Monday, December 11, 2006


There has been a minor but major dispute arising lately on Japanese cuisine outside of Japan. I'm sure some of you are quite aware of the issue for (at least what we hear on the news in Japan) the topic seems to be pretty hot on papers and news these days especially in the West.

To very briefly explain the situation to those reader who don't know about this problem: (I don't know who decided to pick on this question and how, but anyways) in a word, the Japanese government is complaining that very few of the so-called "Japanese" restaurants serve authentic Japanese food and is trying to start with the restaurants ratings system of how "Japanese" the place is, or to explain it a little clearer (but harsher) whether the restaurant is actually "Japanese" at all. Some media is criticizing this act as nationalism.

True, traveling around US, Europe and even in Southern East Asia I have had experiences encountering some... odd... "Japanese" food. Describing the food "odd" doesn't necessarily mean the taste is bad because in fact the tastes of food could be amazingly good, but there are some cases in which the ingredients or the recipes don't look Japanese at all. Tempura can be fries of many kinds of food, but hey, bananas barely grow in our country.

What happens a lot is the mixing of Far-East Asian cuisines. Something Japanese and Korean and Chinese can all be mixed and called authentic dish fromo either one of the cultures, and if you're not someone from those cultures or not a gourmet, it might be that those differences don't really matter as long as you enjoy the food.

The news tells us that only 10% of the Japanese restaurants in the US are actually owned by Japanese people, and there are many that don't even have a single Japanese cook. I wouldn't directly conclude that not having a Japanese cook or a staff would lose authenticity in the food they offer, but I am pretty sure the authenticity level would drop.

The largest part of the controversy is probably the ratings for the menus that evolved in the foreign culture but from original Japanese recipe such as California Roll Sushi. Sure, it's sushi but it was invented in California. But then, it's true that may Japanese residents outside of Japan enjoy the menu and we even reimported it into Japan.

Personally... I can't decide on which side to take without hesitation. Being a Japanese, I do have pride in our culture and food so I don't want people to misunderstand what's truly authentic and what's been created based on the original. At the same time, however, I do think that once a culture travels outside of its origin it's quite natural to adapt to where it lands. We too in Japan have all kinds of imported food cultures and many of us mix one with another at some point.

What I see a lot, and increasingly these days, are restaurants calling themselves "creative Japanese" "creative French" "creative Italian" "creative...". In many cases the cooks go through trainings in authentic cuisine of one culture or another, and then opens his/her own restaurant that serves "inspring" creative cuisine.

Sounds like the best solution, but then I assume that in the end, attaching the "creative" part or not requires some kind of rating system.

Today's update: This Week's Events in Tokyo - December 3rd Week

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