After more than three decades, it’s the end of the line for the JR station burger chain.

Despite its rather deserved image as a country that loves fish and rice, Japan also has space in its heart/stomach for hamburgers. As a matter of fact, Japan is in something of a golden age for burgers right now, with long-time fast-food favorites Mos Burger and McDonald’s constantly rolling out tasty new items, more recent foreign arrivals like Shake Shack and Burger King establishing Japanese fanbases, and even Dom Dom Burger, Japan’s oldest burger chain, having a bit of a renaissance.

But not every hamburger chain in Japan is enjoying a sales upswing, and so one of them is shutting down.

Hamburger chain Becker’s opened its first branch, in Tokyo, in 1986, and at its peak, had about 40 restaurants in Kanto (east Japan). On Tuesday, though, the chain’s management said that they’ll be closing the Becker’s branch in the city of Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture. This is the last remaining Becker’s location, and there are no plans to open a new one elsewhere, which means this is the end for Becker’s as a whole too. Fans aren’t being given much time to say goodbye, either, as the last Becker’s will close before the end of the month.

With no time to waste, our ace reporter Mr. Sato hopped on the train to Kashiwa for one Last Becker’s Burger. And yeah, those capital letters are on purpose, because the restaurant is saying goodbye by bringing out what’s going to be its final new menu item, which is really called “Last Becker’s Burger.”

▼ ラスト・ベッカーズバーガー = Last Becker’s Burger

Becker’s is, essentially, JR East’s hamburger chain, as it’s operated by JR East Japan Cross Station Foods Company, part of the East Japan Railway Company group. Their restaurants tended to be inside the station buildings, which may have been part of why the chain ended up struggling. Some branches were inside the ticket gates, which limited customers to people who were also in the middle of going somewhere by train, while some others were located just a short distance outside the gates, along busy, noisy pedestrian passages.

The Kashiwa branch is inside the gates of Kashiwa Station, but when Mr. Sato stopped by, they had enough customers, no doubt many of whom had heard about the chain closing, that there was a line stretching out the entrance.

A sign posted in the window served to break the sad news to any passersby who didn’t already know, saying “Thank you all so much for kindly supporting Becker’s for these 37 years since its founding in 1986. We appreciate you from the bottom of our hearts.”

With the closing of Becker’s, Japan isn’t just losing a burger chain, it’s also losing the only fast food chain that sold poutine, as the Canadian fast food staple of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy that is otherwise virtually impossible to find in Japan.

But Mr. Sato was here for the Last Becker’s Burger, so that’s what he ordered. By itself, the burger is 450 yen (US$3), but for 850 yen you can upgrade to a combo with a drink and fries (though no poutine). The set also includes a commemorative clear file with a photo of the Last Becker’s Burger.

▼ It’s a nice memento, though we can’t help wondering if the mouth-watering photo will have fans delirious with desire for one more Becker’s burger after the chain is gone, biting the plastic.

Over the years Becker’s sort of struggled to carve out an identity for itself beyond “the JR burger chain,” its periodic venison burgers notwithstanding. That’s too bad, because as Mr. Sato started eating, he was reminded that while Becker’s food may not be outlandishly attention-grabbing, it’s still very tasty.

That deliciously orthodox approach applies to the Last Becker’s Burger as well. Rather than go crazy with the ingredients, it’s a double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, relish, and black pepper. An especially nice touch is that the buns are baked fresh at the restaurant, something that’s always been the case for Becker’s, and for the Last Becker’s Burger, the bottom half has a touch of mustard mixed into the dough.

Similarly the fries don’t really have any high-impact quirks – they’re just good fries, a nice accompaniment to munch on between bites of burger.

By the way, if you’ve been taking trains in the Tokyo area recently and are thinking you might have seen Becker’s branches still up and running in places other than Kashiwa, you might have Becker’s confused with Beck’s Coffee Shop. Beck’s Coffee Shop is also managed by JR East and located inside or close to JR stations, but it’s a coffee and non-burger sandwich place, with about three dozen branches currently open.

▼ The Beck’s Coffee Shop near Akihabara Station

In some ways, you could say that Becker’s was a little too similar to JR. With trains, a lack of drama and rock-solid reliability is the ideal, but maybe people were craving a little more pizzazz when it came to their burgers.

Still, there’s an appeal to a restaurant that’s not trying to reinvent the wheel/wheel-shaped sandwiches, but is just fully committed to delivering good-tasting food, and if you want a taste of Becker’s, you’ve got until November 22, when the Kashiwa branch closes, to give it a try.

Beck’s Coffee Shop photo: Wikipedia/ARICA13
All other photos ©SoraNews24
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