This has post has been done before, I know. Countless other vloggers and bloggers who have spent any amount of time in Japan are already familiar with this concept, and they’ve documented it well. I’m going to write about it too because I know some of my readers haven’t heard this before, and also because I’m stubborn.
When we hear a phrase like “For a limited time only” in the states, we tend to hear it as a message from the marketing and sales team of a company that really says: “we’re not really sure if this is a good idea or not, and we don’t know if we want to add it to our list of products/services, so we’re going to test it out, and if it’s successful, it’ll be a real thing in the future.” At least, that’s what I hear every time I see the words “limited time only” in the USA.
A great example of this is the $5 footlong sandwich from subway. They announced they’d offer several sandwiches (8, I think, initially) for a limited time at 5 bucks a piece. 12 whole inches of sandwichy goodness.
Fortunately for subway, what I assume must have been an army of stoners, college students (some of these groups may overlap), and people looking to save some cash on lunch flocked en masse to get their sandwiches.
The $5 footlong has become a fixture on the subway menu in the states – it was tested, got good results, and deemed a good idea by the higher-ups.
Japan has a different concept of “Limited Time Only”. While I think the idea is similar in that the concept is passed down from the marketing and sales guys, when they say “limited time only”, they mean it. Like, if you miss it this time, it’s never, ever coming back, and you’ll have to listen to your coworkers chat about how delicious the green tea muffin sandwich was at Burger King, but you’ll never be able to agree with them because you didn’t get it while it was hot.
Some products are seasonal – certain varieties of beer and other beverages come and go in spring, summer, and winter. Christmas cake is only available at Christmastime. Sakura (cherry blossom) themed consumables can be found everywhere in the spring – from kimono patterns at the department store to latte flavors at Starbucks.
Vending machines offer hot soups and warmed tea in winter. The seasonal stuff is fairly tame. It’s the “one time only” stuff that makes me wonder what some execs are smoking.
Some shining examples of this include wasabi kit kats, chocolate soda, and chicken cheese fondue burgers (which are actually pretty tasty).
The weirdness usually comes in the form of flavors. McDonald’s, for example, launched a campaign featuring 4 burgers last summer that were each available for the span of only a few weeks. Each burger was named after a US state, and was themed according to that state. I’d hear people asking: “Did you try the California burger?” or “The Texas burger is really good!” Then, at the designated end of the campaign, the exciting burgers disappeared, and the normal menu remained.
It’s evident this campaign was successful – this year, the company is launching a similar campaign with 4 new burgers. At the time of writing this post, the “Idaho” burger is currently available. Can you guess what they chose to put on it?
It’s a beef patty with cheese, a hashbrown, bacon, and onions, along with some special sauce. As a huge fan of potatoes, this burger actually excites me quite a lot, and there’s a good chance I’ll try to eat it at some point. The three burgers at the bottom are the “Miami” burger, the “Manhattan” burger, and the now finished “Texas 2” burger. The Texas burger appeared in last year’s campaign, and I think it got a good response, so they brought back an updated version this time.
I’m guessing this is a culture-specific marketing model. The Japanese are experts at small talk, discussing how delicious things are, and doing the same things as their friends and colleagues. Thus, putting a limited product out on the market creates a made rush to try it.
I’ve seen jokes about foreigners creating T-shirts that read 限定, “Gentei”, or “limited” to attract dates, as a play on the phrase.
Personally, I just enjoy the space I have in other restaurants when everyone else is off freezing in a 30 minute line somewhere for a snack they’ll forget they ate in a week.