With perennial favorites such as Mos Burger, CoCo Ichibanya, Hotto Motto, and more, Japan has no shortage of tasty casual dining establishments to satisfy any craving. Yet many a foreign resident has surely at one time found himself longing for something more–the kind of guilty satisfaction that can only result from a visit to our favorite not-quite-Mexican joint, the peerless Taco Bell.
According to recent reports, the American fast food chain will soon be reentering the Japanese market, following up on its previous, disastrous, attempt almost three decades ago. Is this the beginning of a Mexican food renaissance in Japan, or simply the beginning of the end? We asked our foreign writers currently residing in Japan for their opinions, which proved to be mixed, to say the least.
■ American male, 31
“I don’t really have an opinion either way. It’s not that I dislike Taco Bell. I just never ate there in America. Now if it were Chipotle instead…”
■ Australian female, 38
“We don’t have Taco Bell back home, so I’d like to give it a try just once. I guess I want to see how bad it is lol.”
■ American female, 28
“I often ate at Taco Bell when I lived in America. The flavor is so-so, but it beats anywhere else on price. Then again, I can’t say I’m thrilled about the news just yet. That will depend on the menu. I’ll be really disappointed if they don’t have my favorite burritos, tostadas, or nachos.”
■ British male, 32
“I have to admit I’ve never actually eaten at Taco Bell – as far as I know they closed the few branches that were in the UK. Would I try it? Probably not. We cook Mexican food in our house all the time and to be honest I try to stay away from fast food meat if I can.”
■ Canadian male, late 30s
“I’m happy, but also a little worried. Taco Bell is very low-priced in Canada, and they also serve Dr. Pepper. On the other hand, I could go for some Japan-inspired wasabi tacos.”
■ American male, 36
“Mexican food has never really been my strong point, even though I’m from the taco mecca itself, southern California. But I’m happy about the news!
It’s not fine dining by any means, and there are plenty of tastier places. But sometimes you feel like just going all out, and Taco Bell gives you the best bang for your buck. There really aren’t many opportunities to eat Mexican food in Japan, so even if I myself don’t end up going to Taco Bell, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, I guess that’s nice.’
If what my Canadian coworker said about wasabi tacos were to come true, though, I would have to give them a try. Taco Bell doesn’t tend to worry too much about tradition, so I could see it happening.
On a slightly different note, I wonder how Japanese people will refer to Taco Bell when it opens.
You know how people refer to McDonald’s differently depending on if they’re from Kantou or Kansai? In Kantou it’s ‘Makku,’ whereas down in Kansai it’s ‘Makudo.’ The pronunciation of Taco Bell is actually different depending on which coast of the U.S. you’re on: if you go to the west coast, where Taco Bell is all over the place, the trademark bell logo is really visible. That’s perhaps why the pronunciation becomes ‘Taco BELL,’ with the emphasis on the second word. On the other hand, if you go to the east coast, where Mexican food isn’t as widespread, you’ll see less of the bell logo and more pictures of the taco menu itself. As a result, the accent falls on the first word, becoming ‘TACO Bell.’ The more you know, right?
As a west-coast native myself, I tend to prefer the ‘Taco BELL’ pronunciation, but I get the feeling Japan is going to shorten it to ‘Takobe‘ either way…
And here’s what our female writers had to say about the reemergence of the not-quite-Mexican chain:
■ British female, 26
“I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t have a lot of interest in the matter lol.”
■ Singaporean female, 28
“Personally, I don’t really care for Taco Bell. They did business in Singapore for a while but ended up losing out to McDonald’s and KFC, so I feel like they’re not going to last long in Japan unless they make some big changes to the menu.”
■ American female, 34
“I’m so happy I could die. I’m not proud of it, but I love Taco Bell.”
■ American female, 42
“Taco Bell is decent. I guess I’m happy seeing as there aren’t many Mexican restaurants in Japan, or else they’re really overpriced. To be honest, when I was living in San Diego, there were so many good, cheap Mexican restaurants that I never felt the need to go to Taco Bell lol. And there were the famous fish tacos…”
Perhaps with the exception of American female, 34, and English female, 26, none of our writers seemed to fall squarely into either camp. This is perhaps to be expected, considering that a meal at Taco Bell tends to leave one with mixed emotions. “I feel full… but I think I regret this decision.”
Given the lack of affordable Mexican restaurants in Japan, Taco Bell’s advance may be a step in the right direction. Personally, we’d like to see Japan take its own spin on the cuisine. Korean-Mexican fusion bulgogi tacos have proven a big hit in America, so wasabi tacos or even some other variation could certainly grab the world’s attention. As our American female, 28, noted, we’ll have to withhold judgement until we see the menu.