has long been the main staple of the traditional Japanese diet.
It is not only consumed daily as a staple food but also used to
brew sake, a traditional alcoholic drink. Japanese cuisine has
developed the art of providing side dishes to complement consumption
of the staple food. Table manners were also established in the
quest for more refined ways of eating rice and drinking sake at
formal ceremonial feasts. The history of the Japanese diet, which
is inseparable from rice, started therefore with the introduction
of rice cultivation.
during the Neolithic period in Japan (known as the Jo¯mon
era, beginning about 12,000 years ago) was provided by hunting
and gathering. Agriculture did not reach the Japanese archipelago
until the very end of the Neolithic period. Collecting nuts (especially
acorns and chestnuts) and hunting game were common activities,
and a large variety of marine resources was intensively exploited
throughout the period. The Jo¯mon era, however, ended with
a shift from hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture.
Yangtze delta in China is considered to be the original source
for the practice of rice cultivation in Japan. Continuous waves
of migrants bearing knowledge of the technique reached Japan from
the continent around 2,400 years ago via two major routes. One
was through the Korean peninsula and the other was a direct sea
route from China. Rice production techniques were accompanied
by the use of metal tools, which provided high productivity and
a stable supply. Population increased rapidly, and localized communities
appeared in the following Yayoi era (1,700 to 2,400 years ago).
Paddy-field rice cultivation was then under way except in the
northern Ainu-dominated region of Hokkaido and in the southern
Okinawa islands, an island chain between Kyu¯mshu¯ (the
southernmost main island of Japan) and Taiwan.
the beginning of cultivation, only short-grain rice was known
in Japan. Although long-grain rice was common in Southeast Asia
and India, its absence from Japan caused the Japanese to develop
prejudices about rice that persist until today. For them, rice
means exclusively the short-grain variety; the long-grain type
is regarded as inferior and unpalatable.
a meal consists of boiled plain rice, called gohan or meshi,
and seasoned side dishes, called okazu. Cooked rice has
always been the staple of a meal, so much so that the words gohan
and meshi are used colloquially as synonyms for the word
"meal." Side dishes complement rice consumption with
their seasoned flavors, and as a rule, the sophistication and
variety of such dishes has betokened the affluence of those who
living in mountain areas with low rice productivity, along with
poor people in general, formerly mixed millet with rice. The sweet
potato, introduced in the eighteenth century, also became popular
as a staple in the south of Japan, where it supplemented a low
yield of rice. However, even the poor cooked pure boiled rice
and pounded rice cake from pure glutinous rice for important meals.
Pounded rice cakes (mochi), prepared by pounding steamed
glutinous rice with a mortar and pestle, have been indispensable
food items for Japanese ceremonial feasts. People thought that
the essence the sacred power of rice was made purer
by pounding, and mochi was believed to contain the "spirit
of rice." Naturally this was and is the most celebrated form
of rice and therefore the most appropriate food for feasts. Thus,
New Years day, the principal annual feast in Japan, sees
mochi always consumed as a ceremonial food.
a census record of 1873, nutritional information for the Hida
Region (Gife Prefecture, Central Honsyu¯) shows that rice
was the most important food, notwithstanding the general unsuitability
of the area for the crops cultivation (Koyama et al. 1981:
54851). The same data reveal a typical daily intake of nutriments
for premodern Japanese people. The recorded population of this
mountainous region was about 90,000, and these people are thought
to have maintained the highest dependency in Japan on millet as
a rice substitute. The average daily energy intake per capita
was 1,850 kilocalories (kcal) (in 1980 it was 2,600 kcal), of
which 55 percent was supplied by rice, which also supplied 39
percent of the protein.
rice and millet, when served as a staple, have always been either
boiled or steamed. Milling, however, was not developed generally,
and processed powder was used only for cakes or snacks and not
for bread. Later, noodle products made from the powder became
popular. The oldest form of the noodles, sakubei, produced
by adding rice powder to flour, was introduced from China in the
made from flour as a light lunch or snack became popular during
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and consumption increased
considerably after the seventeenth century, when a processing
technique for buckwheat noodles (soba) was developed in
Edo, now Tokyo. Since then, soba has become popular mainly
in eastern Japan, where Tokyo is located, whereas udon
noodles (made from flour) have always been popular in western
Japan (Ishige 1991a).
unique feature of Japanese dietary history has been the countrys
various taboos on meat eating. The first recorded decree prohibiting
the eating of cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys, and chickens was
issued by Emperor Temmu in A.D. 675. Similar decrees, based on
the Buddhist prohibition of killing, were issued repeatedly by
emperors during the eighth and ninth centuries. The number of
regulated meats increased to the point that all mammals were included
except whales, which, given their marine habitat, were categorized
taboo against the consumption of animal flesh developed further
when the Japanese aboriginal religion, Shinto¯, adopted a
philosophy similar to that of the Buddhists. This did not mean,
however, that meat eating was totally banned in Japan. Professional
hunters in mountain regions ate game (especially deer and wild
boar), and it was not uncommon for hunted bird meat to be consumed.
