Traditional washoku cuisine is catching on abroad, yet in the country of its origin its future prospects are not so tasty.
Seasoning makers, who create key ingredients for washoku, have apparently come up with a solution: initiate children into the world of washoku from early on.
The companies are offering to send representatives to visit elementary schools hoping that they will increase children’s familiarity with traditional seasonings as they struggle against the continuing Westernization of culinary life.
Meanwhile, schools are embracing this gastronomical initiative as an opportunity for children to think about the importance of food while learning the washoku tradition.
In November, around 20 first graders at Higashirokugo Elementary School in Tokyo’s Ota Ward took part in a visit by Yamaki Co., a producer of dried bonito shavings.
The lecturer explained the process of making dried bonito shavings, from boiling raw bonito and removing the bones to smoking and drying. The children tried shaving the dried bonito themselves with a food shaver.
In the past, whole dried bonito was a familiar sight in kitchens, as mothers doing the cooking would shave it as a normal chore. However, this was the first time for these children to see a whole dried bonito before it underwent the shaving process.
In a taste comparison aimed at proving dried bonito shavings’ worth as a food ingredient, each of the children was given two cups of miso soup, one with bonito shavings and the other without. From their reactions, the children were apparently convinced that the bonito flavor makes a difference.
“I think that bonito shavings make it taste better,” one of them said.
“Fewer and fewer families make dashi (flavored stock) using dried bonito shavings, but I want to make it known that dashi is the basis of washoku’s deliciousness,” said Yuko Suzuki, a public relations official at Yamaki.
The students’ teacher, Masami Miyazaki, expressed hope the students will remember what they learned in the lesson when drinking miso soup and eating dishes using dried bonito shavings.
Kikkoman Corp., a soy sauce maker, has been involved in providing elementary school visits for children since 2005. So far, the visits have involved more than 800 schools across the country and were attended by a total of more than 60,000 children.
In early December, a third-grade class of 30 pupils at Nakane Elementary School in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward received a visit. When asked in which products they thought soy sauce is used, the children gave correct answers, including senbei rice crackers, cupped ramen noodles and seasoned nori seaweed laver. However, they were surprised to learn soy sauce is contained in one unexpected item — boil-in-the-bag curry.
The class also watched a video showing how soy sauce is produced, from the process of preparing raw materials to bottling.
“I didn’t know making soy sauce takes as long as six months,” one pupil said.
Revealing a little-known use for soy sauce, the lecturer told the children that a drop on vanilla ice cream would offset the sweetness.
“I’ll try it on ice cream today,” one of the children responded.
According to Hirotaka Okamura, the man in charge of Kikkoman’s guest lesson program, the company is receiving an increasing number of inquiries from schools about the program.
In the summer vacation season last year, Marukome Co., a miso maker, gave guest lessons at three locations in Tokyo, providing children and parents with the opportunity to sample miso’s variety of taste and flavor. The event attracted a total of around 1,200 participants.