Japanese food is loved by many people for many different reasons; to some people Japanese food is yummy while to the others, Japanese food offers a very healthy diet. Japanese cuisine is well known throughout the whole wide world. This essay will be an attempt to cover the most basic things about the history of Japanese cuisine, and some of the Japanese culture when it comes to eating.
Similar to Chinese cuisine, the basis of traditional Japanese cuisine consist of rice, miso soup and side dishes. The cultivation of rice was introduced to Japan about 4000 years ago. Today in Japan, all 47 prefectures of Japan can grow rice. The annual production of rice in Japan is over 8.8 million tons in 2008, but Japan must import a minimum requirement of 770,000 tons of foreign rice since 1993 (tjf.or.jp, 1997). This is because in recent times, most popular Japanese cuisines are: holding-hand-shaped sushi; rolled sushi; hand-rolled sushi; sushi rice wrapped in fried bean curd and unrolled sushi served in box or bowl, which is the main reason why Japanese people need to import rice even though all 47 prefectures can produce rice.
With the introduction of foreign food, religion, and a long history of Japanese culture sculpture the Japanese cuisine and eating habit we have today. Food variety in Japan started to diversify since the 16th century since importation of food was allowed. The word konpeitoo which was translated from Portuguese means confectionery, tempura also from Portuguese origin, is a popular Japanese food which is battered fish or vegetables deep fried. Dumplings and noodles were introduced from China, while Yakuniku and kimchi were introduced from Korea. There are also many other Asian and Western food introduce to Japan such as curry, burgers, sandwiches, omelettes, croquette, spaghetti, pizza and fried chicken to name a few. Since the introduction of foreign foods, Japanese's eating habit has changed over time. Traditional Japanese breakfast consist of steam rice, miso soup, and various side dishes. While nowadays Japanese people are introduced to bread, egg, and juice for breakfast. Many different foreign drinks are also introduced, such as coffee, black tea, milk, coke and variety of juices.
In recent years dairy products, fruits and more meat are consumed, while rice and rice products are less consumed. In 1946 Japan's food self-sufficiency ratio was 88% but it has dropped to 40% in 2003 (JFS, 2005). There are three major causes for the decline in the food self-sufficiency ratio: one is the restaurant industry's strategy seeking lower costs by using imported food; another involves the westernisation of the Japanese diet, which has resulted in a decline in rice consumption; and the third is increased consumption of meat, poultry and other fatty foods, which require huge amounts of feed grains or large expanses of agricultural land for their production (JFS, 2005).
In the old days, eating meat from four legged animals was prohibited for over a thousand years prior to 1868 (Longworth, 2004). Buddhist influences were the main reason behind this motivation. During the Meiji period, the leaders wanted a positive social change that can become beneficial which included eating pork and beef. Even after a century of lifting the ban, consumption of beef was still very low. By 1980, the average Japanese only ate 5.1kg of beef per year, compared to lower income households in western countries who consumed more than 10 times in that amount.
Not all food is available throughout the year in Australia, which is the same for Japan. Shun no tabemono in Japanese meaning 'food in season'. The word Shun is the period at which each type of produce is at its peak. In spring the peak of produces are strawberries, bamboo shoots, and short-necked clam among other shellfish. In summer they are watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers and sweet corn. In winter they are spinach, white radish, Japanese leeks, tangerines, cod and yellowtail among other fish. In autumn, they are matsutake mushrooms, saury, and nashi pears. Excluding the day-to-day meal, there are also many foods for many different special occasions. For example, Osechi ryori are tradition Japanese New Year food which are easily recognisable by their special boxes called jubako. The dishes that make up Osechi have special meaning when celebrating New Year. Japanese's bitter oranges are called Daidai, but daidai also means "generation to generation". Nishiki tamago which means egg roulade, are separated before cooking, the yellow eggs symbolising gold and white eggs symbolising silver. In Japan's culture there are many more foods that resemble meanings of life.
Serving of Japanese food is very important and the presentation is the key. In Japanese tradition, rice is placed on the left, soup on the right and side dishes are at the back. Despite the fact that the presentation of serving the Japanese food is important, Japanese table manners are a vital part of Japanese culture as a whole. Before eating, they will say 'Itadakimasu', meaning "I humbly receive". After eating, they will say 'Gochisoo sama', meaning "Thank you for a good meal". These are the basic table manners during a meal.
On the whole, it is easy to understand how the Japanese history and culture has formed the Japanese cuisine and eating habits we have nowadays. Japanese cuisine has been renowned throughout the whole world; it is common to find a Japanese restaurant in a developed city. One of the top Japanese restaurants in Sydney is Tetsuya, which was rated in one of the Top 50 restaurant in the world. Not only are the Japanese cuisine are renowned, Japan exports to the world of their food cultures in comics/animation, books and TV programs. For example, the popular TV program Ryori no Tetsujin (Iron Chef) and Chuka Ichiban! (aka China's Number One!), which was loved by many children, teenagers and adults. It is fair to say that Japanese food culture has affected many people with different age and nationality.
- The Japan Forum 1997, The Japan Forum, viewed 10 May 2010,
- < http://www.tjf.or.jp/eng/content/japaneseculture/01rice2.htm.
- Longworth, J.W. 2004, The History of Kobe Beef in Japan, viewed 10 May 2010,
- Osechi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Osechi, viewed 10 May 2010,
- Japan's Food Self-Sufficiency Ratio Resists Improvement 2005, Japan for Sustainability, viewed 10 May 2010,
- Etiquette in Japan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Etiquette in Japan, viewed 10 May 2010,