Western Food Comes to Japan

Spiritually, Japan is mostly Buddhist and Shinto (though the exact spiritual culture of the country is an entirely different discussion), and so, until the mid-19th century, people were not allowed to raised animals for slaughter. 

In the 1600’s, Japan decided that, in order to prevent the invasion of Catholicism (from Portugal), and Western politics, it would close trade to all Western countries (except Holland, which wasn’t a Catholic society, and already had a small population living on the islands.) The next two centuries were called sakoku (鎖国), meaning “chained/closed country.” This period in the 1850’s with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry. 

Sent by the United States, Perry threatened to attack Japan with battleships if the emperor did not open the country’s trading ports to the west. The emperor complied, and the Americans settled Hakodate and Nagasaki. They employed Japanese youth to help in the kitchens, teaching them how to make Western food. These newly trained chefs then went to work for the Japanese elite, and thus Western food spread into society, from the coast to the center, and the elite to the populace. 

Other aspects of Western cultures followed, religion not necessarily among them (less than 1% of the population is Christian today.) The elite held regular European style banquets, showing off elaborate French menus and British outfits, and parading Western status symbols to the public. From there, Western culture trickled down to the masses, and morphed into a uniquely Japanese interpretation (walk the streets of the fashion districts, or find an isolated pub to see.) 


The Japanese, by Edwin Reischauer

My question is, why do you think Western food and culture were so popular at the time?

Drink History: Our First Beverage

Fun fact: the first beverage invented by humans was beer.

Where and when? The land between the Tigris and Euphrates, Mesopotamia. It is first recorded in Sumer, a region of southern Mesopotamia, 3400 BCE.

How? Beer, like many of the best inventions, was an accident. A very, very, happy one. In essence, beer is liquid bread, and bread is solid, baked beer (if it’s yeasted bread.) In the case of beer, the yeast and sugar produce carbon dioxide and alcohol that we consume. In the case of leavened bread, the alcohol bakes out and the CO2 bubbles expand, causing the bread to rise (or crack if you don’t do it right.)

When people starting cultivating grains, they gradually discovered its special properties. One was that gruel, a porridge of water and wheat, when left long enough, would ferment and become fizzy (and boozy!) Beer was discovered naturally, and then people began to tamper with it, making a variety of happy accidents that weren’t always very accidental, and sometimes, probably not very happy, either. 

For a long time, because people couldn’t filter or clean their water, they drank beer the way we drink anything but beer today! (Imagine being drunk all day, every day. It’s like 5 o'clock somewhere…all day long?) Though this may not have been the healthiest thing, it was the most sanitary, as you have to boil water to brew beer, killing the bacteria. 

Then coffee came along and took over. But that’s another story.

Also useful was how it contributed to the invention of soda. Though, our teeth probably aren’t too happy about that! 

Soda water was invented from the beer brewing process much later in history (in England, in 1767, when Joseph Priestley discovered that he could harness the gas produced from beer fermentation.)

It’s overwhelming to think of everything beer has done for societies around the world. And other types of beverages, too (more coffee posts coming later!)


A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage