Food Delivery in Japan — Or more accurately, lack of it in my area

I think many of us would agree that we live in a golden age of food delivery. That being said, the more urban and developed an area, the more options you are going to have. When I’m in the office in Tokyo, using Uber Eats I have access to basically any food I can imagine, at least if I’m willing to fork over a small fortune. But out here in the random city in Chiba prefecture I live in, we have it much rougher.

Rakuten Delivery

For a long while, the only delivery service I knew of around me was Rakuten Delivery. The only good thing I can say about Rakuten Delivery is that it gives me an opportunity to use my always ridiculous amount of Rakuten points (gained from my Rakuten credit card), but other than that, it leaves so much to be desired. Almost all of their options are places that already offer delivery on their own, like Pizza Hut or Domino’s. In fact, they have so few options that they separate Domino’s Pizza and Domino’s Sandwiches just to make it look like they have more. Pathetic!

I think I might have ordered Domino’s Sandwiches there once just to try it out, and I know I ordered curry from Coco-ichi once. There was a more specific reason why Rakuten Delivery didn’t cut it for me though: they didn’t have any hamburgers. As a generic American, if I’m getting food delivered to me, it’s usually gonna be pizza or burgers. Pizza I could get elsewhere and burgers they did not have. Thus, Rakuten Delivery sits unused on my phone, deep in a folder.

Demae-Kan

Months later, I made a discovery of a new delivery service called Demae-Kan. They honestly weren’t that much better than Rakuten, BUT they had access to First Kitchen. If you don’t know First Kitchen, it’s a burger/pasta fast food restaurant (odd combination, I know) that is oftentimes combined with Wendy’s, a favorite American fast food place of mine. Since I had only ever experienced it in conjunction with Wendy’s, I had never actually tried First Kitchen. Obviously, if I had the option between Wendy’s and First Kitchen, I was going to choose Wendy’s. My burning desire for a burger had to be quenched, and thus I dove into the world of First Kitchen.

My recent go-to burger from First Kitchen: The Bacon Egg Burger Double x Double. I would usually eat two. Image: First Kitchen

And what a world it was! To be honest, First Kitchen really is super underrated and the food is pretty darn good. Demae-Kan itself on the other hand still was near as good as Uber Eats in terms of service. Being a smaller company in general, it accordingly had less drivers. That in turn results in long wait times, sometimes up to 2-3 hours on a really bad day. There has definitely been a time where I just sat on my couch on a Saturday, starving, praying my burgers would arrive soon. The service prices also leave a lot to be desired… arguably, Demae-Kan might be even more expensive than Uber Eats.

Uber Eats

Speaking of Uber Eats, recently I had a fateful encounter. Walking around my local station, I noticed the iconic cubic bag of an Uber Eats bicyclist. Excitedly, I checked my phone, and Uber Eats had actually opened in my city quite recently! However, upon getting home and trying to order something, I got a notification I was quite used to seeing the past. “Sorry, we’re not in your area yet.”

There was very little information to go on beyond that. What I had read before just said it was in my city, and the Uber Eats guy was at my local station. How could it not be in my area? Frantically I tried inputting an address one “chome” (a very small section of a city district used for addresses) away and… it worked. I think that was even more painful. It was literally SO CLOSE, yet I couldn’t order it! When it wasn’t near me at all, it was easy enough to accept, but now I had to keep checking the app to see whether or not suddenly I would be able to order. 

“Currently you cannot use Uber Eats. We look forward to you using Uber Eats during business hours.” — Uber Eats screenshot

Just the other day though, there was a small update in my whirlwind relationship with Uber Eats. Instead of no longer being in my area, it was just out of service hours! That’s somewhat odd considering I took this screenshot at 12:00 PM on a Monday, which you would think would be prime time. 

Admittedly though, the greater reasoning behind this does check out. Uber Eats may have started service here, but they still need delivery people. I saw they’re offering a cash bonus to those who start delivery in this general area, but with a pandemic happening and still having limited food options, it probably doesn’t seem very attractive even to people who are looking to make a bit of extra money. After all, they could just ride their bike to a different area and probably make way more money in the same amount of time. There still has technically been progress with the app now telling me about delivery hours instead of no service at all though, so I will keep my hopes up for more food options soon!

McDelivery

This is where my food delivery saga comes to an end for now. To be completely honest with you, the only reason I really wanted Uber Eats was so I can order McDonalds. It’s the cheapest of the fast food restaurants, and generally to a common consumer of fast food such as myself, inoffensive and easy to eat. McDelivery has always been in a bit of a weird situation, as you can order it through Uber Eats, but you can also order it through McDonalds itself. I still do not exactly understand where the line is drawn. 

Just this Saturday morning though as I was starving with no food in the fridge, I thought back to an event from a few weeks ago. Outside of a local McDonalds, I saw a sign proudly proclaiming that McDelivery was coming to this area in July. So absorbed by the idea of Uber Eats, I had completely forgotten about this. I was craving breakfast food specifically, and finally I remembered about McDelivery. I re-downloaded the app and began setting it up, distrust in the back of my throat at every step. Uber Eats had already betrayed me so I wasn’t so ready to trust again. 

But then, it all worked out! I was able to get McDonalds breakfast delivered to my apartment in a flash. The delivery fee is ¥300 yen which is objectively a bit pricey, but if you take into account how cheap McDonalds is in general it’s really not that bad. Especially for breakfast food, it’s really a steal. One other thing I should mention is that the Big Breakfast they offer with scrambled eggs, a sausage, hash brown, English muffin with jelly, and optional pancakes is the most easily accessible American-style breakfast I’ve found in Japan. Suffice to say, I plan on eating a lot of them in the near future. You do need to order ¥1,500 or more though, so plan on eating a lot of McDonalds.

A small snapshot of the McDelivery menu on the app. The quality of the app is actually really awful and inconsistent, but I forgive it as long as I get my food.

Admittedly, if you’re going to be in Tokyo or another large city, you will almost assuredly have Uber Eats and not have to go through a saga like mine! I still think that it’s worth knowing that there are more services than just Uber Eats, and if you have multiple choices you can find hidden gems or at least choose the app with the shortest delivery time at the current moment. I’m still quite lucky that my city is relatively urbanized so we still have a lot of things compared to the proper “inaka” (countryside.) I very much doubt cities in the north-east section of Chiba or south, both of which are less urbanized, have much food delivery at all. 

If food delivery is as important to you as it is to me, I seriously recommend you look into what is available in an area before you move there! Because to be honest with you, even though I love where I live now, I don’t think I would’ve chosen here had I known how limited my options would be. Luckily things are improving literally day-by-day and the future of food delivery is bright!


By Nathan

Nathan works for the GaijinPot Housing Service, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!


Lead photo: Kichijoji, Musashino, iStock photo