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Japan's Yen for Ma-ku-do-na-ru-do

August 27, 1986|MIV SCHAAF

Den Fujita's mission in life is both lofty and down to earth, both cultural and physical, and it is based on getting the Japanese to eat McDonald's hamburgers.

"I believe eating hamburgers will make it easier for young people to travel freely and to learn about the different cultures of the world," he said, and "I am feeding the Japanese beef hamburgers to make them physically competitive in the international world."

Den Fujita is president of McDonald's Co. (Japan) Ltd. and I read his talk in the June issue of "Speaking of Japan," a fascinating publication put out by the Keizai Koho Center in Tokyo. The first store opened in 1971; there are now 530 McDonald's; it is "Japan's No. 2 'eat-out' company."

"I declared that I would make the Japanese eat hamburgers after 2,000 years of eating rice and fish and that I would be selling 100 billion yen worth of hamburgers a year in 10 years," Fujita said. When sales hit 10 billion yen, his banker said the Japanese were full up with hamburgers, they would never sell more and he would not finance such a madman.

When sales hit 20 billion yen the banker came back with a handsome apology: "If I had known sales of McDonald's hamburgers would reach 20 billion yen a year, I wouldn't be working for a bank. I am still with the bank because I cannot read the future well enough."

"So I resumed my business relationship with the bank," Fujita tells us.

Big Mac is Big Mac in Japanese but McDonald's is pronounced Ma-ku-do-na-ru-do, more comfortable and pleasing to the Japanese ear because it has a twin three-syllable sound as in haiku poems.

Internationalization of the Japanese depends upon changing their eating habits, Fujita states, attributing the "very poor" physique he noticed as a young man, to the fact that Japanese did not eat meat during the 300 years of the Tokugawa period before Commodore Perry and his four Black Ships came, demanding trade. Fujita makes "my modest contribution" to correct the current trade imbalance by importing 1,000 tons each of beef and Idaho potatoes every month from the United States.

"You never need a good cook" for McDonald's hamburgers, Fujita said, they are "like a precision machine"--bun thickness 17 millimeters; air bubble 5 millimeters; beef 45 grams; serving time 32 seconds.

There are unfathomable distances between the 200-year culture of America and the 2,000-year culture of Japan. When the Japanese businessman gets home he sheds his suit, shirt and necktie and takes a furo bath (showers are for Americans and Europeans), puts on a kimono or yukata and sits on the floor on a zabuton ; he is shedding Western culture and following a 2,000-year tradition. Japanese can get along with contradictions rather easily, Fujita said, and in 2,000 years some expressions become unexplainable. I quote exactly: "In business, for example, the Japanese say 'positively consider.' That means no, we are not interested. Or we say 'seriously consider,' meaning that we consider the proposal nonsense."

Put that in your American pipe and smoke it and remember that the next time you write a business letter to Japan.

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