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att. Culture - Fast Food
att. Culture - Fast Food
att.JAPAN Issue 8, September 2002

Fast Food - The Japanese Way!


Teppie and Christina Chartomatsidis TOKYO TWINS REPORT
From sushi to the Japanese Yen, att. Reporters Teppie and Christina Chartomatsidis take you on a journey to discover more on what Tokyo has to offer.


Feeling hungry? Low on cash? In a hurry? If you're anywhere in Tokyo, you've come to a place guaranteed to fill that aching stomach - without emptying your pocket! Although internationally renowned for inflated prices, there are a plethora of restaurants in Japan's capital catering to thrifty individuals in search of gustatory satisfaction.

Vendinbg machineSpread around the major business districts is a unique range of ticket-counter restaur-ants serving dishes from hot curry to traditional Asian noodles. Strangely enough, ordering at these restaurants doesn't require you to utter a single word! It's as simple as placing your money in a vending machine and selecting a dish with the press of a button. The machine produces a paper ticket that you hand to the restaurant staff. In many cases dishes are labeled in Japanese, so it is worth asking for some assistance. If you're fortunate, there will be pictures of dishes above each button to help you. Meals can be as low as US$2.00 and are served fresh in minutes!

With prices as low as this, it's no wonder such restaurants are enticing more customers in an age of economic hardship. Since late 2001, Japan has been weighed down by the worst recession since the post war era. According to a recent report from the Japanese Ministry of Finance, the nation's unemployment rate in May was at a staggering 5.4%. With fewer people earning money, consumer spending has also been adversely affected. According to a June BBC report, weak consumer demand has forced prices to fall for 33 months in a row.

Major ticket chain restaurants such as Yoshinoya and Matsuya have lowered their prices in a bid to boost customer incentive. Matsuya, famous for serving 'Gyudon' - a bowl of hot rice topped with thin strips of beef, is a favorite among salary men and students on tight budgets. According to FoodAsia.com, Matsuya foods reported a 30% increase in customer numbers and a 10% rise in sales after slashing prices in 2001.

Shinsaku Iguchi is a 26 year-old salary worker in Tokyo's west and a regular Matsuya customer. He recently had work hours cut due to company structural reforms. Living alone in the big city and feeling the pressure of the recession, Iguchi decided to embark on a plan to try and save money. "I must support my retired mother living in Kyoto, so I have to be more responsible with my money," he said.

"It's better for me to eat out at ticket style restaurants and I love eating hamburg and rice at Matsuya. I also enjoy Japanese udon and soba at 'Tachi-kui' stores and it doesn't break my budget cause it's so cheap," said Iguchi. 'Tachi-Kui' literally means to stand and eat. These unique stores are usually found in and around train stations or in department stores. Traditional Japanese style noodles such as soba and udon are served in addition to famous Chinese ramen noodles at very low prices.

Ticket restaurants such as these are not only known for rock-bottom prices. They also provide professional and immediate service upon entering. At least five minutes is enough time to serve you with a fresh delicious meal. Unlike conventional Western fast food, meals are healthy and nutritious. Most of the restaurants sell value sets consisting of meat or fish, salad, rice and miso soup - a well-rounded traditional Japanese meal.

Everyday in downtown Tokyo regions such as Shinjuku and Shibuya, it is typical to see hoards of customers lining up for a good feed. Inside counters are jam- packed with hungry businessmen slurping down hot miso soup and quickly devouring their rice. Staff yell-out orders and welcome customers with "irrashaimase", a Japanese greeting used only in shops and eateries. The busy atmosphere of these stores can only be synonymous with the fast and ultra convenient Tokyo lifestyle- a lifestyle that is renowned all over the globe.

Before leaving this bustling technological Mecca, take the initiative to eat at these distinct ticket counter restaurants. You will see a culinary world combining the old and new tastes of Japan and truly take home an experience only Tokyo has to offer.

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