Basic Japanese: Ordering at Fast-Food Restaurants

Many menu items in Japan have American-sounding names

McDonald's in Japan
 Carl & Ann Purcell/Getty Images 

For Americans traveling to or visiting Japan, they're likely to have no trouble finding familiar restaurants. In addition to fine dining, there are many fast food restaurants in Japan, including Burger King, McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In order to make the restaurants feel as authentic and true-to-the-original as possible, fast food workers in Japan tend to use words and phrases which are very close to what one might expect from their American counterparts. It's not quite English, but it's likely to be familiar to the ear of an American (or other English-speaking) visitor.

Most western dishes or beverages use English names, though the pronunciation is changed to sound more Japanese. They are all written in katakana. For instance, the staple of most American fast food restaurants, French fries, are referred to as "poteto (potato)" or "furaido poteto" in the Japanese locations. 

Here are a few basic greetings and phrase you can expect to hear when visiting an American fast food restaurant in Japan, with their approximate translations and phonetic pronunciations.

いらっしゃいませ。    Welcome!
A greeting given by store or restaurant employees, which you may hear elsewhere.

Go-chuumon wa.
ご注文は。    What would you like to order?
Following the initial greeting, this is when you'll reply with what you want. Be sure you've studied the menu items a bit before this question, because the names may be different than the ones you're used to ordering in the U.S. And there are some menu items in McDonald's restaurants in Japan that Americans have never seen on the menu or varieties of foods (such as all-you-can-eat Whoppers at Burger King) that may be very different than the ones back home.

O-nomimono wa ikaga desu ka.
お飲み物はいかがですか。    Would you like anything to drink?

In addition to the usual sodas and milk available at fast-food restaurants in the U.S., in Japan, the menus include vegetable drinks and at some locations, beer. 

Kochira de meshiagarimasu ka, omochikaeri desu ka.
お持ち帰りですか。    Will you eat here, or take it out?

The familiar phrase "for here or to go?" doesn't quite translate precisely from English to Japanese. "Meshiagaru" is a respectful form of the verb "taberu (to eat)." The prefix "o" is added verb "mochikaeru (to take out)." Waiters, waitresses or cashiers in restaurants and store clerks always use polite expressions to the customers.

Placing Your Order

But before the person at the counter takes your order, you'll want to have a few keywords and phrases ready so you get what you want. Again, the terms are very close approximations to their English counterparts, so if you don't get it totally right, chances are you'll get what you order.

ハンバーガー    hamburger
コーラ    coke
ジュース    juice
hotto doggu
ホットドッグ    hot dog
ピザ    pizza
スパゲティ    spaghetti 
サラダ    salad
デザート    dessert

If you're determined to experience American fast food through a Japanese lens, you'll have many options just by learning a few key phrases. Whether it's a Big Mac or a Whopper you're craving, chances are good you can find it in the Land of the Rising Sun.