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USA vs. Japan: Subway Sandwich

This is the first of a hopefully continuing series of "USA vs. Japan" articles featuring my snap impressions of Japanese things and how they compare to the USA equivalent.  My first chosen topic is a brief and easy one--Subway Sandwich.

Although it doesn't have the mammoth presence that McDonald's has, Subway Sandwich is indeed here in Japan.  Unlike McDonald's, however, it's notably different from USA's Subway Sandwich, making my longing for a real USA sub all the more tender and wistful.  Long story short, Japan's Subway Sandwich totally sucks ass, and USA wins this one hands down.  Here's why...

The Price
If I remember correctly, a basic footlong sub in the USA is around $5 or so.  Here in Japan they do 15cm (6") and 30cm (12").  With everything in Japan being tiny and overpriced, Subway exploits it to the max.  Here the 6" is around $4~$5, and a rarely-requested footlong (basically 2 sandwiches) can set you back almost $10.  $10 for a sandwich!  WTF?!  Add a drink, and...well, on to my next point.

No Refills
In USA's Subway restaurants, the eat-in customers have free realm over the drink machine.  You can fill up that trashcan-sized cup as much as your high-sodium-&-high-sugar-diet-pumping American heart desires.  Damn, I miss that.  In Japan, the drink machine is out for customers to use with an ominous bilingual sign declaring "No Refills."  Oh, and did I mention that your cup is the size of a shotglass, and you just paid $3 for it?  F that!  Why even put the machine out in the open like that then?  I'm going to put my mouth under the machine American style and fill up me belly with some prime high-fructose paradise nectar.  If they point out the sign, then I'll claim to be French-only French Canadian with zero understanding of English and Japanese.  French Canadians could use a little bad press thrown their way anyways.

Where's the Beef?
In the USA a footlong Subway sub is filling--it's dinner and dessert between 2 phatty loaves of warm bread.  Those friendly dudes and dudettes making your sandwich expeditiously stuff it chock full of veggies and condiments that by the time it reaches the end of the assembly line, it's a cornucopia of fresh American goodness.  Not so in Japan.  They meticulously measure, weigh, and scrutinize it throughout the manufacturing process: 3 cheese slices, a wafer-thin layer of lettuce, 2 black olives, and 3 onions.  It doesn't exactly look like the one in the menu picture--the photography of which no doubt takes place in the USA.

Smoking Section
I frequented Subway Sandwich in the USA as I considered it healthy fast food.  That is, my daily footlong veggie sub minus oil, salt, and mayo was and is damn good for me.  Well, I can still get that in Japan even though it will have half the food volume and double the price.  But what pisses me off is all the smokers exhaling carcinogens into me and my overpriced "healthy" sandwich while I partake.  In good ol' California, smokers would be hung and shot (a valid pro-NRA argument against gun control).  I can somewhat understand smoking in bars because if you're already poisoning your bloodstream with alcohol, you might was well simultaneously poison your lungs with black tar.  But a smoking section in a health-conscious restaurant like Subway is as logic-defying as smoking while jogging on the gym treadmill.  For a country so seemingly well put-together, things like these make Japan's dark underbelly all the more incomprehensible and frustrating.

Thus, if you know and love America's Subway Sandwich, then don't bother visiting those in Japan.  You'll leave with an empty wallet, an empty stomach, and a lungful of cigarette smoke.

Subway Sandwich from Japan

420 yen ($4.45) at Subway Sandwich in Japan -- 15cm of sheer wimpishness.  After finishing it (in 10 seconds), I wanted another 4 of them.  Unfortunately, that would have cost more than my weekly salary.

Subway Sandwich from the USA

$5 at Subway Sandwich in the USA -- 12" of pure muscle.  Note how the sandwich is so stuffed that the bread has literally ripped open.  The winner on this one is obvious.  Special thanks to my dad for photographing the USA Subway sub.  Too bad I didn't get to eat it.

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  • Guest - Frenchman in Japan

    Reading this as I try my first subway sando in Japan.
    Very accurate article. I have eaten subway in The U.S, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the UK, damn even in China it was better than this tiny mouse portioned overpriced crap...
    I guess I won't eat any more subway as long as I'm in Japan

    from Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, Japan
  • Guest - nag

    Hi! I just read your comments on Japanese Subways (the Sandwiches) and I am surprised. I am a French-Canadian (though I prefer Quebecois) from Montréal. I am currently living in Japan since 11 months and I've been to a Subway restaurant 3 or 4 times already. The one in Kintetsu-Uehonmachi station, Osaka, to be exact. I am to this day very satisfied with their product. Not only the staff is really polite and ready to help (well, I speak a bit Japanese so they are, I guess, little less worried about having to speak English!) but the ingredients in the sandwich are a 100 times fresher than the for the ones in Montreal! I took a footlong 3 times out of 4 and while the cost was around 1040 yens, it was a set so it's not so bad. I was rightly filled without feeling about to explode, but mostly, the bread was better, the sauce was better and the veggies and meat too! I haven't tried Subways in the States (I know I should) but this was overall a very satisfying eating experience...Actually I feel that Japan, except for the size question, is a paradise for food lovers! Maybe we've been to different locations!

    from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
  • Guest - Bear Bear

    Next time you go to a subway over there. Take a few pictures with you and say USA subway Japanese subway WTF!? lol Dont let america out do you make me a sandwich like them! XD

  • Guest - ryan666

    Another annoying thing is that if you ask for all the vegitables, they don't give you jalepenos. For some reason, Japanese subway employees consider jalepenos a "sauce".

  • Guest - kristina

    I love how the Japan subway has those little potato wedges. im like fuck yea american potato wedges sweet and then I get the "large" and it comes with like 5 fries. then i get the 'you're a fatass' look when i ask for more >_<
    and im like yeah i literally came all the way to shibuya for this delicious american lunch i will eat as much as i can.

  • Guest - Denise

    I was more surprised by the change of toppings. Sausages, avocado, shrimps and... potato salad? But having to ask extra for cheese. Oh Japan.

  • Mom? Is that you??

  • Guest - Sama

    Subway is overpriced now here!

  • Guest - Jane

    You made me hungry. Think I'll get a sandwich!

  • Guest - Mike

    Awesome article, Dave.