McDonald’s – the symbol of globalisation and identical the world over, right?

Well not quite and I can never resist taking a peek to see what local oddities are on offer. Here in Japan, as elsewhere, the menu is tailored to local tastes. Fast food aficionados looking for something new can gorge themselves on a Teriyaki McBurger, an Ebi-Filet-0-Shrimp or a McPork and if up early enough they can even treat themselves to a Fillet-o-Fish for breakfast.

But beyond the variations to the ‘cuisine’, there are also some less obvious differences to the offer – each of which reveals a little something about Japanese culture.

1. Japan loves innovation & novelty

Ok, so not exactly be new news but the ever-changing menu at McDonalds here certainly helps bring it into relief.

I arrived at the end of November and I’ve already lost track of the number of special burgers, meals and deals I’ve seen advertised since. Amongst other things, novelty-seekers have been kept happy with four new ‘gourmet’ chicken burgers last month and four new American themed sandwiches this month…

2. There has not been the same backlash against ‘fast food’ in Japan as in the West

Compared to home there’s a noticeable absence of any ‘healthy’ options on the menu here.

Now I’m not sure anybody actually ever buys these in the UK but to firefight years of negative coverage about the quality and nutritional value of their food the chain has had to change it’s offer.

And despite having made some real changes for the better, including for example removing all trans-fats from their menu – something they still haven’t achieved in Japan – I know from research into the subject that the British middle-class still loves to hate McDonalds.

In Japan there hasn’t (yet) been the same backlash against McDonalds or fast food in general. Of course, it’s not seen as a healthy option but it’s also not been demonised. As such it’s been able to concentrate on what it’s good at – unhealthy but tasty (some would say!) burgers.

Whether Japan has it’s own mini-obesity-epidemic brewing is another question…

3. The Keitai is still alive and kicking in japan

Another recent offer has been the novelty ‘strap’ collection – the second set in a series of collectible McDonalds themed mobile accessories…

As I’ve written before, Japan has recently been undergoing a ‘smart-phone’ revolution, with the iPhone, whichhas a resolutely anti-strap design, by far the best-selling mobile of recent months.

However, as offers like this show, keitai culture is also still going strong, with dual handset ownership on the rise: a touch-screen ‘smart-phone’ for Internet and a good old-fashioned keitai for calls – and to attach ‘straps’ like these to!

And just in case you missed the first collection (or if you’re in any doubt about the local penchant for mobile collectibles) then not to fear – I recently spotted the whole set up for sale in a local bookstore…