If you move to Japan and have a sudden craving for good old-fashioned American pizza, expect to have a hard time finding a simple, pepperoni-topped slice. While Americans like to keep things simple with tomato sauce, cheese, and a few slices of pepperoni, the Japanese prefer to cover their pizza with mayonnaise and sprinkle a generous amount of sweet corn on top.
There’s a humorous saying among the expatriate community in Japan: “If you start to like corn and mayonnaise on top of your pizza, then you’ve been in Japan too long.”
One characteristic of the pizza market in Japan that sets it apart from the United States is the availability of choice. Go to the American Pizza Hut website and you’ll find six choices such as Meat Lover’s and Super Supreme listed—all of them timeless favorites. Go to the website of Pizza Hut Japan and you’ll find over six times as many choices, some of them with toppings such as teriyaki chicken (with dried seaweed), camembert cheese slices, shrimp, squid, and bulgogi – grilled marinated beef from Korea. The menu is constantly updated with new combinations and seasonal flavors to keep customers coming back. Japan’s largest pizza chain, Pizza-la, has a similarly long menu to choose from. The simplest dish available is Margherita –an Italian pizza topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil. The rest are all slices weighed down with interesting combinations.
Ordering take-out is also considered a luxury in Japan. The average price for a large pizza is $32 – far more than what an American would pay.
Delivery pizza in Japan is a fairly new concept that can be traced back to 1985 when Domino’s Pizza was launched in Japan by Japanese-American entrepreneur Ernest Higa. He found it easy to incorporate some of Domino’s practices, such as delivering the pizza within 30 minutes, but faced obstacles when he tried to convince executives in the United States that old-fashioned American pizza would not succeed in Japan.
“They were so successful in the U.S. They had a formula that led them to success, so they didn’t want to change it,” Higa told The Japan Times in 2009. “I had to spend a lot of time convincing them” to localize the toppings.
In the end, Higa managed to walk away with the exclusive franchising rights in Japan. Using his knowledge of the Japanese market, he downsized the diameters of the pizzas to 10 inches from 14 inches and 12 inches from 16 inches, respectively. He also introduced new toppings such as squid, scallops and corn to appeal to Japanese tastes.
“Japanese eat with their eyes. So, presentation, how you put on the toppings, the color of the toppings, is important,” said Higa.
In the United States, consumers are satisfied if everything is “super-sized.” In Japan, consumers demand variety, a characteristic that clashes sharply with the American fast food industry ideal of keeping things simple and uniform.
The Japanese consumer is “perhaps the most demanding consumer in the world,” said Higa.