Japanese cuisine: a 19th century invention?

Lecture by Alexis Markovitch, contractual PhD student at Inalco.

What is Japanese cuisine? In France, it is presented to us through the image of representative dishes such as sushi, sashimi, fries tenpura, these big bowls of noodles called ramen or the mochi, these little stuffed rice cakes. But what about the Japanese point of view? When did the very notion of “Japanese cuisine” appear in Japan and on what cultural bases is it based?

Through a historical and linguistic approach, we will see that the concept of "Japanese cuisine" is actually very recent. Indeed, this term was only developed at the end of the 19nd  century in a very specific historical context under different names: nihon ryōri 日本料理 (Japanese cuisine) and washoku 和食†(Japanese meal).

In one case, the image of haute cuisine is evoked – that is to say, a cuisine that values ​​the diversity of dishes, ingredients culturally perceived as valuable as well as a certain aesthetic and particular tastes – which is divided into different sub-categories: kitchens kaiseki (festive cuisine in several services in connection with the tea ceremony), kitchen honzen (stately cuisine centered around sake) and cuisine shojin (vegetable cuisine of Buddhist temples).

We will thus present the history of these major culinary categories, their differences, but also the selection processes that have made it possible to make these cuisines the representatives of “the” Japanese cuisine to the detriment of other existing patterns.

In the other case, we refer to the fantasized ideal of what the daily diet of all Japanese should be according to very specific rules in terms of nutritional composition of the menu, choice of ingredients, aesthetics, tastes and spatial structure. -time of the meal. Linked to the rise of home cooking at the beginning of the 20nd century, this idea goes beyond the culinary aspect since it also implies perspectives of family ideals, hygiene, health and cultural identities that we will try to define.

During this conference we will detail these different elements of the history of Japanese cuisine which is still too little the subject of academic studies in France and we will thus try to better define this term from the Japanese perspective.



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