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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Japanese Food Has Culture Crawling All Over It

Matthew recently sent me a story about how Japan is looking to have its cuisine - foods - declared an 'intangible cultural heritage' status by UNESCO (U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Now... just so you know...Japanese cuisine has been provisionally approved by a review panel for submission to the growing list of national cuisines being recognized around the world.

But what exactly is up for cultural status?

Well, the fare pushed forth by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture says its sushi (image above is an ukiyo-e of various types of Edo-era sushi as drawn by noted artist Hiroshige), tempura, okonomiyaki and yakitori, and for good measure has also put forth the utensils used in the preparation and consumption of Japanese food.

It's still in the decision-making stage.

Washoku--traditional Japanese food--is actually pretty unique... especially the sushi... but dammit...
Tempura - battered and deep fried seafood or veggies
Okonomiyaki  - Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients - photo by  S_e_i from Osaka
Yakitori - skewered and grilled chicken, photo by 竹麦魚(Searobin)
Man... every culture has something like these three.

But... not everyone has sushi, and certainly everybody knows about Japanese sushi... even if they mistakenly confuse it with sashimi (sliced raw fish). Sushi is indeed a Japanese cultural food.

And... despite the Japanese loving to tell foreigners that sushi is Japanese sushi, it really is a dish created  only in Japan - though other cultures are now creating their own versions. 

Utensils? Like what... a Japanese wok? China.
Chopsticks? China.
Soy sauce - okay maybe... but whoppidy-doo.

Personally... I'm kind of dismayed that Japan - a country that has come up with some many wonderful inventions still has its population using two effing wooden sticks to pick up and eat food with.

There is no elegance in cutting one's food with chopsticks, or having to pick up one's bowl, place it to one's mouth and then use one's chopsticks to shovel it into your open mouth.

Crap... at least here in North America we've created other instruments to go along with our fork, knife and spoon - of various sizes... we also have the spork (spoon-fork combination) and the chork... a very wicked looking chopstick and fork combination... that amazed both me and my son (my son and I) that I shall show you tomorrow.

Sushi is Japan. Just like Mt. Fuji (some mountain I refuse to believe exists because it remained invisible every time I tried to look at it!). Just like Sumo. And just like geisha, ninja, samurai and katana swords. You could probably also add in Judo and other martial arts... but really, martial arts are a variation of a theme... and what's to stop me and my unique fighting style of kicking you in the nuts when you aren't looking - and having UNESCO dub that a unique thing.

It needs to be something that defines a country.

Kimono? I'm pretty sure silk robes and dresses are also worn in Korea and China.

So... yes... Japan does deserve to have sushi declared a national park or whatever it is that Japan wants the United Nations to declare. It sure beats the UN stepping in and helping to clean up the radioactive mess in Fukushima-ken.

Anyhow... want to know WHY Japan is really doing its bit to get on the list?

Japan chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide (surname first) says he hopes inclusion in the list will provide new support for agricultural and fisheries sectors in Fukushima, which have not recovered since the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region in northeast Japan in March 2011.

Well... okay then... it's for Fukushima-ken. I really should read the whole article before i go off and start writing about it. There's that stream of (un)consciousness I go through to create these 2,000+ blogs and counting.

Suga adds that he hopes the recognition from UNESCO will restore the world's trust in Japanese exports (food exports).

"I would really welcome the inclusion of traditional Japanese cuisine. If it is included, the spirit of traditional Japanese cuisine, one that is based on respect for nature, will be preserved for future generations," says Suga.

To date, French, Mexican and Mediterranean traditional cuisines have been recognized by UNESCO as cuisines of intangible cultural heritage, while it is expected that Korean imperial cuisine will be added to the list in November. An intergovernmental panel of representatives from 24 countries is scheduled to convene in Azerbaijan in December to review the panel’s recommendation.

Azerbaijan? Why are they meeting there? Is it just for the food considerations? Does Azerbaijan have some very cool and distinct food that I should have heard about but haven't?

Yes they have... it's a middle east version of sushi.

Just kidding, Japan. Just kidding.

Andrew Joseph

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