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History of Japanese Cuisine

Let's go back to the history of Japanese cuisine registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage product.

The pre-historical Jomon Period, which lasted from 11000 BC to 600 BC, was the hunting and gathering era before agriculture was introduced to Japan from continental Asia.

During this period, people mainly lived by hunting animals and fish, harvesting nuts and fruits, and so on. Pottery first appeared in Japan at this time, and it allowed for the the cooking method of “simmering” to become possible for the first time.

When agriculture arrived from the Asian continent, Japanese people learned how to grow rice. Rice then quickly became an important food item in ancient Japanese meals. However, rice at the time was just a supplementary food item eaten when there was little prey around. Rice would become the staple food of the Japanese people during the Yayoi Period (around 400 BC) at the conclusion of the Jomon Period, and the Japanese food preparation style that uses rice as the staple cuisine item with side dishes of meat and fish was established at that time.

Then, in 675 AD, a turning point that greatly changed Japanese food culture occurred.

The Emperor of Japan at the time announced a “ban on eating meat”. This law lasted nearly 1200 years until it was lifted at the beginning of the Meiji Period. While Japanese people certainly did eat some meat during this time, the food culture was shifted to being centered on fish, vegetables, and beans. This resulted in people trying to find new ways of preparing meals with the food items they were allowed to consume. This long period of trial and error to solve the lack of meat in their diet was solved when the idea of “taking a dashi” became common. The “dashi” was an important “umami” essential for many kinds of Japanese cuisine. This culinary creation became the basis for many of the Japanese food we all enjoy today.

From that point on, Japanese cuisine became more than just food. It began to be intertwined with elements of artistic refinement in the style of its preparation, similar to the high-quality products which the artisan class of the time had produced. This evolution in Japanese cuisine with an emphasis on the beauty of its appearance, ingenuity in incorporating a sense of the seasons, and the delicateness of the taste became crucial to satisfying the needs of Japanese restaurant goers in the 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, Western food culture had been fully introduced to Japan due to the opening of the country during the Meiji Period, and Western food options spread rapidly to every corner of Japan.

In the modern period of the high-tech and globalized 21st century, Japanese-style Western fusions now exist, combining elements of these two distinct cuisine cultures. These innovative new-wave food options have led to the emergence of a whole new food culture in the country. Today, there are elements of cuisines from all across the world being merged with traditional staples of Japanese cuisine, and this has led to a period of experimentation which has reinvigorated and enriched Japanese cuisine even more. Where the future of Japanese cuisine goes is anybody’s guess, but with all of these changes in the modern era affecting the traditional features of Japanese food items, the future of Japanese cuisine is certainly looking brighter than ever!


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