Subway planning Japan surge

Great news, people. Subway will open 80 new Japanese locations in 2010 (sub req’d). Most new stores will be in highway service areas and shopping centers where other fast food restaurants have shut their doors. That means you could start seeing Subways where the now-defunct Wendy’s used to be.

That will bring the number of Subways in Japan to around 270. Say what you will about their quality, Subway is the one of the only easy places to get a real deli sandwich in Tokyo. Mrs. Adamu and I love it.

I will be watching developments on this front very closely as I am considering moving out of Ayase at some point in the next year or so. Being near a Subway will be a major plus.

One interesting fact about Subway Japan – about 90% of their locations are franchisee-owned. So that older gentleman watching over the teenage part-timers making your sandwich? He probably has a very direct stake in making sure you’re satisfied. The same goes for most of the 957 Baskin Robbins stores.

70 thoughts on “Subway planning Japan surge”

  1. I’m repeating conversations we’ve had many times in the past, but color me officially appalled that you get so excited about fast food. I’m not beyond the occasional McMuffin or Subway Deli Sub, but why anyone would regularly consume factory-processed food when there is any other alternative is beyond me.

  2. Curious as to whether or not the bloggers and regulars prefer them to American fast food places.

  3. “a real deli sandwich”

    yeah. if you like dull, lifeless bread,
    sterilized, wanton lettuce and
    meat that looks like it has been
    constructed under lab conditions in
    a space station, well yes, I suppose
    you could call it a “real deli sandwich”.

    good luck finding a new place
    “near a Subway”

  4. I think Adamu makes a good point – what else do you do for a stacked deli sandwich in Japan that doesn’t involve going way out of your way or spending 3000 yen on ingredients?

  5. Their three-sandwiches-for-1000-yen deal is no-brainer when you don’t feeling like cooking dinner.


    -two Seattle Subway anecdotes: 1) of friend of mine got quite rich after opening a franchise there. I think his initial investment was $50,000. 2) While they were putting together my sandwich at a branch in downtown Seattle, I watched in horror as they dropped a slice of meat on the floor and casually proceeded to place it back on the sandwich. “Uh, could I have another slice please?”

  6. “what else do you do for a stacked deli sandwich in Japan ”

    you don’t. It’s a bit like getting decent Japanese food abroad.

  7. Haven’t you ever heard of the 5-second rule? (3 seconds in Japan)

    I am not saying Subway is grade-A dining. It’s pretty good and cheap, and it’s the only game in town when it comes to deli sandwiches. Of course I would love to see real delis all over Japan but at this point I will take what I can get, and it looks like I will be getting 80 more Subways this year.

    It might look like all I care about is crappy fast food, but that’s just because it’s rare enough that I like to keep track of it on MFT. To be perfectly clear, I appreciate all the izakaya food, sushi, grilled fish, miso soup, teishoku places, hambagu, katsu kare, okonomiyaki, soba, udon, ramen, yakiniku, Indian curry, and on and on that Japan has to offer.

  8. I like pickles, chicken, soup, sausages, nori, furikake, vermont curry, eggs, ham, apples and chocolate.

  9. For me, fast food and family restaurants have totally different purposes. Fast food is what I get to fill my stomach at 2 am when I’m stumbling home after a night on the town (100 yen McChickens are the best thing in the world at that point). Family restaurants are better for sitting and taking some time — either for talking with cheapskate friends (like Roy and Adamu) or for studying. Most fast food places are too cramped for this purpose and are more appropriate for a quick sit, dine and dash, if that.

    There is a lot of variation between the family restaurants, too. Jonathan’s and Saizeriya hardly count as food, but are good for their drink bars, and Jonathan’s has good desserts as well. Denny’s and Skylark are OK. Royal Host is pretty good and the Japanese family restaurants Aiya and Sato are awesome. Fast food is more uniform in its mediocre quality, at least in Japan. In the US you generally never know what you are going to get because quality control within each chain is so lax.

