Japanese Foods Boom (日本食ブーム)

The Japanese foods boom indicates the situation that Japanese food is extolled by foreigners living in countries and regions other than Japan

According to the data released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in November, 2006, the number of Japanese restaurants stood at 10,000 in North America and between 15,000 and 20,000 in the rest, totaling from 25,000 to 30,000 worldwide.

What is the "Nihon-shoku restaurant?"

"Nihon-shoku restaurant" is a Japanese equivalent of English "Japanese Restaurant," which refers to the restaurant serving Japanese foods in countries and regions other than Japan,. The term "Nihon-shoku restaurant" is not used in Japan. The concept of Japanese foods stated herein is broader than that of Japanese cuisine or Japanese style dishes for its various menu. The terms "Japanese cuisine" and "Japanese style dishes" implicate the 'traditional' Japanese cuisine. However, Japanese restaurants overseas serve not only Japanese dishes with tradition and history, but also relatively new dishes ranging from teppanyaki (foods grilled on an iron plate), teriyaki (grilling with soy sauce and sugar), curry and rice, pork cutlet on rice and ramen (Chinese soup noodle) to American-style sushi roll like California roll, which were created by mixing various ideas extracted from the foods culture of Japan and others. This situation suggests that applying the Japanese equivalent "Nihon-ryori-ten" (restaurant serving traditional Japanese cuisine) to the English "Japanese Restaurant" is inconsistent, with the result that the Japanese term "Nihon-shoku restaurant" was seemingly created spontaneously.

However, people in the cultural areas other than Japan pay little attention to the traditional and historical backgrounds of the foods, equating "traditional Japanese cuisine" and "Japanese style dishes" with "Japanese cuisine" or "Japanese food."

With the popularization of sushi, some Asian foods restaurants have set up a sushi bar, naming themselves "〇〇Chinese Restaurant & Sushi Bar" or "Korean Barbecue & Sushi Bar." Similarly, some seafood restaurants have listed sushi and sashimi (fresh slices of raw fish) on the menu.

Moreover, some managers of restaurant blatantly insert the name of their hometown in that of their restaurants, such as Sushi Siam (Siam is an old name of Thailand) or Sushi Saigon.

The foods served at restaurants entitled 'Japanese restaurant' are infinitely various, which may suggest the advent of a borderless age.

Foods served at Japanese restaurant

Most restaurants list sushi on the menu as their prime food. However, the U.S. designed American-style sushi roll like California roll accounts for about 80 percent of the order for sushi, while nigirizushi (sushi shaped by hand), a traditional sushi in Japan, accounts for 20 percent. Tempura (Japanese deep-fried dish), teriyaki of chicken or salmon, teppanyaki, yakitori (grilled chicken), udon (Japanese wheat noodle), soba (buckwheat noodle), shabushabu (a hot-pot dish of thinly sliced meat), yakiniku (grilled meat), ramen, curry and rice, and semi-Western cooking (called "fusion") are also listed on the menu.


With the rapid economic growth in Japan, Japanese restaurants were opened worldwide one after another in the 1950s. However, only representatives working at overseas branches of Japanese companies, Japanese tourists, and Japanese descents living overseas visited those restaurants.

As Teppanyaki served at Benihana Restaurant opened in New York in 1964 became popular by targeting the American, Benihana Corp. opened similar restaurants one after another all over the United States. However, this popularity was not called a boom because teppanyaki was not regarded as an original Japanese cuisine.

The situation changed in around 1976, when the American were preoccupied with a health trend, showing deep interest in the healthy eating habits. In Los Angeles, eating sushi at Japanese restaurants was valued as an up-to-date lifestyle. The driving force of this trend was the people belonging to the higher-income bracket, such as movie stars, singers, lawyers and doctors. Leapfrogging to New York all at once, the trend finally spread all over the U.S. in the beginning of the 1980s, when the mass media started to deal with the phenomenon eagerly. As a result, this trend came to be called "Sushi boom". Although the trend was newly called "Sushi boom," the sushi that the American mainly ate in those days was American-style sushi roll like California roll designed in the United States. The American at present prefer American-style sushi roll as before.

The boom was accelerated following the announcement of "Dietary guidelines in the U.S." (a guidance aimed at improving the dietary habits) by the federal government in 1977. Amid the loud calls for reducing the medical expense to reduce the budget deficit, the federal government exhorted the nation to decrease the intake of fat and cholesterol as well as to take lots of proteins and carbohydrates. As the dietary habits exhorted in the guideline completely agreed with those of the Japanese descents, Japanese foods came to attract considerable attention.

On the other hand, it was a favorable wind for the sushi boom that the reliability on the Japanese-made products was fostered in the minds of American, which was realized through the appreciation for the high-quality of the high-tech products made in Japan such as automobiles, cameras and home appliances.

The sushi boom in the United States spread across Europe in the late 1980s, and then spread to Latin America, the Middle East, Asian countries, and Australia and so on. Because the boom started from the United States, customers in each country mainly ordered the American-style sushi roll like those in the United States. People visiting the sushi restaurant came to show their interests not only in sushi but also in other Japanese foods, with the result that the sushi boom developed into the boom of all Japanese foods.

Local production of ingredients

The expansion of the Japanese foods boom enhanced the local production of the ingredients used for cooking or tasting Japanese foods, realizing the production of soy sauce, miso (bean paste), tofu (bean curd), sake (Japanese liquor), beer, etc. in the United States, Australia and other countries. These foodstuffs are exported to various areas like Europe along with the rice produced in the United States.

The sake boom

The American who were unsatisfied with the sake produced in the United States came to drink jizake (local sake) produced in Japan, which has triggered the jizake boom since around 1997. The jizake boom increased the demands for dishes matching jizake, particularly semi-Western cooking called "fusion dishes," which resulted in extending the repertory of Japanese foods menu.

Problems and the countermeasures

The manager and the chef of Japanese restaurant overseas are mostly local people. Not knowing the food culture of Japan, they are apt to serve the dishes quite different from original Japanese foods. Moreover, the deficiency of the basic cooking technique peculiar to the Japanese foods not only brings the deterioration in the quality of foods, but also raises concerns over food safety.

With the announcement of a draft titled 'A certification system for Japanese restaurants overseas' in the autumn of 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, aiming to improve these situations, tried to issue a recommendation mark to the restaurants which were certified (later, the ministry changed its stance from certified to recommended) by the ministry for serving original Japanese foods. However, the ministry was forced to abandon the draft due to the rebuff from Chinese and South Korean managers living in the United States. Then, changing its policy to putting emphasis on the spread and enlightenment of Japanese foods and ingredients, the ministry established a nonprofit organization 'Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad', an extra-departmental organization of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in 2007, allowing its branch offices to start work in the main overseas cities.

[Original Japanese]