Bikkuri Donkey: the Restaurant with a Surprise

Photo: Nelo Hotsuma on Flickr

Bikkuri Donkey: the Restaurant with a Surprise

Louise Dupuy

Have you been in Japan a while, and just fancy something a little more familiar? Or are you just not a fan of traditional Japanese cuisine? Either way, a trip to Bikkuri Donkey might be just the ticket.


Bikkuri Donkey Sign


The company was originally founded in 1968, and was a small restaurant in Morioka named “Bell”, primarily serving hamburgers and salads. It’s founder was the late CEO Akio Shoji. In 1981, the Head Office moved to Sapporo, and the first Bikkuri Donkey hamburger steak restaurant opened its doors for business. In 1983, Bikkuri Donkey underwent franchising. In May 1987, the company that owns the chain changed its name from Cowbell Company to Aleph. In 1999, the number of chains reached an impressive 200, and in 2000, business started up in Okinawa. By May 2010, Bikkuri Donkey had amassed 300 chain restaurants, spread right across the country. Today, it has over 300 locations, and is at the forefront of environmentally sympathetic business practices.


Outside of Restaurant

Achievements and Initiatives

Far from being just a humble restaurant chain, Bikkuri Donkey has achieved many awards and started some impressive initiatives over it’s years. One of the best being its programme for recycling used cooking oil. This started in 2006, in Hokkaido, and saw the company collect used cooking oil from local households. In 2009, this programme was extended to Saitama and Tokyo. Another initiative was the sign language service offered to deaf customers in February, in Sapporo. As far as awards go, the company has received quite a few, mostly centred around their environmental efforts, which are admirable and numerous. Awards include: Hokkaido culture award (2005), Hokkaido energy saving award (2006, 2008), Biomass energy award (2007), Agri-food CO2 Emissions reduction award (2009), Innovation and productivity award (2009), Minister’s food recycling promotion award (2010), and many, many more.


Smiley Face Art

The Restaurant

The first part of the name, bikkuri, means surprising or amazed in Japanese, which is probably the best/strangest name for a restaurant I’ve ever heard! Spotting it for those of you not fluent in Japanese may be tricky, since the signs on its restaurants are written in Kana only (a combination of Katakana and Hiragana). That being said, it’s pretty distinctive, thanks to its quirky exterior. Be on the lookout for a ramshackle looking building. It literally looks like the aftermath of a typhoon! The sign, whilst in Kana, is bright yellow, so you can hardly miss it. Step through its automated doors and grab a ticket from the machine. It’s in Japanese but it’s fairly easy to decipher, you just need to select how many people are with you. A ticket will be issued, it’ll have a number on it, so get seated in the lobby area and wait for your number to be called. It’s usually not too long a wait, max is around 30 minutes, though of course this will depend on location. Once a member of staff seats you, you’ll get to see what makes this restaurant unique amongst its competitors; the decor. It’s memorable. The broken-down hut feel runs throughout, giving the place a slightly closed in, but cosy, feel.  It’s like being on the set of a Spaghetti Western. It’s really over the top though, a real assault on the senses, but it has an endearing quality about it. Once your bemusement with the design wanes, you can focus on what you really came for. The food.


Inside the restaurant

The Food

This is by far the best part, which is of course what you want from a restaurant! As mentioned earlier, it’s a hamburger steak joint, however it does have the odd divergent, such as curry, and it has a nice little dessert menu too. The menu itself is quite the spectacle; a large fold out style nestles within what looks like a Western-style door. Quirky. It’s in Japanese, but there are pictures, and some locations do have an English menu, though sadly not as grand as the Japanese one. Sadly not overly vegetarian or vegan friendly either. One of my favourite dishes is the cheese steak, and I usually get a side of fries to accompany it. Each dish is generally served on a skillet, with side orders served up individually on their own plates. The portions are pretty generous, the price reasonable, and everything tastes fresh and delicious. The drinks menu isn’t too extensive, but you can get beer, tea, coffee, and fruit drinks, as well as something touted as apple juice but it tastes more like cider. If you get the large, be prepared. It’s huge! Like drinking out of a bucket! Another drink I really like is the strawberry milk drink, sweet and refreshing. If I have this, I usually don’t want dessert. Desserts are mostly sundaes, though you’ll notice that they have seasonal offerings too. Summer of 2016 was peach. They had sundaes and cakes, all made with peach as the base and as fresh toppings. Amazing.



Final Tips

Most locations accept cash and card, with exceptions. The Okinawa locations are cash only, but they do accept dollar as well as yen. To be safe, it’s best to always take yen cash in my opinion. This is a great place for a no frills meal, so if you’re simply hungry and aren’t looking to break the bank, Bikkuri Donkey could be perfect for you. It’s family friendly, there is a kids menu, and most locations are disability accessible.


The Menu

Looking for the closest Bikkuri Donkey to you? Check out this handy location map on their website (In Japanese, but easy to use).


Entrance to Restaurant