (a beef burger topped with teriyaki sauce) to the Ebi Filet-o (a seafood patty made out of Japanese prawns), or the Hawaiian-inspired Loco Moco burger (with egg and a special gravy sauce)—there’s something for everyone to enjoy!
2. MOS Burger
The second largest fast-food franchise in Japan is the homegrown MOS Burger. MOS Burger opened in 1972 in Tokyo with a signature burger that it still sells to this day. MOS Burger operates in several East Asian countries, as well as Australia, and has over 1,700 restaurants in its operating areas (compared to about 3,000 for McDonald's). Oh, and in case you were wondering, MOS stands for “Mountain Ocean Sun.”
But back to that signature burger: with a massive slice of tomato and a generous portion of their red meat sauce, it’s easy to stick with the standard. But their other offerings include their unique Rice Burger, with grilled rice patties standing in for buns, as well as their Tobikiri Cheese Burger, topped with Gouda cheese and an original butter sauce. Wash it all down with a milkshake, which one of our editors swears by.
Also established in Tokyo in 1972, Lotteria borrowed its name from its parent company, Lotte, which started out creating gum for kids and grew into a conglomerate that engages in a wide variety of industries throughout Japan. Lotteria was a pioneer in its own right, creating the original Japanese shrimp burger well before their competition, and went on to establish a dining environment more akin to a café.
While they have plenty of Japanese staples, such as a Teriyaki Burger, they also offer promotional items like a Spicy Curry Burger, or a BBQ Burger topped with onion rings. Outside of the usual suspects, hungry customers can also enjoy a wide variety of sides and desserts, from gooey fried-cheese balls, parfaits and pies, to a large roster of signature drinks.
4. Freshness Burger
Freshness Burger was founded in 1992 by Mikio Kurihara, with the simple idea of capturing the quaintness of a Tennessee hamburger stand by utilizing the freshest ingredients possible. They’ve held true to that philosophy over the years, and their stores, termed “burger cafés,” prepare every item fresh, to order. But it’s definitely worth the wait.
Their menu is quite extensive, and even offers some vegetarian and organic options. The buns for their sandwiches are also quite unique, since they’re made with pumpkin, and have a slightly yellow hue. They have a wide variety of limited or seasonal items (like the currently available Veggie Gyoza Burger), and a plethora of drinks and desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth.
5. Burger King
Burger King first came to Japan in 1993, and the franchise rights have been owned by the same umbrella group as Lotteria since 2006. There are only about 90 shops in the country.
While you can still get your signature Whoppers, the company made its biggest splash with limited-time black burgers, which were first released in 2012 and followed up with red burgers in 2015. Both eye-catching burgers were introduced not so much for their flavor, but to drum up maximum attention on a shoestring advertising budget.
With a name that (according to its website) means something akin to “bumpkin” in Hawaiian, Kua’Aina brings the finest flavors from Hawaii to Japan. They opened their first store on the island of Oahu in 1975, and built a reputation that has customers traveling far and wide for a taste of their burgers. It wasn’t until 1997 that they opened their first stores on Japanese shores, in Tokyo.
The burgers run a bit more expensive, at about ¥1,000 (US$9.20) to start, but they weigh in at 1/3- or 1/2-pound versions (150 – 230g, respectively), making them worth their weight in yen. There’s the Avocado Burger, which they helped popularize and is now rather ubiquitous throughout the country, as well the Pineapple Burger, to help you feel like you’re on a balmy Hawaiian beach.
7. Wendy's First Kitchen
First Kitchen opened up its initial store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo in 1977. It was bought by Wendy's from Suntory, a large beverage company, resulting in its current name. It currently operates 136 stores in 14 prefectures around Japan.
From the outset, First Kitchen was first and foremost a burger restaurant. A staple of their menu is the Bacon Egg Burger, as well as their special French fries, endearingly called “Flavor Potato.” In recent years it has expanded its menu to include things from pizza and pasta to fried chicken, as well as a variety of drinks and desserts.
8. DomDom Burger
DomDom Burger opened the doors of its first location in 1970, with a simple motto of “delicious food and fast service at a great value.” Their commitment to hospitality has served them well, as there are over 70 stores that run the length of the country, from Hokkaido to Kyushu.
The menu includes staples from standard hamburgers, and fish burgers, as well as teriyaki burgers, to house specialties like a sweet and spicy chicken burger, or a tonkatsu burger. At about ¥300 per menu item, the store definitely offers plenty of bang for your buck.