However, a lack of animal breeding for meat kept its consumption
very low. Indeed, it was only during the fifteenth century and
its aftermath that the tradition of eating both the meat and eggs
of domestic fowl was revived. Fowls, until then, had been regarded
in Shinto¯ as Gods sacred messengers and were reared
to announce the dawn rather than as a mere food resource.
and other dairy products failed to become popular in Japan, China,
and Korea. In fact, the only Japanese dairy product known to history
was so, produced between the eighth and fourteenth centuries.
Milk was boiled down to yield this semisolid product. But even
this food, consumed at the court and among the noble class, disappeared
as a result of the demise of the aristocracy. Cattle were raised
only for drawing carts or plowing fields. To utilize them for
meat or even for milk was, until relatively recently, a long-forgotten
of meat and dairy products in the Japanese diet produced an aversion
to oily tastes, so that even vegetable oil was not commonly used
for cooking. Tempura, fish or vegetables fried in a vegetable
oil, is one of the best-known Japanese dishes today, but it became
popular only after the mideighteenth century.
lack of meat products also minimized spice utilization. Pepper
and cloves were known from the eighth century and were imported
either via China or directly from Southeast Asia, and garlic was
also grown on a small scale. But these spices were used mainly
to make medicines and cosmetics.
the coastal seas of Japan, warm and cold currents mix to provide
bountiful fishing grounds. This favorable natural environment
and the traditional exclusion of fish from the meat taboo meant
an extensive exploitation of marine resources. The Japanese developed
a special liking for fish, and most people enjoyed a variety,
although consumption was still largely forbidden for Buddhist
dishes, with a higher status as well as a more attractive taste
than vegetable dishes, were formerly considered indispensable
at feasts. However, before the introduction of modern delivery
systems, the difficulty of preserving and transporting fresh marine
fish minimized consumption in inland areas where freshwater fish
were commonly eaten instead.
basic concept of fish preparation in Japan is suggested by the
following proverb: "Eat it raw first of all, then grill it,
and boil it as the last resort." To amplify, it is felt that
the taste and texture of fish is best appreciated when it is very
fresh and eaten raw. If the fish is a little less than fresh then
its best taste will be produced by sprinkling it with salt and
grilling it. If the fish is not fresh, then it is better boiled
with seasonings, such as soy sauce (shoyu) or soybean paste
consumption of fish raw has been traditional since ancient times.
Namasu, or the eating of thinly sliced raw fish dipped
in a sauce with a vinegar base, is a typical example. However,
the better-known sashimi has been popular only since the seventeenth
century its popularity increasing as the general consumption
of soy sauce increased. Delicately sliced raw fish of the utmost
freshness and quality is eaten after being dipped in soy sauce
flavored with a small amount of grated wasabi (Wasabia japonica),
which is similar to horseradish.
a rule, the philosophy of cooking aims at the creation of new
tastes that do not exist naturally such creation is a result
of imposing artificial processes on food materials. But Japanese
cooking methods are antithetical to this philosophy. The ideal
of Japanese cooking is to retain the natural tastes of food with
the minimum of artificial processes. Thus sashimi, for example,
can be viewed as a representative product of the Japanese cooking
prepared by putting a slice of raw fish onto a bite-size portion
of hand-rolled, vinegar-flavored rice, has recently become internationally
popular. But sushi originated as a means of preserving fish by
fermenting it in boiled rice. Fish that are salted and placed
in rice are preserved by lactic acid fermentation, which prevents
proliferation of the bacteria that bring about putrefaction. A
souring of flavor occurs during the process, and the fish is eaten
only after the sticky decomposed rice has been cleaned off.
older type of sushi is still produced in the areas surrounding
Lake Biwa in western Japan, and similar types are also known in
Korea, southwestern China, and Southeast Asia. In fact, the technique
first originated in a preservation process developed for freshwater
fish caught in the Mekong River and is thought to have diffused
to Japan along with the rice cultivation.
unique fifteenth-century development shortened the fermentation
period of sushi to one or two weeks and made both the fish and
the rice edible. As a result, sushi became a popular snack food,
combining fish with the traditional staple food, rice. Sushi without
fermentation appeared during the Edo period (16001867),
and sushi was finally united with sashimi at the end of the eighteenth
century, when the hand-rolled type, nigiri-sushi, was devised.
