Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blame It All on U.S.

Since Krispy Kreme opened in Japan late last year, the Japan blogs have been following along with the first shop's progress in Japan. Since many vocal members of the expat community predicted it would fail after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the unfailing interest of the Japanese for KK's donuts has remained a curiosity. Lines continue to snake around buildings and waits for a crack at those super-light, super-sweet donuts continue to be long.

Most of the news-based sites that carry updates about Krispy Kreme Japan and news regarding the offerings and progress of other fast food/junk food shops of American origin always include a section for comments. Invariably, a perusal of the comments section will include at least one, if not many, comments from expatriates booing the success of places like KK, McDonald's and Pizza Hut in Japan and telling them to get out and stop contaminating beautiful, thin Japanese people with their gustatory pollution. It's overtly stated that, if Japanese people over-indulge in these foods and become fat, it's America's fault.

One point I'd like to make before I go on to editorialize on this tendency is that Krispy Kreme Japan was licensed to Lotte (a Korean-Japanese partnership best known for their fast food franchise, "Lotteria") and Takeo Shigemitsu. The American corporation has no ownership of the Japanese operations. That means that the ultimate disposition as well as the implantation of this franchise in the first place was solely a Japanese choice. While KK U.S. will make money from the licensing, the Japanese themselves are the ones who decided to peddle these carb-loaded, blood sugar-spiking treats to the Japanese public. America may have invented them but Japan chose to sell them. Similarly, McDonald's franchises in Japan were started by an ambitious Japanese shoe salesman named Den Fujita. Mr. Fujita's ultimate goal was to open 10,000 McDonald's in Japan by 2010. Though Mr. Fujita has passed away, his family still holds 25% of the company.

I'm sure there are people out there who believe that this is a case of cultural contamination and would still hold the U.S. to blame for exporting unhealthy food culture. However, the Japanese not only chose to import that culture when they formed joint ventures with the American parents but they also spun off their own home-grown versions of the same types of junk food establishments. There are a great many Japanese fast food places and purveyors of high calorie, nutritionally-empty foods. So, even if all the U.S.-based businesses were to fold up their tents and go away, the consumers would still seek out and find the same menus from places like MOS burger and Pizza-La (which incidentally is the most successful pizza chain in Japan, not Pizza Hut, Dominos or some other U.S.-based pizza joint).

Even if you choose to ingore the fact that American corporations didn't barge into to Japan and force their shops onto the unsuspecting public, the fact that a lot of Japanese people have to make the choice to consume such foods has to be considered. While it may satisfy a need to vilify the U.S., the Japanese people are the ones keeping fast food and junk food places of American origin successful enough to remain open. Americans aren't cramming the food into their mouths, forcing them to chew and swallow and then taking the money from their wallets. It's ironic that the people who like to rave about Americans being "fat pigs" and the presence of places like Krispy Kreme plumping up trim Japanese physiques hold Americans responsible for the food choices which make them obese but not the Japanese. Either the Japanese are absolutely unable to think for themselves and do whatever America says or the Japanese are just as responsible for the choices they make that result in them gaining weight as Americans are. Clearly the former is not the case and it's insulting to even consider but nothing else can explain the irrational conclusion that America is responsible for Japanese eating habits.

All in all, it seems there are far too many people who want to blame America for every single social problem in the world. This sort of prejudice is no different than any of the other prejudices applied only to one ethnic group or nationality but somehow it's not offensive to hate Americans nor to assign blame to them arbitrarily as it is to do so for other nationalities. If you take all the negative comments about Americans and substitute any other nationality, the comments show themselves to be the ranting of racists but somehow people fail to see them for what they are simply because the ugly comments are made about Americans and that's okay with the rest of the world right now.


CMUwriter said...

It is very rare to see anyone in the United States say that a bad trend has come from another country. Either we are the ones who really do cause all the bad stuff to happen in other countries - though I know that is complete hogwash, or American's - though viewed as oafish baffoons, are more tolerent of culture in other countries than we've given credit for.

