Japanese Cuisine 日本 料理

A Poetical Pursuit of Food [1]
Harmony for the Palate and the Eye

–“All Japanese food needs its setting.” — Sir John Pilcher, H.M. Ambassador to Japan [2]

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see 20 percent of Americans eating sushi as part of their regular diet in 10 or 15 years.” — Boye De Mente, 1987 [3]

Tosa Sake for New Year

Japanese food is one of the great cuisines of the Pacific Rim — and the world. Its popularity is leaping over national boundaries. Japanese cuisine is about freshness, simplicity, attractive visual presentation  and settings.  And it is healthy.

Fighting Alzheimer’s with Chopsticks: Recent research in Japanon diet, aging, and disease is shedding light on how people might be able to improve their health in a major way by some simple lifestyle changes.  Some of these are as basic as using chopsticks in a special way.

Special Features of Japanese Cooking: Japanese food emphasizes fresh, seasonal and local ingredients, simple preparation and elegant, refined presentation.  Fermentation plays an important role in many traditional foods. And this may provide some health benefits.

Ingredients: Key materials used in making Japanese food include Miso, Tofu, Soy Sauce and other soy foods, Rice, Fish, and Vegetables.  Use of meat and dairy, also fats in general, is generally low.  Intake of fish and other seafood is high.  Rice and other cereals are noodles are important, too. Buckwheat is important as the base for Soba Noodles and some other dishes, and  has many health benefits.

Fruits: Japan is also home to many fruits.

“Four varieties of pears, nestling against figs, ten varieties of apple, mandarin oranges, strawberries, loquats, grapes, peaches,melons.  But at what cost!” — Norma Field [4]

An imported fruit, Banana, is the No. 1 favorite today.

Using burdock roots in Japanese cuisine

Burdock Root – Gobo

Vegetables include Kabocha, Udo, and Burdock — the Japanese may be the only people in the world to eat Burdock as a regular vegetable. There are many important Vegetables — Eggplant, Daikon and Bitter Melon among them. Bean Sprouts are popular every-day food. Grilled Eggplant is a typical version for that Vegetable, especially popular in summer

Bamboo is a popular vegetable in many forms, such as Bamboo Rice. Stir-Fried Bamboo Shoots with Pork., or Stir-Fried Bamboo Shoots with Chicken.

Mushrooms are very popular, as in the favorite Bento Mushrooms. Other Bento dishes include Snow Peas for Bento.



Pickled Plums or Umeboshi, are another characteristic Japanese flavoring for a wide range of foods, and thought to have medicinal properties.  They are the subject of a separate cookbook.



Using miso to prepare Asian dishes


Aromatics and Seasonings: Besides Soy Sauce, Miso, Sake Lees and Ginger, some other important ones include:

Using pink ginger in Japanese cuisine

Pink Ginger

The use of Red and Pink Ginger is typically Japanese.

Techniques: Many foods are eaten in their raw or natural state, for example, raw fish taken as Sashimi or in Sushi. Others are broiled briefly, especially grilled with a little salt (Shioyaki), a common way of cooking fish.  Other foods are braised or simmered for longer times,

Japanese cooking utensil Donabe


sometimes in a chafing dish or earthenware pot, called Donabe, to make a kind of stew or Nabemono.

Main Types of Dishes: The main types of food preparation can be organized this way —

  • Shirumono (Soups). as in cooks’ staples like Miso Soup with Cabbage . Or Tofu Soup
  • Yakimono (Grilled Foods)
  • Nimono (Simmered Dishes)
  • Agemono (Deep-Fried Foods)
  • Mushimono (Steamed Foods)
  • Sunomono (Vinegared Foods)
  • Aemono (Fish or Vegetables with a Dressing)
  • Gohanmono (Dishes of Rice Combined with Other Ingredients). This category would include the whole realm of Rice Gruels or Porridges called Congee, or in Japanese Okayu or Ojiya, like Congee with Egg or Congee with Milk. sometimes including Meat, as in Congee with Chicken.
  • Menrui (Noodles), including ones like Fried Soba and Soba Sauce
  • Nabemono (Dishes Cooked in a Pot of Simmering Broth at the Table [5] — Sukiyaki may be the most famous example.
Assortment of fish and vegetables cooked in tempura style

Tempura no Moraines

Tempura, a kind of Agemono with a very special batter and demanding cooking technique, possibly of foreign origin, is one of the popular categories of Japanese food, among Japanese and foreigners alike.