Various styles of hand-rolled sushi were developed, such as norimaki,
in which vinegar-flavored rice and seasoned boiled vegetables
are rolled in paper-thin layers. In addition, sushi restaurants
became popular during this era. They offered ready-made rice prepared
with vinegar and other seasonings and rolled with different toppings
according to the taste of the guests. In this manner, sushi has
changed from its original character as a preserved food to that
of a fast food (Ishige and Ruddle 1990: 2194).
daily meals, vegetables have generally constituted the main ingredients
of side dishes and soups accompanying rice. Among these vegetables
are a variety of sea plants that have been utilized since ancient
times and remain a unique feature of Japanese cooking even today.
Sea plants are usually dried and soaked in water before cooking.
Sea tangle has been the most important of all. It is commonly
used to prepare broth, and owing to its rich content of glutamic
acid, it enhances the original taste of the foodstuffs with which
it is boiled.
salted vegetables have been an indispensable part of the daily
diet of even the poorest classes of people. Some several hundred
varieties of salted vegetables are known in Japan; however, the
method of pickling common in the West, using vinegar, has not
all beans, the soybean is the most significant. It is a good source
of vegetable protein, and its importance in the Japanese diet
is surpassed only by that of rice. Varieties of soya in a processed
state, such as tofu and natto¯, have played an extremely
prominent dietary role over the ages. Tofu, or soybean curd, which
diffused from China and is first mentioned in Japan in an eleventh-century
document, has been one of the most widespread of the processed
foods. A cookbook providing 100 different recipes for tofu cooking
was published in 1782 and became so popular that a second volume,
containing another 138 recipes, was issued the following year.
Many of these recipes were devised by Buddhist monks, who abstained
from eating meat for doctrinal reasons and relied heavily on tofu
as a source of protein.
subtilis bacteria, which grow on rice straw, are cultivated
on boiled soybeans to produce natto¯. Natto¯
has a unique sticky consistency and is usually seasoned with soy
sauce and mustard before eating; minced natto¯ is
used as an ingredient of soybean-paste soup. Natto¯
contains abundant protein and vitamin B2 and has been popular
as a breakfast food because it is easily digestible.
diets, or sho¯jin-ryo¯ri, rely on a variety of
foods processed from soybeans. These include tofu, abura-age
(fried tofu), ko¯ri-do¯fu (freeze-dried tofu),
and yuba (paper-thin processed tofu), as well as mushrooms,
sea plants, sesame, walnuts, and, of course, vegetables. Fu,
which is produced by condensing wheat gluten, has also been a
popular foodstuff. Sho¯jin-ryo¯ri has generally
been served during periods of mourning, for Buddhist rituals,
and on the anniversary of the death of close kin.
a dietetic point of view, the Japanese vegetarian diet is both
well balanced and quite rational. It supplies protein from tofu
and similar products, fat from sesame, walnuts, and vegetable
oil, vitamins from vegetables, and minerals from sea plants. Such
a diet not only is nutritious but also offers many palatable recipes,
which have been refined by such techniques as employing a broth
made from dried sea tangle and mushrooms as a base for cooking.
Vegetable oils, which are extensively used, were especially developed
by those Zen Buddhist monks who had maintained contacts with China.
of an absence of rock salt in Japan, salt made from seawater has
been prevalent since the Neolithic era. But a salty residue fermented
from soybeans has traditionally been used as a basic and versatile
seasoning in Japan (as well as in China and Korea). Miso (soybean
paste) and sho¯yu (soy sauce), the two major products
of this residue, have been used to season boiled dishes and as
ingredients in the preparation of various sauces.
the ko¯ji fungi that are employed as starters for
soybean fermentation, Aspergillus oryzae, which grows on
rice grains, is the most common. The fermented products of soybeans
were first recorded in a law book called the Taiho¯-ritsuryo¯,
compiled in A.D. 702. But it is known that by that time a type
of miso was already being produced, using a technique thought
to have been introduced from Korea. The indigenous Japanese processing
method, which employs artificially cultivated starters like ko¯ji
and combines soybeans with rice and barley, was devised later.
