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Updated 04 December 2013

Japanese kids want Big Macs, not rice

Traditional Japanese cuisine is being considered for designation as cultural heritage, but youngsters want fast food.

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Washoku, the traditional cuisine of Japan, is being considered for designation as part of the world's priceless cultural heritage by the UN, but there’s a problem. The younger generation is increasingly eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and McDonald's and not rice.

Among cuisines, only French cooking has been distinguished as a national culinary tradition.

Washoku embraces seasonal ingredients, a unique taste, time consuming preparation and a style of eating steeped in centuries of tradition. At its heart is savoury "umami", recognised as a fundamental taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

The president of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, Isao Kumakura said: “That's a delicate subtle taste, but younger people can't even taste it anymore because they're too used to spicy, oily food."

Fast-food chains ubiquitous

"It's Westernisation. Japanese should be more proud of Japanese culture."

Government data show that annual rice consumption in Japan has fallen 17% over the last 15 years from 944 tons to 779.

Fast-food chains have become ubiquitous in Japan, including Krispy Kreme, Domino's Pizza and the perennial favourite McDonald's. Their reasonable prices and fast service are attracting the stomachs of the workaholic "salaryman" and OL, short for "office lady".

Washoku is always about rice, miso or soy-bean-paste soup, "tsukemono" pickles and usually three dishes – perhaps a slice of grilled salmon, broth-stewed "nimono" vegetables and boiled greens. Washoku is also about design and fancy ceramic and lacquer-ware come in varying sizes, textures and shapes. Food is placed in a decorative fashion, sometimes with inedible items for effect like an autumn leaf.

The exodus from washoku is apparent at Taiwa Gakuen, a Kyoto-based school for chefs, where the biggest number of students wants to learn Italian cuisine, followed by French, but interest in washoku is growing only among overseas students.

 
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