Some Other Varieties: These are the main types of classic Japanese cooking.  We should add a couple more kinds —

  • Sushi— Rice, often vinegared, topped or combined with other items such as raw or
    Obama Make Sushi at Hot Woks N Cool Sushi, Chicago

    Obama Maki Sushi at Hot Woks, Chicago

    cooked fish, shellfish, egg or vegetables.  Although Sushi has its origins in ancient China, the modern kind, with its emphasis on raw fish, dates from the early 19th century.

  • Interested in hosting a Sushi buffet party at home? See the related post on Sushi for a Group.

    Masguro, Uni, Ikura Nigiri Sushi

    Nigiri Sushi – Maguro, Uni, Ikura

  • Vegetarian Cuisine — Strictly vegetarian or mostlyly vegetarian cooking has its own special niche. The pure vegetarian variety, also called Shojin Ryori, or Monastic Cooking, was originally developed in Buddhist monasteries.
    Uni and Ikura Nigiri

    Uni and Ikura Nigiri Style

    • Before then, the most ancient types of sushi were probably egg-based sushi and a type that has no fish at all — Inarizushi or Fox-God Sushi, in which the rice is wrapped in a packet made of a special kind of soybean curd.
    • Another very popular variety, and one of the simplest is O Nigiri, a kind of Rice ball made with Bonito shreds and wrapped in Norik or seaweed.

      Japanese Onigiri


    • Traditional Japanese Confectionery (Wagashi). These are based on recipes first introduced from China during the Nara period (710 — 794) from Tang Dynasty China.  Their main ingredients are rice, an — a sweet paste made from red or white beans, and sugar. Some examples include the popular Otabe, a specialty of Kyoto, and its recent clone, Kuro Otabe, or Black Otabe. Modern sweets, often of a Fusion nature, include things like Whiskey Cookies.
    • Flash Cooking – In recent years, especially after the disastrous Tohoku earthquake focused attention on energy conservation, Japanese cooks began looking for ways to cook using less fuel and energy. The Flash Cooking Techniques that evolved not only saved energy in the actual cooking process but reduced the need for air conditioning o other cooking of the cooking space, resulting in further economies. Some of the new recipes in this area include –
    • Roast Beef Japanese Style — cooked in just 3 minutes;
    • Chinese Style Siu Mai Meat Dumplings — cooked in a flash; and others.
    • Osechi Ryoori – Dishes for the New Year, usually packed in Bento boxes. Example: Bento Mushrooms or Snow Peas for Bento, which often feature at this time.. Another example would be Spinach Rolls for Bento.

    Before There Were Chopsticks: An unusual type of Japanese cooking predates the use of chopsticks — grilled foods on skewers, or Kushimono.  Some restaurants specialize in such dishes, in which the foods are skewered and grilled over charcoal.

Tools of the Trade: Besides the usual ones, a mortar and pestle seems essential — the Japanese one has a distinctive name and appearance. Also, graters for breaking down foods like Daikon and Ginger — again, Japanese chefs have some special models.

using burdock in the kitchen

Burdock Peeling Tool

Also, special small gadgets for boning and scaling fish.  Rollers (Sudare) and molds for making Sushi at home are useful.  Cooking chopsticks and skewers.

Planes for Bonito: Uniquely Japanese. They were once more common when dried Bonito always came in a solid block that had to be shaved thin.  Now less so, as Bonito mostly comes already shredded.

Electric Rice Cooker,
Critic Ebert’s Magic Pot

Almost all Japanese kitchens now have Electric Rice Cookers.

Rice dispensers

Rice Dispenser

Rice Dispensers, which are really convenient, are now becoming common.

Knives: Japan makes some of the finest blades in the world and appropriate knives for cutting fish and vegetables are essential. The best Japanese chef’s knives are produced by the same ancient techniques used to fashion samurai swords.

Regional Cooking Styles: Traditionally, Japanese have distinguished between the food of Western Japan (Kansai) — the location of the ancient capital of Kyoto; and the East (Kanto or Azuma) — the location of Tokyo.

Western style food tends to emphasize sweet tastes and delicacy. Eastern food emphasizes salty and savory taste — Umami.

