Japan - A Country Rich in Food Culture

Examples of Food Culture Research
and Initiatives to Promote
and Sustain Food Culture Heritage

Yamagata Prefecture: Initiatives by UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy Tsuruoka

Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture

With a varied landscape that stretches from lofty peaks to the vast Shonai Plain and on to the Sea of Japan, the city of Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture is endowed with the bounties of both the mountains and the sea, resulting in the development of a rich food culture. Dewa Sanzan, the three sacred mountains of Dewa, have been a pilgrimage site for adherents of the tradition of mountain worship known as Shugendo for more than 1,400 years. The heritage of this rich natural environment and the culinary blessings of the mountains still live on today in the form of the vegetarian cuisine termed “survival shojin ryori,” along with countless celebration foods and traditional dishes served in homes partly to mark festive occasions and partly as an expression of spirituality. In addition, for several hundred years, local farmers have cultivated more than 60 different kinds of heirloom vegetables, ensuring that these precious varieties still remain living cultural assets today. It was this food culture and historical background that led to Tsuruoka City being designated as Japan’s only UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in December 2014.

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Fukui Prefecture: Obama City’s Ordinance for City Planning with Food and Operation of Miketsukuni Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum

Obama City, Fukui Prefecture

In days gone by, Obama was the capital of Wakasa Province and was designated as a miketsukuni—a region providing the Imperial Court with offerings of food, which in Obama’s case took the form of salt and seafood. It was also the starting point for the Saba-kaido, or Mackerel Highway, via which fish and shellfish were transported to Kyoto. In April 2002, tapping into this food-related history and culture, Obama City became the first city in Japan to enact an Ordinance for City Planning with Food. The following year, it opened the Miketsukuni Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum, which not only introduces the area’s food history, but also delivers educational programs focused on food and diet (shokuiku). In addition, the city is promoting city planning centered on food culture. Among its initiatives in this area are surveys of people involved in the food sector to certify individuals as Food Maestros and Food Storytellers, who help to promote shokuiku and spread the word about food culture. It has also designated as intangible cultural properties the food processing techniques for producing heshiko and narezushi—heshiko being salted mackerel pickled with sake lees, which is then pickled in malted rice to produce narezushi—which are without parallel elsewhere in Japan.

Ordinance for City Planning with Food >

Miketsukuni Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum >

Nagano Prefecture: Prefectural government food culture initiatives including Oishii Shinshu Food and the Shinshu Traditional Vegetable Certification System

Nagano Prefecture

Through its Oishii (Delicious) Shinshu Food initiative, Nagano Prefecture is spreading the word far and wide about the value of the farm and marine produce nurtured by the Shinshu region’s rich natural environment, along with processed foods made from major Shinshu-produced items and local cuisine with roots in the traditional lifestyle of the Shinshu region. Within this initiative, a carefully curated selection of foods have been branded, while local vegetables accredited under the Shinshu Traditional Vegetable Certification System and local cuisine and food culture designated by the prefecture as intangible folk cultural properties (including soba noodles, oyaki buns, gohei-mochi rice cakes, mannen-zushi pickled freshwater fish sushi from Otaki Village, and hayasoba (radish soba noodles)) are positioned as part of the prefecture’s heritage. Established in 2006, the Shinshu Traditional Vegetable Certification System sees varieties that meet certain criteria selected as Shinshu Traditional Vegetables. In addition, the scheme awards Traditional Vegetable Heritage Area Cultivation certification to such vegetables that have continued to be cultivated in their traditional area and producer groups that meet certain criteria, thereby preserving these varieties and passing them on to the next generation.

Oishii Shinshu Food >

Shinshu Traditional Vegetables >

Developing Japanese food culture by publishing the Complete Japanese Cuisine series and organizing the Japanese Culinary Academy Certification program

Japanese Culinary Academy

The Japanese Culinary Academy was established in 2004 to promote the development of Japanese cuisine and to contribute to fostering understanding of Japanese food culture and enhancing its appeal. One of its initiatives to promote the development of Japanese cuisine is the publication of the Complete Japanese Cuisine series, which teaches the essence of Japanese cuisine, including not only the techniques required for making Japanese food, but also the reasons why its characteristic flavors are produced and why such cooking methods are used. It also runs the Japanese Culinary Academy Certification program, which assesses Japanese culinary proficiency in terms of both knowledge and skill, certifying those who pass as possessing competency in Japanese culinary techniques. Its other activities include community-based shokuiku programs in regional areas, aimed at passing Japanese food culture on to the next generation, as well as exchange programs with chefs around the world and skills enhancement programs for young Japanese chefs.

