Japan, the Country Where West Meets East and Mixed Up

Recently in my blog I have written articles regarding Washoku, Japanese cuisine, and I wrote that I didn’t understand well what Washoku meant.

To solve my question I read through the leaflet that the government released for the introduction of Washoku.


Surprisingly I was not able to find any clear definition of Washoku in the leaflet but there were four concepts;

1. Various fresh ingredients and using their natural tastes
Ingredients used in WASHOKU are diverse, fresh and available in four distinct seasons. WASHOKU requires minimum cooking and processing.

2. Well-balanced and healthy diets
WASHOKU contributes to a healthy life, long life expectancy and prevention of obesity among the Japanese since it requires well-balanced and low-fat diets.

3. Emphasis of the beauty of nature in the presentation
The beauty of nature and changing of seasons is emphasized in the presentation of WASHOKU. Plates are decorated with leaves, flowers and bamboo, and natural motifs are represented in decoratively cut foodstuff. Decorating tables and rooms with objects matched to the season are also closely associated with WASHOKU.

4. Connecting to annual events
WASHOKU has developed using traditional knowledge and customs closely associated with nature and a connection to annual events. It strengthens the bonds of family and community members when they share mealtime together, appreciating nature-gifted ingredients.

(Sources:leaflet of the introduction of Washoku reliesed by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries)


OMG… I think I have to apologize to you… The dishes I introduced in my blog may not be categorized as Washoku officially…
I don’t have ANY intention to provoke a quarrel with government but…




OK, I made a decision to persist in my belief and keep going on my own Washoku!


The four major Japanese dishes, Sushi, Tempura, Soba and Unagi are definitely Washoku even though they don’t satisfy any of the four conditions above.  Then I’m sure I could expand the definition even more.


Japan is called ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’.  However, on the map that we are using in Japan it is located in center and to tell you the truth, I didn’t understand why Japan was called as ‘Far East’ until a certain age…


If we look at this world map we can see that Japan is located in far east.



The country where a day starts first is Republic of Kiribati in the central tropical Pacific Ocean.  So we would have to give the name, ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’, to Kiribati and we might call our country ‘the Land We Can See the Rising Sun Quite Early’.




Why am I talking about the map??  Because I wanted to think about what West and East mean in the culture, especially in cuisine.

In Japanese cuisine, there are dishes called Yōshoku (洋食), which literally means Western (西洋) cuisine (食).  But my question is where the WEST is?


One good example is Tempura.  As I wrote in the previous article, ‘Tempora, Tempurar, or Tempura?‘, it was not an original Japanese dish but it was imported from Portugal in 16th century.  If the WEST means the countries where the major religion is Christianity, Tempura should be Yōshoku.  But actually, there’s no one who calls it so.  Tempura has definitely been categorized as Washoku.  Why?  Maybe because it was imported more than 500 years ago.  I mean it is something like a ‘completion of prescription’.  


It seems that the dishes which were imported from the ‘Western countries’ after Meiji Restoration in 1868 are categorized as Yōshoku.  Only 146 years have passed since then so we have to wait at least 300 years until these Yōshoku dishes will be called as Washoku!


Look at the result of an interesting survey conducted by Life Media Inc..  These are the dishes that the Japanese like.

1st. Sushi
2nd. Curry and rice
3rd. Ramen
4th. Fried chicken (Tori no karaage)
5th. Yakiniku
6th. Sukiyaki
7th. Sashimi
8th. Unagi
9th. Hamburg steaks (hambagu)
10th. Beefsteak
11th. Onigiri
12th. Katsudon
13th. Okonomiyaki
14th. Tonkatsu
15th. Kaisen Don (various kind of Sashimis are on a bowl of rice)
16th. Shabu-shabu
17th. Omurice
18th. Miso soup (miso shiru)
19th. Pork shogayaki (buta no shoga-yaki)
20th. Jiaozi (gyoza)


Wow wow wow!

This list should be very interesting for the government…  I think no dish on the list can be categorized as “Washoku” (official one).

That’s enough for joking.  Still, it is very interesting for me, too, because only the half are original Japanese dishes; Sushi, Sukiyaki, Sashimi, Unagi, Onigiri, TonKatsu, Katsudon, Okonomiyaki, Shabu-shabu, Miso soup, Pork shogayaki.  The other half are all imported and modified in Japan.  Moreover, the half of the half are quite new dishes which have less than 100 years of history; Okonimiyaki (invented in 1920’s), Tonkatsu (1930’s), Shoga-yaki (1940’s), Shabu-shabu (1952).

It’s off the subject, but Katsudon which is ranked in 15th is absolutely what I miss the most when I am in abroad for a long period of time.


Katsudon (Photo from Wikipedia)


Anyway, now I think I can understand how hard it was to work on Washoku for the government.  Washoku literally means Wa (Japan) Shoku (cuisine or food).  So Washoku should be the dishes that the Japanese eat in everyday life.  Therefore, the list above should be the list of Washoku.  But if the government had categorized these dishes as Washoku, some people must have made a nagging complaint, “THEY ARE NOT JAPANESE!!”. So it is natural that the government did not focus on the dishes but on the philosophy on eating.


Well, I think Japan is the country where everything that arrives gets Japanized, even religions.  Buddhism was imported to Japan and it was mixed up with the local religion, Shinto, and diffused all over Japan. (Please refer to ‘The Mystery of Inari – Shinto God or Buddhism Deity?‘ in 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo.)


Some decades ago Japanese were ridiculed as “yellow monkeys” who copied Western culture. John Stuart Mill said,

He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation.


Maybe soon after the Black Ships arrived in Japan to let the door open to the world, our ancestors had no other choice than throw away our own culture and copy the Western one to survive in the world.  However, we can be also proud of our ancestors who modified the Western culture that they had learned to make new ‘original’ by mixing up with own culture.  Japan is called ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’, but I think it sounds more natural, Japan ‘the Land Where the Sun Will Rise Again’.
にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ



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