Online Exhibition: Japanese Food Culture: History and Mystery: English Books on Japanese Food: Beyond Cookbooks


A few decades ago, American knowledge of or interest in Japanese food was extremely limited. Sukiyaki, sushi, or tempura was all that people knew. But this is an old story. Today it is not so difficult to find “Japanese restaurants” even in a small town like Lawrence. Japanese recipe books have gained popularity. In addition to general introductory cookbooks, now you can find recipe books for specific foods, such as ramen (though originated in Chinese noodle dishes) and sushi. The recipe books on bentō (box food) attract those who want to eat something better than brown bag lunches, and anime fans would love to buy cookbooks which show how to cook the foods presented in their favorite anime.

Researchers in different disciplines have paid scholarly attention to Japanese foodways. Some newer publications are critical towards the registration of “washoku” in the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Scholars argue that the narrowly defined “washoku” in the proposal submitted by the Japanese Government idealizes Japanese foodways while neglecting the eating habits of ordinary Japanese in the past and present. Scholars attempt to debunk the homogeneous image of Japanese food. Historians discuss how class cultures, economic development and other factors have shaped Japan’s modern food culture. Anthropologists pay attention to the rise of kyaraben or kyarakutā bentō which features food decorated to look like cute animals, anime characters, etc. and discuss that kawaii aesthetic young mothers are expected to remain. Another which is analyzed is the social and economic culture of Tsukuji, the world largest wholesale fish market in Tokyo where more than 40,000 sellers and buyers work each day.  

. . . Food is more than eating. It could be an important subject for scholarly research. 

Feeding Japan: The Cultural and Political Issues of Dependency and Risk, 2017

A collection of short articles on Japanese food. By bringing the fields of history, cultural studies, food studies, and political science, this book provides "a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics behind evolving food identities and culinary nationalism in Japan and beyond" (from the introduction).

Naorai: Communion of the Table, 1989

An introductory book on the history of Japanese food and food culture, including the ceremonial food for gods, food for seasonal festivals and events as well as casual dining at street stalls. This book also discusses the attractive presentation of food, the variety of food trays, and other utensils.

Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World, 2004

This book discusses the social and dynamic culture of Tsukiji fish market, operated from 1935 to 2018, as the world's biggest fish market. The author describes the history and development of Tsukiji market and its central role in Japan's seafood economy. He also focuses on the diverse players of Tsukiji who have shaped the unique culture of this gigantic market, from producers, auctioneers, and buyers, to loading dock agents and delivery service providers. The fish market was relocated to Toyosu in 2018. This book is a valuable historical document of Tsukiji.

Oishii: The History of Sushi, 2021

The latest book on Japanese food by KU faculty Dr. Eric Rath. This book offers in-depth examination of sushi---its origins, evolution, and globalization. The recipes of unique and lesser-known sushi variations, such as funazushi (fermented sushi) and kakinohazushi (sushi wrapped with persimon leaf) are inserted.

Japan's Cuisines: Food, Place and Identity, 2016

White rice is one of the most representative images of Japanese food. However, KU faculty Dr. Eric Rath notes the wider varieties of rice and grain that commoners ate. This book examines staple foods, historically consumed in different areas and by different classes of people, and questions whether the contemporary image of Japanese traditional food represents the diverse culinary heritage of Japan.

Branding Japanese Food: From Meibutsu to Washoku, 2020

As a critical and scholarly reaction to the inscription of "washoku" on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, this book provides a historical analysis of the branding of Japanese food and discussed food has played the role of a tool of place-branding since early modern Japan. Also the authors point out the confusion of the definition of washoku provided by the Japanese Governments application to UNESCO and criticizes the Japanese Government's manipulation of the term washoku.

Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know about Cooking, 2009

The author is a British food and travel writer who is fascinated with Japanese food. He travels to Japan with his family, and they visit different places to eat. He and his family experience the variety of food and learn the Japanese obsession with food. A short anime series was produced based on this essay and broadcasted by NHK.