by: Tyler Hlavac
McDonald’s Japan is attempting to heavily cash in on nostalgia, as their latest marketing push has unveiled two new throwback burgers: the 1971 Roasted Soy Sauce Japan Burger and the 1955 Smoky America Burger.
Now, some of you may be wondering, why 1971 and why 1955? Well, time for me to throw a bit of McDonald’s history your way. McDonald’s, the original U.S. burger joint, was originally formed in the 1940s in California as a mom-and-pop-type burger place. However McDonald’s, the monolithic corporation, considers their “actual” founding to be in 1955 when businessman Ray Kroc bought into the company and opened the first franchise in Des Plaines, Ill. This began the company’s transition from local burger shack to an inescapable global chain.
As for 1971, this is the year when the very first McDonald’s opened in Japan. The first store was located in Ginza, which is a popular upscale district of Tokyo. Images provided by McDonald’s shows people waiting in very long lines to get in. So, imagine a McDonald’s opening in Manhattan, and long lines of wealthy and trendy people gathering in line to buy a burger. Yeah, I can’t imagine it either.
Now, enough history and on to the burgers. Are they any good? The first burger I tried was the 1955 Smoky Burger which has made the rounds in some European McDonald’s and is somewhat popular. The burger has your standard onions, lettuce and tomato, but seemingly what makes it ’Murica is bacon and an awesome smoky-sweet mustard sauce. The sauce is really good and was the highlight of the burger. I could literally taste the smoke (in a good way) and visions of 4th of July barbecues danced in my head.
Now, to address the burger’s brother, the 1971 Roasted Soy Sauce Japan Burger. This one I approached with a bit of apprehension. Whenever food from other countries are adapted to Japan, things can get a bit lost in translation (see Japanese seafood and mayonnaise pizzas). The promotional material also explained that this burger was never actually for sale in Japan, but is meant to capture the “spirit” of that point in time. If that’s the case, then 1971 must’ve involved drowning things in mediocre soy sauce because that’s what happened with this burger. It was not good. It appeared to have mostly the same ingredients as the 1955 burger except with cheese and no onion. It was pretty boring and not great tasting; I gave up halfway through and didn’t bother finishing. Am I culturally biased? Maybe. But my Japanese wife had a bite as well and she wasn’t impressed either.
It’s also worth mentioning that McDonald’s Japan is also offering “classic” fries to go with these burgers. They taste pretty much like regular fries to me, except they came with the delicious sauce from the 1955 burger - so that was cool.
So, overall I’d like to see the 1955 burger stick around and the 1971 burger to go somewhere else. Unfortunately, McDonald’s Japan has different ideas. The 1955 will be gone by the end of this month, while the 1971 burger will stick around through August. So, go enjoy 1955 burger while you can…and uh, a 1971 burger as well, I guess, if you like soy sauce. Both burgers cost 490 yen each or 790 yen for a fries (non-classic version) and drink set. The classic fries cost 300 yen. If you can find some coupons, which there are plenty floating around, you can get a burger set with classic fries and an additional burger on the side for 1270 yen.