“We deeply regret to inform you that this train is currently running with three minutes’ delay.” This was an announcement on the train on my way to Hakodate City the other day. Living away from Japan for more than two years, I was shocked to see how highly
Japanese people value time.
“Time is money” is a phrase people often use in their daily lives. This tendency is even more significant when it comes to food. Efficiency is emphasized in every aspect of our Japanese food culture. For example, it is rare to pay at the table in a
restaurant; rather, people pay at the cashier at the entrance when they leave. For Japanese people, there is no point in wasting time just to wait for a check at the table.
You can see a very extreme case of this tendency in train stations. A unique, extremely time-efficient type of restaurant, called a “Tachigui” can be found in many train stations in Japan. Vending machines are also extremely developed in Japan, to the
point that there are even vending machines for instant noodles or frozen rice balls.
You might think that efficiency is also valued in the Western culture: Major fast food chains, like McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, are all American fixtures. Although these American-style fast food chains are also very popular in Japan, especially
among teenagers, there are many other fast food restaurants, which uniquely developed and became popular in Japan. Yoshinoya (吉野屋) is a famous example of a Japanese-style fast food restaurant that is also well known in the US (although they recently closed
the one in Times Square). The fast-food culture does not seem to be a direct result of westernization; rather, unlike many other countries, Japan followed its own unique, very original way of developing fast-food culture, along with the westernization.
There are many other things that Japanese people uniquely developed as a product of seeking efficiency. It might be interesting to pay attention to fast food next time you travel in Japan.