On April 26, 2013, a new phenomenon hit the streets of Tokyo – the TOMODACHI Burger. This special item named after the Japanese word for friendship was available for a limited time only at Wendy’s restaurants in Roppongi, Omotesando, and Akebonobashi. You might be wondering what kind of burger could taste like friendship, and the answer is simple. Wendy’s CEO Ernest Higa, in collaboration with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos and the TOMODACHI Initiative, decided to hold a competition in which recipes were submitted by the public for the new TOMODACHI Burger.
The TOMODACHI Initiative was created in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake to “invest in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders through educational and cultural exchanges.” The goal is to continue to create and cultivate relationships between the youth of Japan and the U.S. to ensure the partnership of the two countries for many years to come. Portions of the profits earned from sales of the burger were donated to the TOMODACHI Initiative. Although recipe competitions have been held in the past, this was the first time for the Ambassador to participate in one and it was a fantastic opportunity for the TOMODACHI Initiative.
In an entertaining taste test conducted by Higa and Ambassador Roos where they both donned practical, yet dapper, Wendy’s aprons in the test kitchen, Ambassador Roos lamented over the fact that he only had three burgers to choose from, even proclaiming that he would have liked to try “more TOMODACHI Burger candidates” because they were all so delicious. In hindsight, it’s probably safe to say that more would not have been better in this case, as Ambassador Roos had trouble deciding with only three choices. Both Higa and the Ambassador agreed that all three options were “outstanding” and “incredible.” Unfortunately for the Ambassador, he could only choose one burger as the winner. Of the Miso Burger, the Barbecue Burger, and the Sukiyaki Burger, Ambassador Roos went with the taste that reminded him of the Southern style of cooking he is so fond of. The Barbecue Burger was selected as the TOMODACHI Burger to represent the bonds between the youth of Japan and the U.S. not only because of its delicious taste, but also its connection to American cuisine. The Ambassador’s only regret was that he had but one burger to choose for his country.
The TOMODACHI Burger is described as “a juicy beef patty with bacon, lettuce, and onion with mayonnaise and a special barbecue sauce, sandwiched between soft buns.” The recipe’s creator, Tomiyasu Onodera, and his family were on hand for the launch of this delicious burger. Onodera was presented with a certificate as well as a one-month supply of Wendy’s gift cards. Although the Tomodachi Burger does not quite have the cult following of the McRib from McDonald’s or the Baja Blast from Taco Bell yet, its message is quite clear. When you eat a Tomodachi Burger, you immediately think of America. Why? Because who else would slather any and all types of meat with this sweet and smoky elixir called barbeque sauce? Ambassador Roos hopes that when the Japanese public enjoys a TOMODACHI Burger, it inspires them to think of America and what this burger really stands for.
The TOMODACHI Burger’s reign ended on June 7, but hopefully it will make a reappearance in the near future not only to benefit the TOMODACHI Initiative through proceeds, but also to build bonds between the U.S. and Japan through camaraderie and good taste.
Aaron Jessee was a Press Office Summer Hire at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in 2013 and is currently a senior at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, where he studies Sports Management along with minors in Applied Mathematics and Business Administration. He grew up all over the world including Japan, Cameroon, the United States, Germany, South Korea, and China while living with his family on military bases as well as at U.S. Embassy posts.