Washoku – a declining tradition?While the Japanese government, in particular the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, addressed the need to preserve washoku, the traditional food culture is on a decline amid changing household structures, consumer preferences, and economic trends. As nuclear family households are increasing and the habit of cooking fresh meals every day is becoming rare, processed food and prepared meals are catering to the busy lifestyle in Japan. The winners of the dietary shift are food services offering fast food and predominantly meat-based dishes as quick meals outside the home.
Furthermore, market changes are impacting the focus of washoku on domestic produces as the agriculture industry alone is unable to cover market demand for staple foods like grains, vegetables, and seafood. Relying on imports to supply the domestic market, foreign dishes centering around wheat-based foods and meats are replacing rice and fish on dining tables as more versatile and convenient meal options.
From fish to meatThe Japanese fishery industry has access to an abundance of fresh seafood sourced from marine fisheries and aquaculture in the surrounding ocean of the island nation. Yet, the declining consumption of fish and the increasing prevalence of meat in the Japanese diet is a major indicator of dietary changes.
Initially scorned upon in the Buddhist influenced social order of the past, red meats returned to the Japanese diet with the Meiji restoration at the end of the 19th century. The influx of recipes based on Western cuisine (yoshoku) after the resumption of foreign trade drove the consumption of meat even further, with Hamburg steak, deep-fried chicken, and beef steaks remaining consumer favorites.
Additionally, economic partnership agreements on agricultural produces with major trade nations like the United States, the European Union, and Australia are impacting consumer price developments in the country, making meat available at more affordable prices. While consumers value domestically produced ingredients, money is also a major factor influencing food purchases, benefitting the rise of meats as the main protein consumed in Japanese households.
Peculiar specialtiesThe Japanese diet is commonly considered a healthy one characterized by the sparse use of oil and seasoning, and the variety of fermented foods like soy sauce, miso, and fermented soybeans (nattō). Between nutritional balance and emerging food trends impacting Japanese eating behavior, restaurants also offer specialties marked controversial in the international society like whale meat and the consumption of live seafood. Live seafood refers to the consumption of produces like fish, shrimp, and octopuses that are still alive and moving when served.
While live seafood is not a habitually consumed dish, raw food is a popular preparation method in Japan. Among the prominent dishes is sashimi, referring to thinly sliced meat and fish. But even though restaurants are subjected to strict hygiene regulations, food poisoning incidents are not uncommon compared to other food preparing facilities, with animal products being the most common causative food.