Global Expansion of Washoku: Charm of Authentic Japanese Food Should be Promoted Overseas

The number of Japanese restaurants overseas continues to increase. Hopefully, this will help many foreigners learn about the authentic taste of Japanese food and the attractions of this nation.

According to a survey conducted every two years by the government, the number of Japanese restaurants overseas has increased to about 187,000, up from 55,000 in 2013, more than tripling in 10 years.

Many foreigners cite eating Japanese food as a reason for visiting Japan. The increase in the number of people who have actually visited Japan and learned about the authentic taste of Japanese food may have laid the groundwork for Japanese restaurants to spread overseas.

Japanese food, or washoku, makes use of a diverse range of fresh ingredients and was registered on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013 for its good nutritional balance and other reasons. This registration seems to have provided a tailwind. The expansion of opportunities for foreigners to eat Japanese food would also help promote better understanding of Japan.

In anticipation of a shrinking domestic market, the Japanese restaurant industry has been focusing on overseas expansion.

Chikaranomoto Holdings, Ltd., which operates the Ippudo restaurant chain of pork bone broth ramen noodles, has a similar number of restaurants overseas and in Japan, and its domestic and overseas sales are also in a similar range. With an eye on expanding into Islamic countries and other regions, the company is developing a menu for Muslims, who do not eat pork.

Asahi Shuzo Co., known for its sake Dassai, began producing sake in the United States this year using local water. Demand for sake is growing in the United States due to the boom in Japanese food, and the company aims to quickly ascertain local needs and expand its sales channels.

However, many Japanese restaurants overseas are run by local people. Some dishes have become well-established in Japan, such as the California sushi roll born in the United States, but there are many restaurants that offer items that are dubious as to whether they are really “Japanese food.”

Many foreigners who visit Japan are surprised to learn the differences between the Japanese food in their home countries and Japan, as well as the delicious flavor of authentic Japanese meals. There is still much room for improvement, it can be said, in Japanese restaurants overseas.

In the past, the government attempted to create a certification system for restaurants that serve “proper Japanese food,” but the idea was criticized by Western media and was dropped.

Rather than the government taking the lead, it is important to increase the number of Japanese food artisans who want to expand overseas and foreigners who want to promote Japanese food in their own countries. Some Japanese who own restaurants in foreign countries have taught their skills to local people and nurtured them as food artisans.

Such measures as accepting foreigners into Japanese food cooking schools and helping Japanese nationals to obtain working visas and open restaurants overseas must also be strengthened.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 5, 2023)