It differs from the Korean method, which relies on natural bacteria
in the air to ferment pure soybeans, to which salt is added.
traditional Japanese method of processing miso is to mash boiled
or steamed beans while the ko¯ji fungus is cultured
on boiled or steamed rice or barley. All these ingredients are
then mixed together with salt and placed in a container. After
a maturation period of more than a year, the mixture changes into
miso, a pastelike substance. The liquid that oozes out in the
maturation container is sometimes used as a type of soy sauce.
Other types of miso are also made; these all vary by region in
the general method of processing sho¯yu (soy sauce)
is to culture ko¯ji fungus on pounded, preparched
wheat grains and then to mix this with boiled beans and a large
amount of salt water in a maturation container. The mixture is
stirred occasionally, and fermentation is completed within three
or four months. During the maturation period following fermentation,
the contents intensify in color and flavor, owing to chemical
reactions among the ingredients. After one year of maturation,
the liquid obtained by squeezing the contents is pasteurized and
becomes sho¯yu. As with miso, sho¯yu also
has many regional varieties.
use of the liquid by-product of miso processing as a seasoning
has been known for a long time, but commercial production of sho¯yu
dates only from the sixteenth century. Propagation of recipes
from major cities where sho¯yu was employed extensively
during the Edo period gave sho¯yu national status
as a seasoning, and more than 70 percent of present-day Japanese
recipes employ it in some way. In contrast to sho¯yu,
miso has decreased in importance as a seasoning for both boiled
dishes and sauces, and its daily use has generally been restricted
is employed to make the traditional Japanese vinegar. In addition,
a type of sake with a strong sweet taste, called mirin
(which is processed in a slightly different way from the usual
brew), serves as a cooking wine.
unique feature of Japanese food culture is the extensive development
of dried foods for the preparation of soup stock (broth), or dashi.
Dried sea tangle (konbu), dried bonito (katsuo-bushi),
and dried brown mushrooms (shiitake) are some examples.
They are not only used for dashi but also often added to
or dried bonito, is produced by boiling the fish, after which
it is heat-dried and cooled. This process is repeated more than
10 times until the water content of the fish is reduced to less
than 20 percent and the surface is covered by "tar."
The covering of "tar" and fat is scraped off and the
remaining meat is placed in a wooden box and left for two weeks
to propagate an artificially planted fungus of the genus Aspergillus.
After two weeks the surface is cleaned, and the fungus-planting
process is repeated four more times.
completion, a majority of the remaining contents are protein and
flavor essence. Water content is reduced to 15 percent of the
original, and the final product, katsuo-bushi, appears
dry and hard like a block of wood. The fungus-planting process,
which yields a better flavor and helps extract the water, was
invented in the seventeenth century, although the rest of the
process has been known since ancient times.
used, small amounts of very thin flakes of katsuo-bushi
are shaved from the block with a specially designed plane, then
placed in boiling water to extract their flavor. When the water
is strained it becomes a pure soup stock, and the flakes are usually
discarded except in rare cases when they are combined with soy
sauce to prepare a salty side dish. Konbu and shiitake
are similarly boiled to prepare soup stocks yielding their particular
foods for making dashi were developed essentially to add
subtle and enhancing flavors to traditional dishes that consisted
mainly of vegetables with little intrinsic taste. But the traditional
interest in such products led Japanese scientists to conduct chemical
analyses of their flavors. The analyses found that inosinic acid
from katsuo-bushi, monosodium glutamate from konbu,
and guanylic acid from shiitake were the sources of their
natural tasty flavors. This research was the forerunner of Japans
modern natural and artificial flavor research industry.
is the case in China and Korea, Japanese food is usually served
in sizes suitable for picking up by chopsticks, the use of which
is thought to have been introduced from China in the seventh century.
That the Japanese ate with the fingers prior to the introduction
of chopsticks was recorded by a Chinese mission in the early third
century. Spoons, however, although common in China and Korea,
did not catch on in Japan, perhaps because the habit of sipping
soup from handheld wooden bowls made the use of spoons superfluous.
Japans abundant forest resources meant that wooden tableware
was more readily available than ceramic ware, and a wooden bowl
can be more comfortably held than a ceramic or metal one.
only lacquered wooden ware was used for formal feasts. Chinaware
remained unpopular until the seventeenth century, when mass production
became possible as a result of new manufacturing techniques learned
from Korea. The more widespread use of china caused a functional
division between wooden and chinaware to evolve for daily use.
Chinaware was used for rice and side dishes, whereas boiling hot
soup was served in wooden lacquered bowls.
a rule, every individual has his or her own chopsticks and a set
of tableware. An extra set of chopsticks is used to serve food
from a communal food vessel to each individual vessel. If extra
chopsticks are not provided with the communal food vessel, then
individuals reverse their own chopsticks and use them to transfer
food to their own vessels. This practice, however, reflects more
a psychological cleanliness derived from Shintoism (in order to
prevent ones spoiled spirit from passing to others through
shared foods) than it does practical sanitary concerns.
chairs were used in Japan before the general adoption of dining
tables in the latter half of the twentieth century. Diners sat
either on tatami (straw mats) or on the wooden floor. Vessels
containing food were served on a small, low, portable table called
a zen. Usually, each dish was set on a zen in the
kitchen and then brought to and placed in front of the diner.
Several zen tables were used for each person at a formal
feast, as the numerous separate dishes could not all be placed
on just one. The number of small tables at a feast consequently
became a standard for evaluating the event as well as the host.
One unique feature of a Japanese meal is that all the dishes are
served simultaneously. The only exceptions are meals served as
part of a tea ceremony, in which dishes arrive in an orderly manner
one after the other.
a diners personal table is very low, vessels containing
food are handheld and lifted close to the mouth, to which the
food is delivered with chopsticks. When sipping soup it is not
considered bad manners to make a slurping sound. Modern Japanese
table manners, for the most part, originated at the formal feasts
of the samurai warrior class during the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. From these feasts evolved the rituals and complicated
manners for using tableware and chopsticks that are still commonly
big change, however, has occurred in the traditional table setting
during the twentieth century. During the first half of the century,
a larger portable table called cyabu-dai, on which there
is space enough to place all the diners dishes, gradually
replaced the traditional personal table. Family members sat on
tatami mats and surrounded the dining table for their daily meals.
But the biggest change has been the increasing use of Western-style
tables and chairs in ordinary households during the last few decades.
This has drastically westernized Japanese dining settings: About
70 percent of all households now use a table and chairs for meals
first record of tea in Japan mentions an offering of prepared
tea to the Emperor Saga, in A.D. 815, by a Buddhist monk who had
studied in China. This particular tea was prepared by pounding
a roasted block of compacted tea leaves into powder and then boiling
it in water. The emperor became fond of it and ordered the planting
of tea trees. Tea drinking quickly became fashionable among the
aristocracy but, for some unknown reason, lost popularity in the
tenth century. The taste and flavor may have been too strong for
the Japanese palate at that time.
the thirteenth century, tea drinking again became a popular custom
as a result of the reintroduction of the tree, on the one hand,
and on the other a new method of tea preparation, brought from
China by a Buddhist monk called Yo¯sai. Yo¯sais
book, which recommended tea as healthful, caused a strong revival
of interest in tea drinking among aristocrats and monks, and the
popularity of tea has continued undiminished until the present.
After its reintroduction, steamed tea sprouts were dried and then
ground to produce powder, which was mixed with boiling water in
a tea bowl, a method basically the same as that which continues
today as the tea ceremony.
tea ceremony, or cha-dou, was established in the sixteenth
century by Rikyu, who refined the custom to an aesthetic form
based on Zen philosophy. It was an attempt to create an aesthetic
whole, unifying architecture, gardening, fine arts, crafts, religion,
philosophy, literature, food preparation, and presentation. The
meal that accompanies the ceremony, called kaiseki-ryo¯ri,
has come to be regarded as the most refined form of cuisine and
is still served in the best Japanese restaurants today.
drinking of powdered tea, however, did not achieve general popularity
owing to the intricate preparation and drinking etiquette required.
Even today it is limited to the tea ceremony or other special
occasions. The popular green tea is a leaf-type tea, or sen-cha,
which is prepared by pouring boiling water on dried tea leaves
in a teapot. Neither milk nor sugar are added. Drinking of this
type of tea started in China during the Ming dynasty, and in the
seventeenth century was introduced to Japan, where it became a
custom widespread throughout the population and, thus, was incorporated
into the Japanese way of life. People who had drunk only hot water
prior to the introduction of tea now finished meals with it, had
tea breaks, and served tea to welcome guests. That this tradition
has survived is evident in the free tea service still offered
in virtually every Japanese restaurant.
in recent times have alcoholic drinks such as wine or beer (produced
by the saccharification of cereal germination) existed in Japan.
The oldest-known such beverage, mentioned in eighth-century literature,
utilized the starch saccharification potential of saliva. Raw
or boiled rice was chewed and expectorated into a container where
it mixed with saliva. This primitive technique survived until
the beginning of the twentieth century in Okinawa. By tradition,
virgins prepared this type of liquor for special religious ceremonies.
