Things I Like About Japan #6: Small Drinks Are Actually Small


Today we have another installment of my long-neglected “Things I Like About Japan” series. One thing I really like about Japan is that small drinks are actually small here. In the US, we’ve become sort of fixated with getting “more for less,” which has led to the somewhat disturbing trend of everything just getting bigger. This can be really frustrating if you just want a little (or a reasonable portion) or something. Especially with soda, should I really be consuming a vat of liquid sugar that’s bigger than my head? I love Coca-Cola more than many things in the world, but still, I think the answer is surely no.

This especially pains me in movie theatres where everything is overpriced *and* huge. At AMC theaters (the second largest cinema chain in North America), for example, the standard small size is 32 ounces, which which you have to pay about $4.25. Why can’t I just have a smaller drink for a more reasonable price? Are you trying to give me diabetes as well as cheat me out of my money? As Inside Scoop SF points out, that “small” drink has 640 calories, more than a McDonald’s Big Mac, enough for an entire meal for some people.

Anyway, in Japan it seems that the opposite is often true—people want smaller portions or things packaged for individuals. This is often best seen by looking at US chains, where you can make a direct comparison. In Japan, Starbucks sells short (8 oz.) sizes of cold drinks like frappuccinos—it doesn’t in the US. (Although you can buy hot drinks in short sizes in the US, you can’t currently buy 8-oz. cold drinks) In Japan, the short size is a common choice. I remember the first time I ordered one, it looked absurdly mini to my American eyes. But the reduced size also helps lower the calorie count on these ridiculously sugary (but also ridiculously delicious) drinks. Other examples abound. The drink in the photo above is a Burger King small in Japan, and it looks more akin to the Burger King kid’s size in the US. You can really see the difference in this photo by Okinawa Soba, which gives you a good side-by-side comparison of McDonalds drink sizes in Japan versus the US.

Photo: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Okinawa Soba

You know you’re reached the antithesis of a Costco culture when you can buy packages of 2 slices of bread in the grocery store.* That’s right, two slices–just enough for a sandwich or perhaps two bits of toast. I took the photo below at my local supermarket in Motoyawata. Although the package says “8 slices,” that refers to the width of the bread, not the number of slices in the package. Those two slices cost you 100 yen, about US $1.31 at current abysmal exchange rates. (Have I  mentioned that living in Japan can be very expensive?) The standard 8-loaf package was a bit cheaper per slice, but you know, some people prefer to just buy what they need, even if it means spending more money. Or at least they do in Japan—I’m not so sure about the US.


Of course, this is more than a little wasteful in terms of packaging (and boy, do Japanese people love packaging—but that’s a topic for another day). But it gives you an idea of some alternative food marketing regimes.

Anyway, I’m a small person who doesn’t need very much food, and I hate to waste it, so I really like this aspect of Japan. You can still find plentiful amounts of food and drink for reasonable prices, but if you want smaller portions, those are readily available too. To each, his or her own.

* One small note: They do have Costco in Japan, but it’s nowhere near as common a phenomenon as in the US.

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