Japan from the inside out

From Kroc’s to crocs

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FRUSTRATED by the McDonald brothers’ lack of interest in expanding their operations, Ray Kroc bought out his partners in the hamburger restaurant business in 1961. He went on to build the largest fast food chain in the world and make $US 500 million in the process.

Try a scrumptious waniburger!

McDonald’s Japan opened its first restaurant in 1971 in Ginza’s Mitsukoshi Department Store, and the chain quickly spread throughout the country. For example, the city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, now has 23 shops where residents can eat a Kroc burger. Last weekend, however, the Hamamatsuans got their first chance to eat croc burgers—hamburgers with meat made from crocodile tails inserted into a bun with lettuce and other condiments.

The crocodile burgers are the brainchild of Uejima Tsuneo (that’s an educated guess on the reading), the owner of a Hamamatsu nightclub called Madowaku (Window Frame). Mr. Uejima isn’t out to become as fabulously wealthy as Ray Kroc; instead, he views the business as an opportunity to give young people who dropped out of school or stay holed up in their rooms a chance to get work experience through cooking or sales. One of his burger flippers is a 20-year-old male who hasn’t attended school since fifth grade.

In addition to his nightclub, Mr. Uejima operates what he calls a Free School for dropouts on the third floor of his nightclub building. He also opened another class called the Madowaku Gakuin to help people prepare for employment. He has nine students in the second class, ranging in age from 15 to 26.

Said Mr. Uejima:

Many of the junior high and high school students who come to see the live shows are troubled about problems in their life. I thought it would be a good idea to create a place they can come to.

He opened the crocodile burger shop on the same site as the Gakuin on the 10th and called it Aozora (Blue Sky). The shop sells both crocodile burgers and crocodile cutlets for about JPY 1,000 each (about $US 12.19). He also plans to sell croc burgers on the road, and next weekend he’ll load up a van with cooking equipment and a take a few of the employees on a sales expedition.

The meat comes from an establishment called Koike Wani Sohonpo, crocodile breeders in Kosai, Shizuoka. A local restaurateur helps out by preparing the meat to make it more appetizing. (Perhaps that’s a hint why crocodile is not a common dish on dinner tables around the world.) Mr. Uejima also hopes to create some buzz and bring new business to Hamamatsu. There’s been a mini-boom in Japan over the past few years of people creating their own burger specialties with unique ingredients and using that to build a regional brand identity.

Last weekend he and two of his charges cooked up some crocodile burgers for Shizuoka Governor Kawakatsu Heita to get some PR. Yes, politicians in Japan have to eat all sorts of stuff to please the voters, too. The governor swallowed and said:

This new fusion of crocodile meat and a bun is really delicious. I hope they work hard and make a go of it.

Was he serious, or did he think discretion was the better part of valor? If I’m ever in Hamamatsu, I’d try one, but at 1,000 yen a pop, they’d better be awfully good to go back for a second helping.

Of course Koike Wani Sohonpo has a website–doesn’t everyone? Here it is, but be advised it’s Japanese-language only. For more examples of other Burgers À la Japonaise , here’s a post about the Minami Burger and the Ninja Burger, another one about the Boar Burger, yet another about the Sasebo Burger, and finally, one about the Whale Burger. But let’s not forget this one about shark (hot) dogs in Hiroshima. To complicate matters, they’re called wani doggu locally, because wani is the word in the Hiroshima dialect for shark. But in the rest of Japan, a wani is a crocodile.

No matter what they’re called, Ray Kroc probably could have gotten rich selling any of them.

Man, all this burger talk is giving me an appetite. Let’s eat!

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2 Responses to “From Kroc’s to crocs”

  1. Joe Jones said

    One of my more rednecky uncles in the States was a professional alligator catcher at one point. He had a license from the State of Florida to respond to Animal Control calls involving problem alligators on private property; his payment was the gator itself, and he had a miniature slaughterhouse at his ranch where he would skin and carve up the gators he caught. Several area supermarkets bought the meat from him, and of course there was plenty of demand for the skin to make nice purses and tacky shoes.

    And, of course, there is the venerable Meat Guy, who will ship crocodile tebasaki anywhere in Japan…

  2. kotoko said

    Nice article but some of the paragraphs had terrible translation/English.
    K: Thanks for the note.

    How would you know unless you saw the Japanese?

    – A.

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