Japan is known for its futuristic automation. Robotics are a huge industry out here, with many companies using robots to promote tourism, give jobs to the disabled, and much more. The convenience store chain, Lawson, decided to get in on the game with its own robot that cooks and dispenses fried chicken for the masses.
Dekitate Karaage Kun
The robot’s official name is Dekitate Karaage Kun. Dekitate means “ready made,” while Karaage is the Japanese word for fried chicken. Kun is an honorific, like -san, but in this case, it is often used to show affection for young boys or close male friends.
The robot is designed after Karaage Kun, Lawson’s fried chicken mascot. He graces the boxes of all fried chicken sold at the convenience store and even pops up in some additional merchandise from time to time.
How does Robot Fried Chicken (RFC) Work?
First, you purchase your chicken at the register. Right now, the robot can only make the three perennial Karaage kun flavors: Regular, Cheese, and Red (spicy). After you pay, you are given the box in which your chicken will be placed. If the machine is in use, you’ll then proceed to the chicken queue and wait for your turn. There is an attendant in a yellow jacket that will be able to help guide you on your futuristic fried chicken voyage.
Once it is your turn, you will go up to the machine with your box. Remember that box? On the back is a bar code that you will scan on the robot to let it know which chicken to prepare and dispense. You have to be pretty close for it to scan. If you’re not close enough, the attendant will tell you to inch closer.
Next, you open the door and place your box in. Make sure it is unfolded and open wide enough, with the lid pushed upright. You’ll slide it into the metal cradle. Make sure it’s all the way down in the cradle. After that, close the door, sit back, and watch the process unfold on the LCD display on Dekitate Karaage Kun.
After the cooking is finished, delicious nuggets of chicken will begin to fall into your box. Now, this is more of an art than a science. I was fortunate in that all my pieced fell neatly into my box, as if I were in a promotional video. Other times, one or two nuggets might fall askew or be wedged precariously between your box and the edge of the inside. Fear not! The attendant is there with tongs to help collect your chicken and prevent it from falling out.
After that, you take your box to the front counter to get a small piece of Lawson tap applied to the box, to both close the lid and to show you already paid for it, and you can get a plastic bag for carrying, should you so desire. And just like that, you have successfully purchased fried chicken prepared by a robot.
Behind the Scenes
While I wasn’t able to get many pictures of the process the employees go through to assist the robot, I did see it first-hand. There are a few assistants behind the counter who monitor how much chicken is in the robot. If they need more, they go into the back where there is a large horizontal freezer where the chicken is stored. They take out these thick circular disks, each with around eight deep holes that hold pieces of chicken in them and load those into the machine. The attendants make sure to announce which orders are up so as to keep supplies adequate for customers. As far as I could tell, it worked like a well-oiled machine. I’m curious to know, in the future, how many employees will be required to keep the robot in order and if this is cost-effective for Lawson in the long run.
So, the chicken itself, because it is freshly made, is piping hot. The exterior breading has a nice, softer crispiness to it that creates a satisfying contrast to the perfectly cooked chicken breast inside. I’ve eaten many packages of fried chicken from Lawson and other convenience stores, but this was easily the best it has ever been.
The new robot is in its trial phase, only available at a specific Lawson just outisde the North Exit of Osaki station in Tokyo. The machine operates from 10 to 5, but the hours will soon be expanding from 10 to 6. Since this is still very much a beta testing, only time will tell if more locations will receive a Dekitate Karaage Kun of their own!