Traditional Japanese food recognised by cultural body of United Nations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 3:25am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 3:25am


The United Nations cultural organisation has added traditional Japanese food to its cultural heritage list, making it only the second national cuisine to receive the prized designation.

A Unesco committee announced the decision on Wednesday at a meeting in Azerbaijan. Previously, only French cooking had been distinguished as a national culinary tradition.

Known as washoku, Japan's traditional cooking embraces seasonal ingredients, a unique taste and a style of eating steeped in centuries of tradition.

Japan hopes that Unesco recognition will both send a global message and boost efforts to save washoku at home.

Purists fear that Japanese are turning away from the often time-consuming traditional cooking, as fast food and western cuisine become more popular and people lead busier lives. At its heart is savory umami, recognised as a fundamental taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

"That's a delicate, subtle taste. But younger people can't even taste it anymore because they're too used to spicy oily food," said Isao Kumakura, president of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, who led the drive to get washoku recognised. "It's Westernization. Japanese should be more proud of Japanese culture."

Kumakura believes Unesco recognition will send a global message and boost efforts to save washoku, a fight that faces serious challenges.

Annual rice consumption in Japan has fallen 17 per cent over the last 15 years to 7.81 million tonnes from 9.44 million tons, according to government data.

Fast-food chains have become ubiquitous in Japan, including Krispy Kreme, Domino's Pizza and McDonald's.