Local dishes grew up in the individual fiefdoms. Cooking developed independently, along with local dialects, crafts and other arts.  The main regional groupings [6] are:

  • Hokkaido
  • Tohoku
  • Chubu and Kanto
  • Kansai and Chugoku
  • Shikoku
  • Kyushu
  • Okinawa

Of these seven regions, Hokkaido and Okinawa are new additions, as Hokkaido was settled in fairly recent times.

Okinawa — a former kingdom — and the other Ryukyu Islands were administered through southern Kyushu.  The cooking has a strong Chinese influence.

In addition to these regional food groupings, most of the 48 prefectures of Japan have their own local cooking styles. [7]

So there is a huge variety of local and regional cooking styles in Japanese cuisine.

“Sukiyaki and tempura. These two dishes represent approximately one-tenth of one percent of the total range.” — David Dodge [8]

Famous Dishes: The most famous Japanese dishes abroad are probably Tempura and Sukiyaki, which as novelist David Dodge says, represent only a tiny fraction of the total variety. The Teriyaki style of grilling Meats and Fish is also a standard classic technique. As in Chicken Teriyaki, a standard of the Japanese menu. There’s a less sweet variety, which we call Chicken Teriyaki Another Way. See also a method for making Japanese Style Chicken Sauce, which can be used many ways, including for making Teriyaki.

Grilled Mackerel is an example of a simple home-style Fish dish. In the same group, Saba with a Western flavor. Or again Soused Mackerel Japanese Style.

Some specific interesting dishes include Ginger-Miso Dressing.

Although usually associated with Chinese cooking, Egg-Drop Soup also features in Japanese cuisine, in a Japanese variation.

Frozen Japanese Udon


There is a whole range of noodle dishes, from Ramen to Udon.

Pickled dishes are a whole category, like Lotus Root Pickles and many others.

Maru mochi for Japanese New Year's

Maru Mochi for New Year’s

Mochi and Senbei: Mochi, a rice cake made from super-pounded rice, is traditional and very popular in Japan.  Senbei, a crispy rice cracker eaten as a snack, especially with drinks, is popular seemingly everywhere.

sushi display stand at Walgreen store

Sushi @ Walgreen’s

Sushi — New International Food: Boye De Mente was right before the time, and not only have Americans started eating Sushi — you can even get it in places like the Walgreen drugstore —  but Sushi has become popular worldwide.

Sushi Dictionary: There is even a kind of dictionary devoted to Sushi.  The dictionary includes color photography of the 61 varieties of tuna! [9]

Family Style Cooking: An important category of Japanese cuisine is what is known as “Family Style Cooking” (Katei Ryori). These are humble, family cooking, fen with a Western element — Curry Rice, Omelet Rice, Beef Stew, Pork Cutlets. These are often good in their own right and an improvement over the originals which inspired them. A simple way of preparing Fsh at home is Fish Grilled in Mso. Bamboo Rice is a typical home-style dish combining Bamboo Shoots with Steamed Rice.

August is Eggplant month.  Popular dishes for this season include Grilled Eggplant and Eggplant with Miso and Sesame sauce.

New Japanese Cuisine: A new style of cooking  has evolved incorporating the subtle and delicate sensibilities of Japanese traditional cooking in an eclectic manner with French, Italian, Southeast Asian and other foreign inputs. This New or Nouvelle Japanese Cuisine has been described by leading practitioners in cooking programs of the national television station NHK and related articles, books and magazines.

Modern dishes like Ginger-Miso Dressing for salads reflect recent trends. Or dishes like Japanese style Scrambled Eggs with Crab Meat. New traditional dishes like Ginger Pilaf combine traditional ingredients like Ginger in special ways and make use of new lequipment like the Electric Rice Cooker.

And there are dishes fringing on the Fusion area, like Filet of Sole  a la Japonaise.

Japanese Diet and Health: Japanese diet must be one of the healthiest, as Japanese statistics for longevity and low rates of cardiovascular disease are among the world’s best.

This seems to be true despite the relatively high levels of salt in Japanese food.

Japanese health authorities are concerned about a number of diet and lifestyle related issues, including children’s obesity and rates of diabetes as well as cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s, especially as Japan is now an aging society.

Japanese health officials have been sounding the alarm about rising obesity, but if the sales of McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and other Western fast foods is any indication, Japanese consumers are clearly not all listening.

Concerned about weight loss (or gain)? A leading Japanese political leader has published a special soup he used to lose excess weight, Japanese curry soup.  He takes at for breakfast.