Another practice that of applying ko¯ji fungus
to rice as an initiator of fermentation (introduced from China)
has also been in general use since ancient times.
wine or sake, which was homemade by farmers, is a result of the
alcoholic fermentation of a simple mixture of steamed rice, ko¯ji,
and water. Professional brewers would prepare sake by adding low-alcohol
sake to newly mixed steamed rice and ko¯ji without
previous filtering. This process causes saccharification and alcoholic
fermentation at the same time and increases the alcoholic strength
of the mixture. In contemporary commercial production, such a
process is repeated three times to increase the amount of alcohol
to nearly 20 percent. The mixture is then placed in a cloth bag
and squeezed with a press. The pasteurization of the clear liquid
from the press is the last part of the process.
latter technique was first mentioned in A.D. 1568, in the Tamonin-nikki,
the diary of a Buddhist monk, indicating its practice in Japan
some 300 years before Louis Pasteur. In China, the first country
in East Asia to develop the technique, the earliest record of
the process dates from A.D. 1117 (Yoshida 1991).
sake is normally served by warming it to nearly 50 degrees centigrade
in a china bottle immersed in boiling water, after which it is
poured into a small ceramic cup. This popular procedure began
in the seventeenth century, although at that time hot sake was
regarded as appropriate only in autumn and winter.
a traditional distilled liquor first mentioned in a sixteenth-century
record, uses rice, sake lees, or sweet potatoes as a base material.
A similar distillate from Okinawa, awamori, employs rice
exclusively. In this case, the production technique is thought
to have been diffused from Thailand in the fifteenth century,
but the true forerunner of Japanese sho¯chu¯
has yet to be firmly identified. One theory regards Okinawa and
its awamori as the origin, whereas another insists that
China was the source. We do know that sho¯chu¯
was produced mainly in southern Kyu¯shu¯ and Okinawa,
where the hot climate made the brewing of good-quality sake difficult,
and the liquor has been consistently consumed there since the
Edo period. In other regions, sho¯chu¯ has been
regarded as a drink for the lower classes, who wanted a stronger
(and cheaper) beverage than the more expensive sake.
Traditional Food Culture
already mentioned, since the introduction of rice cultivation,
various foods and their processing or cooking techniques have
reached Japan from both China and Korea. In addition, European
foods, brought by Portuguese traders and missionaries, started
to flow into Japan between the late fifteenth and the early seventeenth
centuries. But European styles of cooking, which mainly used meat,
were not accepted by the mostly Buddhist Japanese, who were banned
from eating meat by religious decree. Nonetheless, Western desserts
and sweet snacks were welcomed, and some of the techniques of
preparing these were adopted locally and still survive today.
A typical example is a sponge cake called kasutera that
derived from the Portuguese bolo de Castelo, a cake from
the Castelo region of Portugal (Etchu¯ 1982: 789).
that the propagation of Christianity by Western missionaries was
merely a pretext to disguise Western attempts to colonize Japan,
the Tokugawa Shogunate banned Christianity and closed the country
to outsiders in 1639. The resulting near-total isolation from
the rest of the world, lasting until 1854, brought domestic peace
during the Edo period (named for the Shogunates city). Domestic
social stability, combined with isolation, tended to lend an unchanging
quality to Japanese culture, including the culture of food. Indeed,
most traditional dishes served in homes and restaurants today
had their origins in the Edo period.
the Edo period, Japanese food culture was developed and refined
among wealthy urban middle-class merchants and artisans. This
was a situation much different from that of many other countries,
the food cultures of which, including styles of cooking, preparation
techniques, table settings, and manners, were first developed
and refined in the social life of the court and aristocracy before
they diffused to the general society. But the Imperial Court in
Kyoto had only a symbolic status at that time, with little political,
economic, or social influence. The warrior class that supported
the shogunate administration adopted the ritualized court cuisine
of former times, which placed great emphasis on an intricate etiquette
of food consumption, rather than on the food itself. The ruling
class that regulated its members through ascetic morals had little
interest in developing better or different flavors and tastes
in their cuisine, whereas the majority of the peasants lived in
poverty and were scarcely able to sustain themselves on the meanest
merchants controlled (at least economically) Edo society, and
Japanese haute cuisine restaurants came into being about the middle
of the eighteenth century to cater to them. These restaurants
were mostly located in the three major cities of Edo, Osaka, and
Kyoto, and were similar to those established in Paris for the
French bourgeoisie. With their superb interior decorations and
ornamental gardens, such restaurants made every effort to serve
refined, palatable dishes that were utterly different from those
offered at the formal banquets of the court and the warrior class.
