Japanese Cooking and Cuisine -- How Japanese Cooking has Changed with the Times. Japanese Cuisine Chat (1)

As one of the most popular cuisines abroad, not only are beef bowl chains and kaiten-sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants garnering increasing acclaim, but high-class sushi and Kaiseki course meal restaurants can be found opening up across the globe. However, when asking someone outside of Japan what “Japanese cuisine” or “Washoku” is, you may find that their answers leave much to be desired.

Now, how might one define “Washoku”?

Perhaps it is safe to assume that Washoku encompasses traditional and local Japanese dishes that have existed and developed over many generations.

In contrast, Japanese cuisine can be seen as an extension of “Washoku”, including dishes such as curry and ramen, which have come to be known as Japanese staples only after the influence of Western and Chinese cuisine reached Japan. You can also see this type of influence in reverse, with such sushi dishes like the “California Roll” where the heart is indeed Japanese, but with a cultural twist.

You can call the above attempts at defining what Japanese cuisine might be, but the truth is that there is no one correct definition. There are many debates about what factors signify that a certain food or dish is to be categorized as “Washoku” or “Japanese Cuisine,” but there has yet to be a solid conclusion. Originally, classifiers such as “Washoku” and “Japanese Cuisine” did not even exist. These terms only came into use following the Meiji Period, where Western Cuisine became a part of the Japanese diet, and terms like “Washoku” and “Japanese Cuisine” were created to distinguish between types of dishes.

Additionally, in 2013, UNESCO posted an entry titled “Washoku: Traditional Dietary Cultures of the Japanese” that registered Washoku as “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Here is an excerpt from the proposal below:

“Washoku is a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food.” 注 『無形文化遺産の代表的な一覧表への記載についての提案書』に参照した。熊倉功夫氏、江原絢子氏 著『和食とは何か』(『和食文化ブックレット1』)、思文閣出版、2015年発行。 At first glance, it may appear that the article simply says “Washoku is a form of culture.” However, the deeper meaning is that “Washoku” is officially registered as part of Japan’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” But why was “Washoku” used over just “Japanese Cuisine?” In the initial proposal, it states that Kaiseki is at the heart of traditional Japanese cuisine, and that it embodies its unique characteristics. But since Kaiseki cooking was initially something only those of certain statuses could enjoy, it was not viable from a commercial standpoint, and there for has been separated within the greater scope of “Japanese Cuisine.”

Now, let’s discuss some of the major attributes of “Washoku".

First, the ingredients: being an island country, many of the key ingredients that are necessary in “Washoku” are fruits and vegetables that could be found from the land domestically . Therefore, Washoku culture is widely accepted and recognized for this individuality. Additionally, being surrounded by water on all four sides, cooking with fresh seafood and fish is also popular. So at the same time, many foreigners will equate Washoku with sushi and sashimi -- and while it isn’t the full picture, sushi and sashimi are a major representation of Japan’s cuisine.

The second major attribute is how the ingredients are prepared. Washoku aims to avoid waste. From this desire to make the most of what ingredients are available, different preparation methods such as drying, fermenting, and pickling were born. People will also take the same ingredients but prepare them in different ways to use them to their full potential.

The third and final attribute we will discuss is the basic value of respecting nature. For New Year’s, families will attend shrines for Hatsumode with offerings of mochi for the gods, and enjoy meals of zoni and o-sechi. In the springtime, people will go look at the cherry blossoms in full bloom, and snack on various confections making use of the sakura petals. For summer, people will eat unagi and shaved ice. In the fall, enjoying chestnut rice and salt-grilled matsutake are the norm while taking in the scenery of the autumn leaves. And lastly, in winter, people will bathe in the hot springs and later feast upon sukiyaki, oden or other warm meals. In Japan, food is as much alive as the seasons themselves. And they also say that the tools and utensils used also have a great impact on the food.

Washoku is served in a wide variety of different vessels, which mainly use the colors red, blue, yellow, black, and white, giving them a strong, seasonal feel. These containers also vary greatly depending on their specific uses. Unlike in Chinese or French cuisine, where all of the plates and such feature the same design, it is not unusual or Washoku vessels to be made of differing materials, such as clay, ceramics, wood, lacquer, iron, etc. Sometimes these plates and the like are even made for specific dishes. Because of all the effort that goes into Washoku outside of even the food itself, people are often deeply moved by the respect with which Washoku is created.

日本料理の雑談日本料理と和食―― 時代の変化に伴う和食






上記で仮に定義してみましたが、実は和食や日本料理についての明確な定義はないのです。何を以て「和食」や「日本料理」と定義するかについての論争はこれまで幾度となく行われていますが、明確に結論づいたことはないと言えます。 元来、「和食」や「日本料理」という概念はありませんでした。明治以降、西洋料理(洋食)が日本で食されるようになると、区別するため「和食」や「日本料理」という概念が生まれました。



一見難解な文章のようですが、一言で表すと「和食とは文化である」と述べられているのです。つまり「和食」は日本の食文化として無形文化遺産に登録されたのです。 なぜ、「日本料理」ではなかったのか。はじめの案には「会席料理を中心とした伝統をもつ特色ある独特の日本料理」での登録を目指したようですが、「会席料理」という選ばれた人だけ食べることができる高級な料理の記載や、商業主義的ととられかねない懸念が「日本料理」にはあり、却下されたという経緯があります。

  • 注 『無形文化遺産の代表的な一覧表への記載についての提案書』に参照した。熊倉功夫氏、江原絢子氏 著『和食とは何か』(『和食文化ブックレット1』)、思文閣出版、2015年発行。