Diet, Aging and Alzheimer’s: Japanese public health experts have been exploring possible links between diet and lifestyle and the onset of conditions like Alzheimer’s. They are developing approaches which appear to be beneficial.

There is increasing concern that continuing Westernization of the diet may have negative impact on the health of Japanese people, especially the young.

Some of these ideas involve changes in the balance of items in the diet, the order in which food is consumed, and even ways of using chopsticks in a special way.  This complex series is covered in several special Articles.

For Further Information:

Maneki Neko, the Japanese Beckonong Ca

Maneki Neko

[1] Sonoko Kondo, The Poetical Pursuit of Food: Japanese Recipes for American Kitchens (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1986) —  http://www.amazon.com/The-Poetical-Pursuit-Of-Food/dp/0517556537
[2] Pilcher was a British ambassador to Japan, quoted in Peter and Joan Martin, Japanese Cooking, illustrated by Clifton Karhu (London: Deutsch, 1970) —  http://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Cooking-Peter-Martin-Hardcover/dp/B0014IQFDS
[3] De Mente anticipated the worldwide Sushi boom and many other trends by some years.  Boye De Mente, Made in Japan; The Methods, Motivation, and Culture of the Japanese and Their Influence on U.S. Business and All Americans (Lincolnwood, Illl.: Passport Books, 1987) —  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy%C3%A9_Lafayette_De_Mente
[4] Norma Field, a scholar of Japanese literature and professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, commenting on the seasonal variety of Japanese fruits, while in a sabbatical visit to her grandparents’ home in Tokyo. Norma Field, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: A Portrait of Japan at Century’s End (New York: Pantheon, 1991) —  http://www.amazon.com/In-Realm-Dying-Emperor-ebook/dp/B004KABDO8
[5] The Kodansha Encyclopedia: Japan, Profile of a Nation (Tokyo: Kodansha International, Ltd., 1999) —  http://www.amazon.com/Japan-Profile-English-Japanese-Edition/dp/4770023847
[6] “Japanese cuisine,” article, Wikipedia —  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_cuisine
[7] Kajiro Yamamoto, Tabearuki Tokyo Chizu   たべあるき東京    (Tokyo: Earia Mappu Shobunsha, 1999).   http://www.worldcat.org/title/tabearuki-tokyo-1999/oclc/47621269&referer=brief_resultsA popular walking guide to Tokyo, which lists restaurants offering prefectural specialties, located near major rail terminals, also Kushimono specialists. Copy in Waseda University Library, Tokyo.  Various later editions cover similar topics. In these restaurants, homesick diners can eat the dishes of their own prefecture, hear the local dialect, and later sing local songs in the karaoke.
[8] David Dodge, The Poor Man’s Guide to the Orient (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965)  —  http://www.amazon.com/The-poor-mans-guide-Orient/dp/B0006BMURE.     Dodge wrote the script for the Hitchcock thriller “To Catch a Thief,” featuring Grace Kelly.
[9] Sushi Dictionary — Nigirizushi Kansatsu Gakka, Besuto obu sushi in pocket  ベストオブすし : In pocket   (Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1997)  http://www.worldcat.org/title/besuto-obu-sushi-in-pocket/oclc/673251795&referer=brief_results
[10] Charles Campion, “Return of the kitchen warrior; All chefs yearn for a set of top-quality knives but the best come at a steep price,” Financial Times, October 16, 2010. Feature profiling high-quality Japanese chef’s knives, which can sell for as much as £499 apiece in upscale London cutlery shops.
[11] Michiyo Nakamoto, “Japan’s healthy eating, with a side of McDonald’s fries,”  Financial Times, February 10, 2010. Reports that McDonald’s hamburgers continue to sell well in Japan: “Japanese health officials have been sounding the alarm about rising obesity, bu if McDonald’s success is any indication, Japanese consumers are clearly not listening.”
. [12] Kimiko Barber, “Zen and the art of vegetarian cooking; A meditation course in Japan offers an understanding of Buddhist cuisine,” Financial Times, September 27, 2010 A retreat at Eihei-ji Temple, Kyoto, gives the author an insight into the cuisine inspired by 13th century monk Dogen, author of a manual in which the rules of shojin ryori were spelled out.,


49 thoughts on “Japanese Cuisine 日本 料理

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