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I’m heading back to the U.S. for a couple of days at the end of the year, and as much as I love Japan, it’ll be nice to spend some time doing things I can’t here. Aside from seeing family and friends, I’m looking forward to watching a college bowl game or two, plus soaking up some warm January sunshine, which tends to be much more plentiful in California than Kanagawa Prefecture.

And as long as I’m making a list of things you can’t do in Japan, I should probably add getting a large batch of French fries at McDonald’s, since, for the time being, the chain will only be selling small sizes of spuds in Japan.

The announcement came earlier this week, when the world’s largest hamburger chain gave notice that as of December 17, it’s taking medium and large orders of fries off the menu. The shift affects all 3,100 branches of the restaurant in Japan.

McDonald’s decision wasn’t prompted by complaints from health advocates, nor is the company trying to differentiate itself from the all-out gluttony of rival fast food chains Lotteria and Burger King, which have respectively offered all-you-can-eat fries and hamburgers in the past. Instead, it’s a reaction to extended labor negotiations between longshoremen and shipping and warehouse companies on the U.S. west coast.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents harbor workers in California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Hawaii, Alaska, and Canada’s British Columbia, renegotiates with employers on a six-year cycle, and is in the midst of such talks right now. Due to the protracted nature of the discussion, the management of McDonald’s Japan is worried about potential work stoppages or slowdowns leading to a shortage of ingredients being shipped from North America, specifically not having enough potatoes to meet demand for their always-popular fries.

To make sure everyone can get their fix, not only will a la carte French fry orders be limited so small sizes only, the fries served with the chain’s afternoon “hiru Mac” value sets will also be downsized from medium to small-size.

▼ Excuse us as we shed a tear at the recollection of the heady days of our French-fried youth.

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It’s not all bad news, though, as McDonald’s Japan is also knocking 50 yen (US$0.43) off the price of affected combos to compensate.

Also, it doesn’t look like there’s anything stopping customers from ordering multiple small orders of fries, except for maybe feeling awkwardly self-conscious about doing so. Even if there are per-customer limits, thanks to McDonald’s thousands of locations, odds are spud fiends are never more than a few minutes’ walk from another branch where the unsuspecting staff will gladly serve them, provided the restaurants don’t start administering potato breathalyzer tests.

▼ Don’t believe people who claim you can trick the machine by dipping your fries in sour cream. It’s just an urban legend.

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Sources: IT Media, Yahoo! News Japan, JOC
Top image: McDonald’s Japan
Insert images: RocketNews24, Education News