  10. I’m repeating conversations we’ve had many times in the past, but color me officially appalled that you get so excited about fast food. I’m not beyond the occasional McMuffin or Subway Deli Sub, but why anyone would regularly consume factory-processed food when there is any other alternative is beyond me.

    Yes, but can you get a decent sandwich in Dubai? If so, then hold your tongue, sir.

    Although I’m generally neutral on Subway, it does fill a niche between 1500 yen “gourmet” sandwiches and the awful 200-300 yen “sandwiches” of bread and mayonnaise that seems to be every male high school student’s staple food. If this were a perfect world we’d have Sheetz or Wawa bring their service station deli model to Japan, but Subway will suffice.

  11. This is great news. Subway is a poor substitute for the Italian-run submarine sandwich place in my hometown, but it’s one of the best things going as far as fast food goes. I still wish Taco Bell would see fit to enter the Japanese market though.

  12. Curzon and I once trekked out to Oshima, a suburban stop on the Shinjuku Line surrounded by danchi, solely for the purpose of eating at a Sato restaurant. Now I have an Aiya right down the street from my apartment and it is easily the best feature of the apartment, along with the park view and the cheap/dangerous kaitenzushi across the street.

  13. I thought this article was going to be about underground railway systems.

    I had a Subway once when they opened in Oxford Street in the UK. It was effing terrible and I’ve never been back. Where I work in Soho, there are heaps of good Italian sandwich shops (the experience Subway attempts to copy) as well as Pret A Manger.

    Still, I expect I will try it when it gets to Japan as the quality control should be better.

  14. Martin, this is a very serious debate over which type of food is the best. Stop acting so bemused and above it all if you’re going to comment!

    For me family restaurants have their place in the world as well, albeit one that limits me to less than one visit a year. Basically they are sometimes a good compromise place when eating out with family members on the road.

  15. I appreciate the serious treatment granted to fast food restaurants by this blog. I’ve heard that Dean and Deluca makes a nice roast beef sandwich, but for a steep price.

    Thank you, Joe, for bigging up the 100yen McChicken. That development was some of the better news of the past 6 months for me!

  16. I think that literally the last time I set foot in a family restaurant was the afternoon that Joe is referring to above. (And weren’t we actually looking more for a cafe, but failed to spot one in the immediate vicinity that wasn’t too crowded?) I don’t live particularly close to any, and they certainly don’t offer anything worth going out of my way for. Sato may actually be the best of them, but they don’t really sell anything I can’t find at a smaller restaurant closer than their closest location, which is about a 30 minute bike ride from my current house.

    Subway is one of those places that’s always better in concept than practice. Since I am a heavy consumer of deli sandwiches back home in New Jersey I sometimes have a craving for the same kind of food here, and Subway is literally the only place I know of in Japan that makes anything remotely similar. (Sure, I bet there’s a few specialty shops in Tokyo, but none in Kyoto that I’m aware of.) Unfortunately, Subway also just isn’t all that good, so I still wouldn’t go all that often even if there was one next door.

    I’m rather puzzled at how bad sandwiches are in Japan, generally. For all the good food, and even sometimes including foreign style food, anything approaching a decent sandwich is very, very hard to find – and that’s even with all the bakeries making bread 100x better than the crappy white shokupan most people eat.

  17. point taken. I know this is serious.

    eat at family restaurants and have blood on your hands,
    as that is 過労死現場 
    if you must eat sandwiches though, in all seriousness,
    don’t go to Dean and Deluca as they are over-priced.
    The baguettes at Paul are probably your best bet

  18. There is a Jewish deli in Azabu, close to Temple’s Tokyo campus, which is really good according to word of mouth among American expats. I have passed by it many times but have never eaten there.

  19. You sure that’s the same Bateel? The website looks like a sweets company.

    Man, I wish there was a good sandwich place in Kyoto. Oh well, at least I was introduced to a good Thai place recently.

  20. hey japanese shokupan rocks. Would give an arm to have that back in Europe. That and horizontal toasters.