The new and innovative recipes and food preparation techniques
gradually spread to influence eating habits nationwide and ultimately
became the core of todays traditional Japanese cuisine.
emphasis on aesthetic food presentation in contemporary Japanese
cuisine also originated in these restaurants with presentation
devices of kaiseki-ryo¯ri. The Japanese philosophy
of food presentation seeks to reflect the Japanese view of nature
in the elimination of anything artificial from the plate. Thus,
symmetrical presentation, for example, is the antithesis of this
philosophy, which would rather have imbalance and a blank space
on a plate. This approach provides an elegant appearance, whereas
to cover a whole plate with various foods is considered vulgar,
even though it gives an affluent impression at first glance. Conceptually
similar to an empty space in an India ink oriental painting, this
deliberately proportioned space becomes an integral part of the
art of food presentation. The representation of a season of the
year in the display of a dish (by utilizing specific materials
such as bonito fish in May or the taro potato in August
both lunar months) is also an important dimension of this philosophy.
with the haute cuisine restaurants, inexpensive eating houses
and pubs for craftsmen and store employees also appeared in big
cities. Not only did various noodles, along with sushi and tempura,
become popular snacks in these eating houses, but other specialty
restaurants and stalls serving only specific items proliferated.
One soba shop and two sushi shops to a block was a common
sight in the center of Edo, even in the eighteenth century, and
according to the 1804 census, 6,165 eating houses existed in the
city. This meant that there was one eating house for every 170
persons in the population, not counting peddlers stalls
and eating houses in the red-light district, which were excluded
from the census. Another record (which again excluded peddlers
stalls) shows that in 1860, representatives of 3,763 soba
shops from all over Edo held a meeting to discuss raising prices
to meet the increased cost of ingredients.
guidebooks for urban gourmets and visitors from the country became
popular from the late eighteenth century, corresponding to the
rapid increase of dining-out facilities in big cities. Indeed,
there were urban bourgeoisie who enjoyed restaurant hunting in
Japanese cities with help from guidebooks nearly a century before
the publication of the Michelin Guide in France (Ishige
1990). Cookbook publication was also brisk, with about 130 originals
and several hundred later editions of the originals known to have
Meiji Restoration, which put an end to the Tokugawa Shogunate
in 1868, gave expression to the need for rapid social modernization.
The government-led industrial revolution introduced Western technology
and culture and developed a capitalistic economy with the ultimate
goal of enriching and strengthening the Japanese nation in the
world. A change of eating habits, which occurred in accordance
with social improvements, can be seen in government encouragement
of meat eating and milk drinking so as to make the physique of
Japanese people comparable to that of Western people.
change began with a public report in 1872, which mentioned that
Emperor Meiji enjoyed beef dishes. Following this declaration,
it became a custom of the court to entertain international guests
with formal dinner parties at which French cuisine was served,
and the traditional taboo against meat eating disappeared rather
quickly. The first popular meat dish was boiled, thinly sliced
meat served with tofu and leeks. It was seasoned with soy sauce
and sugar and later became known as sukiyaki. Yet Western cuisine
in general was reserved for special occasions and was prepared
exclusively by professional chefs; thus, although the number of
Western restaurants in big cities increased, Western cuisine was
not commonly adopted in Japanese homes for a long time to come.
drinking, although introduced by resident Westerners and repeatedly
praised as nutritious by the government, met nonetheless with
stubborn resistance from a general public unwilling to accept
it as part of the normal diet. Indeed, until the midtwentieth
century, milk was regarded as either a medicine or a special health
drink for the sick or persons of weak constitution. Except for
canned condensed milk, welcomed by nursing mothers as a supplement
to breast milk, few people adopted the custom of consuming dairy
products (such as butter and cheese) before the general introduction
of bread as a breakfast food in the 1960s. Yet even in the present,
the limited consumption of dairy products in the home is another
of the features that set Japanese eating habits apart from those
of other developed countries.