I think Japan has been passing the buck for their problems for too long to the United States.

tornados28 said...

It is the same all over the world. People prefer to blame others rather then take personal responsibility for their own actions.

If Japanese don't want to get fat like the Americans, all they have to do is not eat fattening food.

It is to bad that people are now suing McDonald's for selling unhealthy foods. Like we all didn't know it was not good for us.

It is unfortunate to see so many large Americans and the percentage of obese Americans is rising rapidly. I truly hope that Japanese people also do not become larger like their American counterparts. For whatever it means, one of the things I like about Japan is that there are few overweight people.

Miko said...

When I ask my friends which fast food place they like best, almost all declare "Mos Burger!" They claim that it's healthier (presumably because it's Japanese, but I could be wrong here). Is there any evidence for this? Just because something is Japanese, doesn't make it healthier. Reminds me of the friend who told me that she couldn't stand Western food because "it's so oily" - well, we were eating tempura at the time, and when I pointed out this contradiction to her, she hastily insisted "but that's different!" Sure ...

I'll be honest, I'm a junk food junkie, and I know my hamburgers. The best ones in Japan can be found in a small southern city called Sasebo, where hamburgers were first introduced to Japan via the naval base. I make regular pilgrimages there for my burger fix. It's a long haul, but it's worth it. There's just nothing like sitting on the waterfront and tucking into a big, juicy Sasebo burger.

Shari said...

cmuwriter: I agree completely with what you say. In general, I think American people are much more open because the culture is rooted in tolerance (though that goes in waves based on the zeitgeist) and Americans are often tarred with the same brush unfairly, particularly by people who blame the common citizens for political moves they have little or no control over.

Honestly, I think everyone has been passing the buck for too long. If countries starve, it's America's fault. If people get fatter, it's America's fault.

tornados28: I think that people gaining weight in a country which denies them most vices (alcohol, sex, drinking) more sternly than food isn't too shocking and also in a country where even people who are defined as "poor" live as well as kings of old. Personally, I care much more about how people treat each other than how they look and that applies to any country. Tolerance starts with not judging people by surface features and that applies to everything.

Miko: You and I have had some similar discussions in regards to Japan and oily/fatty food. While the raw foods aren't so fatty, the cooked foods often are very fatty (like those extra juicy tonkatsu which you see on T.V. and fat is just squeezed out of them). The Japanese also eat skin on chicken (which is incredibly nasty).

I'm not really a fan of junk food at all. In fact, I hate burgers and rarely eat fries and almost never make deep-fried food. That being said, I do believe MOS burger is healthier but not because it's Japanese. They make food fresh and the vegetables are plumper and in better shape. They also sell various items which are a little nicer nutritionally such as tsukune rice burgers (white rice seems to cause less blood sugar spiking than white bread buns). I wouldn't say the food is "healthy" though. I'd say it's just not as bad for you. ;-)

Luis said...

This reminds me of the Japanese school of thought that America is responsible for cigarette smoking in Japan, primarily focusing on the fact that U.S. tobacco makers are focusing more on overseas sales since smoking has been curtailed too much domestically.

I have actually heard Japanese people I know restate this rather interesting claim--as if the Japanese government itself hadn't owned Japan Tobacco and remained dominant in it until just a few years ago. The Japanese government fully owned JT, which had a monopoly on tobacco sales within Japan. It was not until 1985 that it was made partially public, and the Japanese government maintained a 2/3rds ownership until 2004, when it lowered its share to 50%, where it stands today.

In fact, several famous American brands are sold by Japan Tobacco, including Camel, Salem, and Winston; JT sells about 2/3rds of all tobacco in Japan still.

And yet it's Americans who are responsible, in the eyes of many in Japan.

Of course, let's not forget that Japan is hardly alone in blaming others for their own vices and faults. It's a rather common human trait.