One thing you can’t help but notice if you spend any length of time in Japan is the awareness of seasons and the seasonal food and products that come with it. Seasons seem to be set in Japan, regardless of the weather. For example, the swimming season runs from mid-July to the end of August, despite the fact that the sea is more than warm enough to allow swimming before and after this.
When it’s September, it ‘becomes’ autumn. This means a wilful ignorance of the up to 30°C temperatures outside and an excruciating amount of layers topped off with a thick scarf. For four amusing and accurate signs of autumn in Japan, refer to this article.
With all this love of mascots, characters and seasonal food, it doesn’t take a giant leap of imagination to move into Halloween food. So begins the tale of the black burgers.
It began with Burger King. How could they pimp up their menu for some autumnal thrills and chills? By making a burger that was entirely black – the buns, the cheese, the sauce – the lot. This was a pretty smart move beyond a marketing coup de force. For me, it represented true dedication to Halloween because what could be more terrifying than this highly processed, meat-resembling patty wedged in between various other processed items, all dyed with squid ink?
At least MacDonald’s saw the light and allowed a bit of colour to permeate their monstrous version.
Many people urged me to tuck into black buns. I’m a food blogger – this is my duty, they told me. Plus you wouldn’t want to be seen to discriminate against black buns, would you? That just wouldn’t be PC. But the food snob out-snobbed the blogger in me, and I just couldn’t violate my body. If you want to know what it tasted like, I recommend a perusal of this hilarious review.
My food blogger instincts were on high alert, however. After spending two years in London eating gourmet burger after gourmet burger, I was craving… more gourmet burgers. So on my research to locate burger places in Tokyo, I happened across Journal Standard burgers and….
I AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOST.
They had shamelessly jumped on the black burger bandwagon and demonstrated even less imagination by nicking the Ghostbusters logo. And I loved it.
So on October 30th, I found myself sitting outside in the sun in Shibuya, tucking into the ‘Black Buns Mozzarella Burger with Spicy Tomato Sauce’, and intermittently shouting ‘I ain’t afraid of no ghost!’ (This actually proved to be somewhat embarrassing as my dining companion had not seen the movie and was therefore thoroughly confused.)
What I have discovered is that two years of a gourmet burger trend in London has left me spoiled. As I bit into my Ghostbusters black burger, I knew that this was a burger of the old-school kind. Read: dry and highly processed patty. They’d made an effort to make it beef-flavoured and a generous amount of black pepper has been applied. But it was just underwhelming.
The spicy tomato salsa was of the El Paso variety that you spoon out a jar to eat with fajitas in the UK. If you like that jarry taste – or if you perhaps have never noticed the difference between jar and homemade salsa – I’m sure you’ll be happy.
And as for the black buns, I was quite convinced the squid ink made it taste very slightly fishy. This may have been all in my mind but I’m going to stick to white buns in future.
So I didn’t finish my black burger, but I still felt content as I ate my potato waffles and stared at the Ghostbusters logo, travelling back in time to my childhood, where Ghostbusters and potato waffles were the epitome of a good time.
Ah Halloween, how I used to anticipate it. And how people really anticipate it in Japan. That’s because the actual day is utter madness: the Japanese out-do the Americans and swarm the streets of Shibuya in a kind of carnvalesque revelry where everyone automatically becomes your best friend, even the guy who has unzipped his face.
People told me that they turned down party invites so they could go out and photograph the proceedings. Now I understand why. I saw Batman, riding a motorbike with purple lights, blasting out tunes to the world.
You’re not hallucinating. Enjoy.