If there's one thing that I find difficult to understand, it's people who don't like food in Japan. Why? Great selection, variety and everything from all over the world. Certainly way better - certainly in Tokyo - than many other cities. Certainly, it wouldn't take much effort to write a lot about purely 'Japanese' food - cooking it, great restaurants to go to etc. - there are whole websites devoted to it. For this page though, let's look at fast food.
Either because you're tired, or you can't be bothered to cook, you don't fancy a full restaurant deal, or you're recovering from a rather impressive night out, eventually, you'll be forced to make the fast food choice. So here's a brief selection of places you can go. I've included both Japanese and foreign companies. On with the food.
One note is that Burger King is not on this list as they pulled out of Japan a couple of years ago and sold their franchises to Lotteria. Another is that vegetarian options are limited.
McDonalds - Spawn of Satan; I hate this place. Only go there if you're really desperate. For example: You're in Roppongi, drinking for 9 hours, go from Propaganda to Gas Panic to the Train Bar and then it's OK to go to McDonalds. However a quick 'nice one' to McDonalds in Kabukicho for putting a sign up asking people not to 'nap' in the place. The breakfast is do-able, and the chicken tatsuta may interest some travellers as it's a local burger only. Score: 1 out of 10.
Yoshinoya - A true church amongst fast food places. It makes a number of dishes, but specialises in cheap bowls of Gyudon - thinly sliced beef over rice with some soy sauce and ginger on there. I quite like the raw egg option too. A bowl generally goes for 400yen. You can also get a beer here. You can never go wrong with Yoshigyu. Spoil yourself and get the kimuchi too. If there's a chance you can make it to one, stop in at Yoshinoya and worship at the temple of oomori gyudon (large bowl of gyudon). It'll certainly never win a chef's prize, but it's simple low end food for a fair price. If you're backpacking, check it out. Other similar chains include Matsuya and Don-Don.
Score 9 out of 10.
Mos Burger - Japan's own 'burger joint', but let's get something straight here: the Mos have taken the burger and the 'McDonalds' model, and made it taste good and put a pretty good spin on it. Seriously, you may have to wait for Mos Burgers, but they're all hot and fresh, and with their rice burgers and damn good chilli dogs, they've really made a good market for themselves.
Definitely the best 'burger' place in Japan. They tend to have smaller places, in less obvious locations, but for taste, they're hard to beat for a burger. Prices and portions are OK. You can also call your order in and then collect. My local one also offers a wireless 'hotspot'. Score: 8 out of 10.
KFC - Smaller portions than the golden arches, but the taste is better, and now Japan has the Zinger, it's worth going to. If you can face the grease, try the Kurisupi's too. The portions are small, but at least they've stopped leaving the skin on. the coffee is OK, but there isn't much else to recommend it. Score: 6 out of 10.
Tenya - This place specialises in tendon and other -dons. Basically, it a variant of tenpura (deep fried things) on rice with soy sauce. I like the Yasaidon - the vegetable only one, though many of the seafood ones are good too. Beer is available and the service is usually good. Score: 7.5 out of 10.
Lotteria - Another Japanese (& Korean) burger joint, though more akin to Wendy's than say Mos Burger. The portions are tiny, and the cost doesn't warrant it. The burgers taste OK, but that's about it. They do do a decent shrimp burger though. Not much of an upside her, especially if you compare it to Mos. Score 6 out of 10.
'Family Restaurants' - Examples such as Jonathon's, Denny's and Gusto. I've put these all together as they're pretty much the same; same Clubhouse, same hamburger options, same pancakes. The bonus of course, is that many offer lots of 'bottomless coffee cups'. You can test the quality of the staff by ordering hot coffee, sleeping for an hour, and then asking for hot coffee when you wake up :-). That nomihodai (all you can drink) coffee is a good reason to stop in. Beware the screaming kids - after all, it is a 'family restaurant'. Score usually around 6/7 out of 10.
Ramen bars - Always worth going to. Get into one and absorb a negi ramen (onion ramen) , or pretty much any miso based ramen. Solids and liquids in one bowl, and it's OK for you to make a hell of a lot of noise making it. Bonus: You can often order beer and gyoza while you're there. Often seen as a lower ranking place, the food is often excellent and the clientele are often pretty relaxed. Many open 24/7. Average rating: 8 out of 10.
OK there it is. You may notice that Japanese fast food does better - and that is my point. Japan not only has good quality 'native food' (OK, I know ramen et al is Chinese, but you know what I mean) but the fast food isn't bad either. A quick note though, the definition of 'fast' here in Japan is a little slower than say, New York or London.
Finally, please join the CADC (that's the Campaign Against Disposable Chopsticks). Most Japanese places use wooden, disposable chopsticks (waribashi), but please take your own, no one will mind. I applaud Mitsuya here, as they now have the hashi (chopsticks) in a bowl on the counter as an option for take-outs now instead of sticking some in with each purchase. Seriously, if you know you're going to need the old choppers, save a bit of a tree and take your own.