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Activities aimed at promoting food culture research and the expansion of international exchange and regional regeneration through food culture

Society of Japanese Food Studies

The Society of Japanese Food Studies is an academic society that aims to integrate various disciplines focused on Japanese cuisine and food culture to establish Japanese food culture studies as a field of scholarship. The Society’s goal in doing so is to present a roadmap for resolving the diverse array of food-related issues faced by modern society. Since its establishment in February 2018, the Society has worked with not only experts from universities and research institutes, but also food stakeholders involved in the production, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food. Through this, it aims to develop food culture from a global perspective and pass it on to future generations, while transcending the boundaries between conventional academic disciplines. With a view to resolving these issues, the Society holds academic conferences, implements international collaboration and exchange programs, undertakes planning and coordination through partnerships with various food culture-related organizations across the country, and publishes the Journal of the Society Japanese food studies.

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Passing on Kyoto’s Intangible Cultural Heritage:Cherishing its spirit; preserving its heritage of wisdom and flavors

Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture

Kyoto City has founded the Intangible Cultural Heritage Connecting Kyoto system to help people rediscover and gain a renewed awareness of the value of the intangible cultural heritage that their forebears have bequeathed to them. In 2013, Food culture of Kyoto was selected as the first example of intangible cultural heritage under the system. At a time when values relating to food are being utterly transformed, the purpose of doing so was to pass on to future generations the food culture fostered over the course of the city’s long history, while further expanding initiatives already being undertaken through family meals and school lunches, which are the starting point of diet. Key elements of this food culture include the importance of valuing ingredients and not wasting them, as epitomized by the term “mottainai,” as well as the significance of seasonality in food, the “one soup and three dishes” structure of meals, and the umami of dashi stock. In 2017, Confectionery culture of Kyoto was also selected, with the aim of passing on to future generations the culture of enjoying sweets with tea, providing opportunities for communication and appreciating the passing of the seasons.

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Creating a culture that values food —Learning, Cultivating, Creating, Connecting— Education about Kirishima food in Kirishima

Kirishima Shokuiku Kenkyukai

The Kirishima Shokuiku Kenkyukai offers hands-on food and agriculture experiences in the great outdoors, preserves the heritage of local cuisine to pass on to the younger generation, and holds shokuiku seminars and lectures, with the objective of creating a culture that values food in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture. The institute also puts together texts featuring recipes and know-how about these activities, which it promotes and makes available to a wide readership both inside and outside Kirishima. In addition, it records local food and farming techniques, along with the thoughts of people involved in these sectors. As of the end of 2020, it had organized more than 1,000 events, over half of which were accounted for by its twice-monthly Kagoshima Local Cuisine Meister Course and its monthly Kirishima Food Heritage Preservation School. The institute’s achievements are regularly featured in local newspapers and on television, thereby raising awareness within the prefecture. In December 2020, the group published Local Cuisine for Beginners: Recipes Encapsulating the Spirit of Kagoshima.

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Field studies covering the whole of Japan:A food culture program co-created with local chefs and food producers

GEN(Genuine Education Network) (Administration Bureau of the Food Culture Creation Education Committee)

Since 2014, GEN(Genuine Education Network) has been offering residential field study programs providing a comprehensive education in Japanese food culture for researchers and journalists. In 2019, it began offering similar programs for top-class chefs from across the globe. Attracting participants from more than 30 countries around the world, these international study programs focused on Japanese food culture provide an opportunity for those involved to gain an understanding of the traditional knowledge underpinning Japan’s sustainable food culture, while enabling people from around the world and people from Japan’s regions to come together and think about approaches to food that will contribute to solving future environmental problems and achieving the SDGs worldwide. In addition, to spread authentic Japanese food culture in Europe, GEN(Genuine Education Network) also organizes Japanese cuisine classes in local elementary schools and provides educational opportunities for producers of Japanese foods, such as miso and soy sauce.

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Launching a world-first initiative aimed at establishing sakeology as a new academic discipline!

Sakeology Center, Niigata University

Niigata Prefecture, the Niigata Sake Brewers Association, and Niigata University signed a partnership agreement regarding the formation of the new academic discipline of sakeology, encompassing the wide range of cultural and scientific fields relating to Japanese sake. Their objective in doing so was to form an international base for sakeology and to contribute to its development. The Sakeology Center was established at Niigata University and was promoted to the rank of university-wide organization in 2020. Around 50 lecturers from faculties across the university belong to the Center, which also numbers among its members staff from Niigata Prefecture and the Niigata Sake Brewers Association. The Center conducts education and research, disseminates information, and engages in international exchange relating to Japanese sake. It also runs the Knowledge-based Tourism of Sakeology (Exploring Niigata Sake) program.

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