November 3 was Culture Day in Japan. In 2023, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the listing of washoku, the traditional dietary culture of the Japanese people, on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Culture encompasses many things. But nothing is more rooted in the spiritual and physical environment of a country than its food culture. Furthermore, nothing expresses the character of the people and the country itself more than the food culture.
This is also the year in which China arbitrarily banned all imports of Japanese marine products over the ocean release of treated water from TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Seafood is one of the staples of Japanese cuisine. The impact of the Chinese ban has not been small, and we cannot help but be outraged at this unjustified behavior that ignores science.
A Rich Food Culture
The holiday provides an opportunity to once again focus on the richness of world-class Japanese food. It is also an incentive to strive to pass on this culture and see it develop further.
In 2022, the Japan Tourism Agency surveyed foreign visitors to Japan about their expectations. Respondents were asked to choose more than one answer to the question, "What did you most look forward to before visiting Japan?" The most common answer was "eating Japanese food" at 78%. That was followed by "shopping" at 49 percent. "Strolling on streets in busy commercial areas" came in at 38%, and "sightseeing in nature/scenic spots" at 35%.
Many of the foreigners visiting Japan are already familiar with Japanese food. But they still yearn to savor it as it is prepared in its homeland.
Washoku refers to the traditional food culture of the Japanese people. When it was registered with UNESCO, it was recognized as "associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature" and as a form of traditional social practice that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Worth noting are the special characteristics of washoku. It expresses the beauty of nature and seasonal changes. From ancient times it has been deeply related to traditional annual events such as the New Year and seasonal festivals. The essence of Japanese culture is condensed in the taste of each dish. Meanwhile, the dining experience encompasses the beauty of the containers and decorations.
All this is made possible by the fact that Japan is surrounded by the sea and has an abundance of seasonal produce. It also has a history of diverse regional food cultures that have been passed down through the generations.
Emperor Meiji's Legacy of Traditions and Modernization
Globalization and changing lifestyles have made it difficult to preserve traditional food culture in the form of local cuisines for the future. Climate change in recent years has also had a serious impact on marine and agricultural products. Wisdom, hard work, and the creation of a framework for carrying on the tradition are essential.
The birthday of Emperor Meiji also falls on Culture Day. November 3 used to be a national holiday for commemorating that sovereign's legacy. Emperor Meiji, while leading the modernization of Japan that would bring it to rank with the Western powers, also strove to promote the ancient court culture.
We would like to take this day as an opportunity to convey the spirit of Japanese food not only to the Japanese people, but also to people around the world, and to connect it to the future.
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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun