Japan cuisine set for UNESCO listing

Japan cuisine set for UNESCO listing
Chef Yoshihiro Murata smiles in Minato Ward, Tokyo, early Wednesday after hearing that traditional Japanese cuisine is set to get world heritage recognition.

Washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, is expected to be listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage asset in December, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency.

The cuisine is noted for its delicate presentation of a variety of seasonal ingredients, enriched by Japan's geographical features as an archipelago stretching from north to south through the temperate zone.

A UNESCO organisation tasked with screening cultural asset candidates has recommend that "Washoku: Traditional Dietary Cultures of the Japanese" be listed as an intangible cultural heritage asset, agency officials said Tuesday. As no recommendation by the body has ever been turned down, the cuisine's registration is all but certain at the meeting of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Intangible Cultural Committee to be held in Azerbaijan in December.

If it is officially listed, it will be the fifth intangible cultural heritage asset concerning food culture, following the "Gastronomic Meal of the French;" the "Mediterranean Diet" of Spain, Greece, Italy and Morocco; "Traditional Mexican Cuisine;" and the "Ceremonial Keskek Tradition" of Turkey.

"It will be of major significance if washoku is globally recognised at a time when Japan is scheduled to host the Olympics," said Yukio Hattori, president of the Hattori Nutrition College in Tokyo. "Since the nuclear crisis [at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant began in 2011], exports of Japanese agricultural products have been battered. I hope this registration will promote Japanese food abroad."

According to recommendation papers prepared by Japan, washoku is a set of social customs closely related to such annual events as the New Year's holidays and rice-planting.

Currently 21 Japanese items, including "Kabuki Theater," "Nogaku Theater" and traditional folk performance of various areas, are listed as intangible cultural heritage assets. UNESCO aims to protect social customs, rituals, traditional craftsmanship and other traditions and living expressions inherited from worldwide ancestors by registering them on the list. Japan proposed the listing of its traditional food in March last year.

Culinary experts are welcoming the news.

"I'm so happy the achievements washoku has made thus far have been recognised, especially when I thought it would be difficult for washoku to be listed," said Isao Kumakura, a Japanese cuisine expert and president of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture.

Yoshihiro Murata, owner and chef of Kikunoi, a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kyoto, said: "The registration would give the whole nation an impetus to preserve traditional Japanese culinary culture. I hope it will provide a chance for Japanese people to acquire interests in it, such as by prompting people to learn from older women how to cook Japanese food."

Murata also serves as director of the Japanese Culinary Academy, a nonprofit organisation that has urged the government to recommend washoku as an intangible cultural heritage asset.

Kumakura, however, said Japan will face some challenges in passing on traditional tastes to future generations. "We have a low food self-sufficiency rate in Japan. I think we have to use the opportunity to learn about our own food culture and renew our efforts to pass this food culture on to future generations," he said.

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