  21. Is anybody else out there horribly disappointed by Subway Japan’s lack of meatball subs?

  22. Is anybody else out there horribly disappointed by Subway Japan’s lack of meatball subs?


  23. “Is anybody else out there horribly disappointed by Subway Japan’s lack of meatball subs?”

    I recall that Subway in Taiwan had meatball subs, but the recipe was somehow different and it just tasted awful.

    One thing that annoys me is how they only have a single variety of generic processed sliced cheese, as opposed to a choice of varieties. Yet another strike against them, that makes me generally disinterested in patronizing them.

  24. “hey japanese shokupan rocks. Would give an arm to have that back in Europe. That and horizontal toasters.”

    I don’t see the appeal. I find generic white bread, whether Japanese or American, pretty much unpalatable when un-toasted, and just barely acceptable toasted.

  25. Yes. Actually they had meatball subs for a couple months last year, but if you blinked you probably missed them. They were not nearly as good as the ones back home (and of course compare very unfavorably to the selection of subs (or grinders as we call them in New England) at actual restaurants.

    My solution is to have Mrs. Adamu make spaghetti and meatballs and then make oven-baked sandwiches with the leftovers. The lack of provolone cheese is a letdown but I can deal.

    I was a big fan of their tandoori chicken sandwiches that live on as a wrap option.

    The sandwich situation was the worst in Thailand. I can recall no real sandwich places. I blame it on the dominance of UK expats. At one place that offered “ham sandwiches” they used butter instead of mayonnaise. Ick.

  26. I should note that in Thailand I was not really hankering for sandwiches because I was surrounded by amazing new food and there were a lot of other Western chains (like Dunkin Donuts and many Burger Kings). Also I was only there for 10 months so it’s entirely possible I just didn’t look hard enough for good sandwiches. But the generally lower living standards and rarity of quality ingredients make it highly unlikely.

  27. Dude, wasn’t Bangkok covered in Au bon pain? Are you saying they didn’t make sandwiches like they do back home?

  28. Family restaurants (Denny’s and the like) are great if . . . wait for it . . . you have a family. We have meals there a few times a month when we’re out and about because they’re roomy, they do a good job of separating non-smoking and smoking sections, for the most part, the seats are like sofas and we can put the toddler down horizontally if she’s zonked out while we enjoy our bottomless cups of mediocre coffee and chat, there are extensive kids’ menus (with plenty of allergen-free choices in most cases, if you’ve got a child for whom that’s a concern). Lots of reasons to opt for this sort of restaurant, even if there are commenters who’ll probably call you names for not taking your two-year-old to Michelin-starred 料亭 instead.

    Paul sandwiches are nice, though, and I buy bread at the Yotsuya Atré branch regularly on my way home.

  29. McDonalds converted a number of their restaurants to Pret a Manger branches a few years ago. They didn’t sell American deli-style sandwiches but were a lot better than convenience store offerings. The enterprise failed and all were turned back to burgers. Benugo too had great hopes when they started but still only have two shops and three in-house cafes after their expansion hopes hit the buffers.

    All such places assumed that the success of Starbucks meant there was room for sandwich shops but that proved not to be the case. McDonalds decided instead to go with the McCafe format as a direct competitor to the coffee chains.

    Also more the Anglo than America taste but Kiwi Kitchen are still in business. They used to go around foreign finance houses with boxes of sandwiches to sell and did reasonable trade. I haven’t seen them anywhere I’ve been working lately but their website says they do deliveries, mainly in Minato-ku. If you are on their route, the minimum order is 1,000 yen but it’s 2,500 yen if they make a special trip. A large sandwich will take 700 yen from your wallet.

  30. Ah, food snobbery…one of the many ways to make one feel superior to others. Don’t let them put you on the defensive for being happy to have access to more deli-style food at a more reasonable price, Adamu. Variety is the spice of life, and there’s nothing wrong with mixing in a little Subway with everything else you consume.

