A Bitesize History of Japanese Food

Explore a bento box of amazing facts about Japan's iconic cuisine

By Google Arts & Culture


Explore a bento box of facts about Japan's iconic cuisine

Japanese food has won over the hearts (and stomachs) of people all over the world, but the cuisine was originally formed during the 17th century in Edo - now known as the city of Tokyo.

During this time known as the samurai age (1603-1868 CE), the food market grew from the farms to the streets.

By the late Edo period, food prices stabilized and nigiri sushi, tempura, eel, and soba became the fast-foods of the era.

As the Edo population grew in the 18th century, new styles of eating such as yatai (eating while standing at a stall) became popular.

As the Edo period developed, so did people's appreciation for dining, which can be seen throughout Nishiki-e and Ukiyo-e prints.

These genres of Japanese art emerged in the 17th century, showing urban scenes of people socializing around food, often in their homes and restaurants.

The custom of eating eel on the special ushi day in summer was also born during the Edo period.

This salty-sweet dish was praised in the oldest collection of Japanese waka (poetry), Man'yōshū, for its weight loss effects.

Another ancient Japanese tradition is to eat mochi (rice cakes) during new year, which is said to date back to the Heian period (794-1185 CE).

A Japanese food staple is soba - but before we had the noodles, soba was often consumed as dumplings.

Ryōri monogatari (The Story of Food) was the first book published in the 16th century that introduced this method of cutting soba to make the soupy specialty.

Despite nigiri sushi (hand-held sushi) being one of the most popular Japanese dishes today, it was actually oshizushi (squeezed sushi) that was first created.

Did you know that Japanese green tea originally came from China? Matcha, sencha, and gyokuro were later produced in Southern Kyoto as their innovative tea industry developed.

You can't have Japanese cuisine without umami - the fifth taste that combines sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

In 1908, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovered this taste which can be found in many common foods, including tomatoes, cheese, meat, and fish.

From the beginning of Japanese street food in the Edo period to the influence of the cuisine today, the history of these mouth-watering dishes shows that they're more than just a meal.

Credits: All media
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