Meiji Cuisine History




  

Meiji the Great



Japanese cuisine has developed over the past 2,000 years with strong influences from both China and Korea. But it is only in the last 300-400 years that all the influences have come together to form what nowadays can be described as Japanese cuisine.

One of the major influences was the introduction of rice from Korea around 400 B.C. and within a hundred years it had become the staple food of Japan. Korea's rice growing techniques were passed on to the Japanese during the Yayoi period, as migrating tribes settled in Japan. Rice later came to be used not only for eating, but also to make paper, wine, fuel, building materials and so on. Soy beans and wheat were introduced from China soon after rice and these two ingredients are now an integral part of Japanese cooking. During Japan's development, tea, chopsticks and a number of other important food related items were also introduced from China.

Religion has also played a major part in Japan's culinary development. During the 6th century, Buddhism became the official religion of the country and the eating of meat and fish were prohibited. The first recorded decree prohibiting the eating of cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys, and chickens was issued by Emperor Temmu in A.D. 675. Similar decrees, based on the Buddhist prohibition of killing, were issued repeatedly by emperors during the eighth and ninth centuries. The number of regulated meats increased to the point that all mammals were included except whales, which were categorized as fish.

The taboo against the consumption of meat developed further when the Japanese indigenous religion, Shinto, also adopted a philosophy similar to that of the Buddhists. This did not mean, however, that meat eating was totally banned in Japan. Professional hunters in mountain regions ate game (especially deer and wild boar), and it was not uncommon for hunted bird meat to be consumed. However, a lack of animal breeding for meat kept its consumption very low. Indeed, it was only during the fifteenth century and its aftermath that the tradition of eating both the meat and eggs of domestic fowl was revived. Fowls, until then, had been regarded in Shinto as God's sacred messengers and were reared to announce the dawn rather than as a mere food resource.

In the sixteenth century the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, began to introduce foods that were adopted by the Japanese and later became cultural symbols. Fried foods such as tempura might seem to be very un-Japanese as a lack of meat and dairy products in the Japanese diet meant that oil was not commonly used for cooking. However, tempura was enjoyed by many people and has evolved into what it is today. Tobacco, sugar and corn were also brought by the traders.

In the sixteenth century the foreign influence of Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, began to introduce Western foods that were adopted by the Japanese locals and later became cultural symbols. Fried foods such as tempura might seem to be very un-Japanese. ..as a lack of meat and dairy products in the Japanese diet meant that cooking oil was not commonly used for cooking.

However, tempura was enjoyed by locals and has evolved into what it is today. Tobacco, sugar and corn were also brought by the Western traders. Trade was renewed, in 1854, with the West and soon a new Japanese ruling order took power. The new Emperor Meiji even went as far as staging a New Year's feast in 1872 designed to embrace the Western modern world.



The locals publicly ate meat after this evernt. The general population started to eat meat again after the Meiji Restoration which occurred in 1867. Emperor Meiji enjoyed beef and other meat dishes. Following this Meiji declaration, it became a custom of the official Japanese court to entertain international Weterners with formal dinner parties at which French fine cuisine was served, and the traditional taboo against meat eating disappeared rather quickly.

The first Japanese popular meat dish was usually boiled, thinly sliced & boiled meat served with tofu and leeks. It was seasoned with black soya sauce and sugar and later became known as "Sukiyaki". Yet Western cuisine in general was reserved for special occasions and was prepared exclusively by professional chefs; Although the number of Western restaurants in big Japanese cities increased, Western cuisine was noy commonly adopted in Japanese diets homes.

Emperor Meiji also organized a New Year’s feast in the year 1872 to strengthen the trade relations with the modern Western world. The feast had a European emphasis.