is interesting to note that although Western cuisine became progressively
more popular after the Meiji Restoration, Chinese cuisine was
largely ignored, even though it shared with Japanese cuisine a
common food element (rice) and eating method (chopsticks) and
had long influenced Japanese food culture. Western cuisine was
regarded as a symbol of modernization, whereas the late nineteenth
century Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese War over Korea strengthened
contempt for the Chinese people and their culture. Such factors
delayed the Japanese patronage of Chinese restaurants until the
1920s, though there were many such restaurants in Japan, catering
to Chinese merchants and students. The Japanese maintained a similar
prejudice against Korean cuisine, arrogantly disregarding the
culture of a people whom they had annexed. But also at the time,
the spicy flavor of Korean food created by the use of garlic and
pepper was contrary to the traditional plain taste of Japanese
food. Korean barbecues and pickles have, however, subsequently
become common in Japanese homes.
production of beer and wine began in the early Meiji era. Beer,
despite its bitter and unfamiliar taste, soon became popular,
while sake drinking also continued. The government tried to promote
a wine industry for export, but the project was destroyed by phylloxera,
which raged through European vineyards at that time and reached
Japan in 1884 via imported vine stock. After the devastation,
only artificially sweetened wine, consumed as a nourishment for
the sick or by people of weak constitution, was produced
and this on a small scale. However, quite recently a resumption
of domestic table wine production has occurred in Japan to meet
a demand that has increased since the 1970s. This development
has paralleled Japanese economic growth and with it a growth of
interest in European and Californian wines. But although wine
was unpopular until recently, by the 1920s beer, whiskey, coffee,
and black tea were regularly drunk at an increasing number of
bars, beerhouses, cafés, and teahouses in the big cities.
modernization of Japanese food culture after the Meiji Restoration
was interrupted by the rise of militarism and World War II. Following
the Manchurian incident of 1931, 15 years of war and large-scale
mobilizations, along with trade sanctions by Western nations,
caused food imports to decline severely and slowed domestic agricultural
production as well. Consequently, major food items, including
meat and dairy products, were rationed under government control.
Even fish was in short supply as war destroyed the fishing industry,
and a return to the traditional meal of rice with vegetable side
dishes was strongly encouraged by the government.
the war progressed, even the minimum food ration could not be
distributed regularly, and malnutrition became a serious problem.
People were forced to supplement their rations by growing sweet
potatoes (as a rice substitute) and other vegetables in home gardens;
even after the defeat in 1945, it took 10 years for the nation
to regain its prewar level of agricultural output. However, as
a result of the rapid growth of the Japanese economy since the
1960s, diets previously concentrated on carbohydrates and poor
in fat and animal protein have greatly improved. As foreign foods
and styles of cooking have been embraced for cooking in the home,
with their original tastes altered to conform with Japanese preferences,
a large-scale fusion of foreign and traditional cuisines has taken
annual per capita rice consumption, which reached a maximum of
171 kilograms (kg) in 1962, has since declined and has remained
at around 70 kg since the late 1980s. The consumption of sweet
potatoes and barley as rice substitutes has declined drastically,
and only a few people still eat them regularly. Such traditional
carbohydrate foods have been largely supplanted by bread, which
school-lunch programs made popular. These programs served bread
made from American flour to schoolchildren. The flour had been
received as food aid during the postwar food shortage.
about 30 percent of the adult population eats bread for breakfast,
but very few people eat bread at lunch or dinner. In contrast
with the laborious preparation needed for rice, timesaving bread
is suitable for the breakfast needs of a developing urban society
in which many people commute and so have less time for meals.
there has been a rapid increase in the consumption of previously
rare foods, such as meat, eggs, dairy products, and fats, the
consumption of traditional foods, like fish and vegetables, has
also increased. People in Japan no longer maintain the attitude
that meals are merely a source of energy for labor and that a
staple food is the most efficient source of such energy. Now people
enjoy the meal itself through the various tastes of side dishes,
and a greater emphasis on side dishes than on staple foods has
kept pace with increases in the national income.
large variety of foreign foods and cuisines are now part of the
household menu. But they have become popular only as it was determined
that their flavors complement rice, soy sauce, green tea, and
so on. Moreover, their tastes and preparation have often been
adapted to moderate flavors, and their size or form has been arranged
for use with chopsticks. In other words, such modifications should
be viewed as part of an expansion of Japanese eating habits and
cuisine, rather than a headlong adoption of foreign dietary patterns.
Japanese intake of the chief nutrients reached an almost ideal
level by the end of the 1970s, except for a little too much salt
and a lack of calcium. The general physique has improved accordingly
and the average life span has become the longest in the world.
This ideal situation, however, may not continue long, as the generation
now being raised in this affluent society on a high-protein diet
may later pay a stiff price in geriatric diseases as a result
of overnutrition a problem that is becoming acute in other