Japanese cuisine has been influenced since before the birth of Christ from both Korea and China. However; is been during the past few centuries that that all the influences have merged together and formed what we now perceive as Japanese cooking.
One of the main influences was the introduction of rice into Japan around 400 B.C. from Korea. During the Yayoi period, the Koreans method of growing rice was passed on by way of migrating tribes that came to settle in Japan. It is believed that wheat and soy beans were introduced to Japan from China not long after rice and these ingredients remain integral to Japanese cuisine.
Japan’s culinary progress has also seen religion play an important role. Buddhism became the representative religion of the country sometime in the 6th century and this saw the prohibition of the eating of fish and meat. In later centuries fish was re-introduced however during these times nearly all mammals were included in a decree which prevented the consumption of meat.
Due to the lack of meat in the Japanese diet, certain spices such as pepper, cloves and garlic that we now use in many popular dishes to compliment it, were lacking in their cuisine although it had been imported into the country they were instead used for the production of make-up and medicine.
It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that the eating of meat was revived, however; as there had been a lack of breeding of animals for their meat and with the Shinto religion believing that fowl were the sacred messengers of God and reared only to announce the coming of a new day at dawn, fish became the most eaten food in Japan.
Due to Japan being an island nation and with the absence of meat from their diet the Japanese used their readily available source of fish and in time the ability to preserve fish by fermenting it within boiled rice became popular and with this became the origin of Sushi (Salted fish that are placed in the boiled rice are then preserved by way of lactic acid fermentation as this prevents proliferation of any bacteria which would otherwise cause putrefaction).
With a lack of meat and dairy in the Japanese diet, oil was not often used in cooking, however during the 16th Century, the Portuguese introduced frying to their culture and “tempura” which involves deep frying and battering seafood and vegetables quickly became a popular way to cook.
In today’s society we have seen the cooking methods used by the Japanese become popular, we are happy to deep fry or batter most things (this has even included chocolate and caramel with deep fried Mars Bars available!) with “Cod & Chips” remaining a firm favourite and classed as a “traditional British food” and we will couple rice with almost anything!
Also with the ability we have now for most foods to be transported worldwide we are able to benefit from spices, herbs, fish and much more unique to Japan being readily available in our supermarkets. We have also become more health conscious than ever before and we have recognised that cuisine from other parts of the world can be more beneficial health wise than traditional British food.
In respect of Japanese cuisine this is especially evident with the increase of Japanese restaurants offering sushi as a “fast food”. In Japan it remains in their culture as what we would class a “main meal” however in Britain is mainly seen as a starter or compliment to a main meal and for some regarded as a “healthy snack alternative”.