    Despite all of the attempts to malign the food, the bread is made fresh on the premises (you can see it baking in the ovens, after all), and the vegetables are fresh and real. Since the lettuce in Japanese supermarkets is routinely sprayed with chemicals to keep it looking green and fresh (yes, it is), it’s probably no worse than making your own salad at home.

    I personally do not like fast food and cook almost everything myself including making my own bread and soups from scratch, but sometimes I am too tired to cook and clean and just want something easy and not too spectacularly unhealthy or fattening. While I often could go for a Cocoichiban curry bento (as I just love them to pieces), I’ll often opt for the lesser evil of a Subway turkey sub. If people think that makes me a bad person, that’s their problem. Seriously, we’re just talking food here. Why is everything some sort of character or values reflection?

  31. ” I find generic white bread, whether Japanese or American, pretty much unpalatable when un-toasted”
    Stick with rice then, sheesh.

    Paul is nice and all, but is TOO expensive.
    Lets face it, we ain’t gonna have good sandwiches here.
    I use to eat iberican ham and cheese and god send perfect bread every single day back in Spain; I try to forget about it while I’m here. Even if I find it I can’t afford it, and it feels weird to mix it which asian food the rest of the week.

  32. “Stick with rice then, sheesh.”
    That’s not necessary, since it’s not very hard to find decent bread around. Of course I do eat plenty of rice as well-which would be rather difficult to avoid.

    “I’ll often opt for the lesser evil of a Subway turkey sub.”
    You have reminded me of one of the major virtues of Subway in Japan, i.e. being nearly the only source of turkey meat. Seriously, I don’t even see turkey for sale in most high end grocery stores in Japan!

  33. De gustibus non est disputandum.

    I feel blessed to even have food. I may someday be grateful that there is a Subway that slaked my hunger, perhaps some day when I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and eat.

  34. Amazing how much dialogue and debate arises from such a basic post about a fast food restaurant. Come on people, there is little chance of finding an authentic deli sandwich place in Japan. Subway is not that bad.

  35. You guys do know that American sandwiches are the exception, right? It is not that Japan has bad sandwiches, it’s just that they are what they are in America. Maybe they have them in Canada too, I don’t know. Also, did anybody else see that poutine wrapped in spring roll pastry dish? Is that for real? Where’s M-Bone when you need him?

    In New Zealand sandwiches are generally what little old ladies eat with fingers cocked in musty dank tea rooms. It’s our burgers that kick ass.

    I actually like the egg sandwiches they sell at Lawson.

  36. I do think it is pretty cool how we can reach 40 comments about a general Subway post faster than The Economist can reach 40 on a major Japan piece.

  37. I must align myself with Adam, here. Let’s presume you like a good sandwich now and again. If I want to make one at home in Fukuoka, I have to spend quite a bit of money and time–most likely, I’ll need to make a trip to Costco just to get the meat and cheese, or buy the micro-size “gourmet” foods from the local super–and given the quality of Japanese made cheese, that may not even be satisfactory. Subway, while not providing me with the quality of bread, meat, or cheese I would prefer (and could get back in the U.S.) does quench the desire (which is tied to emotional connections to “home” as much as it is to my taste buds) far more easily and cheaply.

    I will point out it’s far far worse, though, if you’re from Southern California like myself. Less than 5 Mexican restaurants anywhere in the city, all of them very expensive, and only 1 that’s even close to “authentic” Mexican food. Luckily I can replicate some Mexican-American dishes at home…

  38. We’ve talked about this before – it is either the extremely high standard of the blog entries and active posting by people from a wide variety of areas of interest and expertise or rampant dick swinging.

  39. “rampant dick swinging” .. – . – sort of like syncronized cocks M-Bone ?

  40. Jimmy Johns would be way way better, they actually use real mayo, veggies and meat. They are quality sandwich shops!
    Subway just smells bad and not as fresh as they claim.
    Would take Jimmy Johns over Subway anyday!

  41. I’m lucky to have a Maison Kayser a few minutes away from me. Every lunchtime they have a range of sandwiches made with a variety of breads. A ham and emmenthal baguette or a herb chicken foccacio meet my personal sandwich quota. There’s one over in Midtown but I don’t know if they have the same range on offer.

    Then again. I’ve been known to eat some of Doutor’s milano sandwiches and Excelsior’s ciabatta ham & egg morning set was a regular hangover treat at one time so perhaps I’m not coming at this from a gourmet angle.

  42. A chocolate company from Switzerland is selling its stake in a contact lens company in order to buy the frozen pizza unit from an American foods company, who with that money will turn around and bid for … a UK chocolate company.

    This is what happens when you play Candy Land and Monopoly at the same time.

  43. Those Doutor sandwich’s are all right. But the only Doutor close-ish to me is an all smoking one attached to a gas station, so it’s about as unpleasant as one can possibly be. However, when I lived in Taipei I had one a couple of blocks away and it was a pretty frequent location for doing my Chinese homework.

  44. Maison Kayser rocks. there’s one in Denenchofu, Ginza and that’s about it as far as I know. It’s from Megeve in France.
    That chicken foccacia is awesome. I know th one you mean.

    I’ve got my doutors about those milano sandwhiches by the way. . .

  45. I forgot about Maison Kayser — there’s one near me in Kagurazaka, so I shouldn’t complain. A chicken foccacia would be pretty good right about now…

  46. I’m going to have to look around Kyoto more carefully for a decent sandwich place. I can make my own fairly well, but it’s nice to be able to get them from someplace…

  47. If we are going down this road, I’m partial to Potbelly myself. First sandwich I had in America. Pretty damned good.

    Roy, isn’t there a place in Kawaramachi (Kawaramachi-dori and Sanjo, diagonally across from the Hankyu store) that does nice baguettes?

  48. Thanks for the Maison Kayser lead. The Ginza one is in the basement of Matsuya; maybe a lunchtime walk over there is in the cards for me this week.

  49. there’s loads of free food in the basement of Matsuya too,
    including salami and cheese and olives !!!!

  50. that reminds me !
    Quiznos is round the corner from
    Matsuya on Marronier Dori has
    awesome sandwiches . . how could
    I forget ?

  51. Ok, to be honest, David’s Deli is unfortunately not really a Manhattan-style deli. But they do have a pretty decent menu (albeit without a pastrami on rye) and it’s certainly the best matzo-ball soup I’ve had recently.

  52. Quiznos is not in Japan now, I remember they were here a few years back.
    I ate at the one near Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan in Yurakucho. Another sad news, the website is not up even. Want Quiznos back here.

    By the way, awesome 360 degree revolving restaurant on top of the Tokyo
    Kotsu Kaikan! Awesome place! Ginza Sky Lounge—top quality

    Gotta bring Jimmy Johns over here for real

  53. Not only does Shirokane Takanawa have David’s Deli & the Maruichi Bagel which Gen mentions but there’s the Maison Kayser and Burgermania just up the road too. No Subway, though.

  54. We’ve had the bagel discussion a few times now, and I look forward to trying Maruichi, but they were on holiday the entire time I was in Tokyo last time I went!

  55. I live in the States after 8+ years in the Japan and there are Subways nearly everywhere (even inside Walmart, which I hate). If I were back in Japan, I would eat Japanese food and never miss a Subway. There is nothing great about it, believe me.

  56. Says someone living in the US, where the streets are paved with hoagie rolls and the rivers overflow with oil and vinegar dressing!

    Although I’d never touch it (nor Subway) in the US, I’d give my right foot for a Taco Bell…

  57. I feel the same way – sometimes one just gets sick of Japanese food or doesn’t want rice at midday when it is 38 degrees.

    I also think that Subway can be a godsend back home. In the land of the 180 calorie carbonated green tea and the 4000 calorie appetizer it really is something reasonably healthy when you are stuck.

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