It goes without saying : burgers are not a traditional Japanese dish. But long before American fast food restaurants colonized the rising sun country in the 70s, enjoying beef between bread slices was possible in Kyushu. Some kilometers east of Nagasaki, Sasebo’s inhabitant begins to prepare yummy burgers for their military neighbors at the beginning of the 50s.
The first Mac Donald restaurant opened in Tokyo Ginza in 1971. And the Japanese-born Mos Burger was celebrating its 30th birthday in 2016. While Sasebo’s retailers are offering authentic burgers since many more years. Four generations of rivals cooks improving their recipe – with Japanese skills – mean only one things : the small eastern Kyushu city is definitely a place worth it for any burger lovers. And Sasebo is famous in the whole country for its specialty.
70 years of Burgers in Sasebo
But that exceptional burger history begins earlier. In 1889, Japanese navy decided to open a new military base in Kyushu. That brand new camp, after dozens of years under the shining sun of Japan empire, became American as a result of Japanese capitulation after WWII. And unlike some others American Japan bases, the Sasebo’s one was then intensely used by the Stars and Stripes soldiers because of the Korean war.
Kyushu’s coast being the closest part of Japan to Korea, thousands of American soon began to wander in town. Allowing the Japanese to think of the best way to please – and attract to one’s shop – these special guests. According to the locals, dozens of burgers restaurants soon opened, in the early 50s. Each one trying to suit American taste and appetite.
For about twenty years, the soldiers spent their time in the Sasebo’s burgers restaurants. Until they slowly vanished as the base’s activity decreased. Today, while it is still under the U.S. Flag, running into a Marine in town is not common at all. But burgers legend did not stop in the late 60s.
Following the American, the Japanese then began to enjoy burgers. In 2005, Japan discovered the local tradition with the opening of a Tokyo “Big Man”. Months of reporting about these Japanese burgers followed, while a long line was growing in front of the Sasebo-born restaurant.
Back in Kyushu, in Sasebo, about twenty restaurants are offering burgers. Each one with a unique recipe. They can all be found thanks to the super-convenient Sasebo map edited by the local tourist office. Among the oldest, those opened since the 50s, Hikari is maybe the most famous. On the parking, cars from as far as Fukuoka or Kumamoto can be seen. The former is 180 kilometers away ! But Buruu Sukai (katakana for “Blue sky”) and original Big Man must definitely not be forgotten.
How to get there?
Sasebo is about two hours by JR trains from Fukuoka and 1h45 from Nagasaki. At the station, several maps are showing the directions to the many burgers restaurants, most of them can be reached by foot. Inside the station, one can already taste the Sasebo burgers at the tiny Log Kit shop.