Japanese Cuisine Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

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Japan's geographic location and isolation have been the main driving forces behind the development of Japanese cuisine. Japan's climate is similar to that of California, and thus excellent for farming. Rice has been the chief Japanese crop since ancient times, in fact about half of Japan's arable land is devoted to growing rice. In the modern era, Japanese beef spiked in popularity and livestock farming has grown exponentially. Japan is also famous for sushi. In fact, Japan is home to only 1.7 percent of the world's population but accounts for about 8 percent of the world's fishing. People in Japan eat more than 150 pounds of fish per year, of course not all of it raw, but their sushi culture is a huge driver for seafood consumption.

Because it shares no land borders, Japanese cuisine has been less influenced by the food customs of other nations than most places in the world. Nevertheless, some significant examples of foreign influence have been adopted and refined by the Japanese over the years. In fact, around 300 B.C. was when the Japanese learned to cultivate rice. Rice culture was brought to Japan by the Chinese. The use of chopsticks, soy sauce and tofu also came from China. Around the year 1200, trade with European countries began bringing Western-style influences to Japanese cuisine. The Europeans introduced Japan to corn, potatoes and a style of batter frying later renamed tempura. In the modern era, Western foods such as bread, coffee, and ice cream become popular. However, even with these foreign influences the Japanese remain devoted to their classic culinary traditions.

Japanese food cultures tends to avoid packaged food items and instead favors fresh ingredients and home cooking. Fresh, seasonal, local Japanese foods, along with rice, are the main ingredients for their meals. Perhaps this is one reason why Japanese people live long lives and have low rates of heart disease. In addition to eating healthy, the Japanese are famous for their unrivaled skills in arranging food so that it looks beautiful on the plate. As Japanese food is ultra-healthy and beautiful to look at, perhaps more of our food culture should mimic their longstanding practices.

Japanese Rice and Noodles
Rice and noodles are two primary staples of Japanese cuisine. Rice is commonly served at every meal throughout the country. Noodles come in many varieties, including soba (brown noodles made from buckwheat flour), udon (white noodles made from wheat flour) and ramen (thin noodles made from wheat flour).

Japanese Tea
Green tea is the national beverage of Japan, typcially enjoyed hot. Iced green tea is making inroads and is increasingly popular in warmer climates. Japanese green tea is available in two main formats: Sencha (loose leaf) and Matcha (powder). With Matcha tea, tea leaves grow in the shade in a region called Kagoshima. The leaves are dried and powdered during production. To make the Matcha tea beverage, the powder is whisked into hot water. Therefore when drinking Matcha you are consuming the whole tea leaf. For brewed Sencha tea, the tea grows in the full sun. The Sencha tea leaves are steamed during processing. To consume Sencha tea, you steep the leaves in hot water, so in drinking Sencha you throw away most of the tea leaf. Matcha tea is quite expensive compared to Sencha, so it should be no surprise that Sencha is much more popular throughout Japan.

Seafood, Soy Sauce and Tofu
Two popular ways to serve and enjoy seafood in Japan are sushi and sashimi. Sushi and sahimi incorporate rice and nori (dried seaweed) onto the plate, along with soy sauce. Soy sauce and other Japanese soybean products, including miso and tofu, are indispensible items in Japanese food culture. Other common ingredients in Japanese food include bamboo shoots, pickled ginger and sesame seed oil.

Kobe Beef
Kobe Beef is an ultra-premium beef from the Hyogo prefecture. Kobe Beef is a delicacy in Japan and around the world, famous for its tenderness, exquisite juicy flavor, and intense marbling. Special cattle of the breed Tajima (Wagyu is a Japanese word simply meaning Japanese Cattle) are the source of this premium Japanese meat. Due to the mountainous terrain and limited land availability in the Hyogo prefecture, the breeding of Tajima Wagyu developed qualities in their beef that differed from other breeds of cattle. Kobe is a superb cut of beef considered by many to be the best in the world.

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