'Washoku' expected to be added to heritage list

UNESCO to recognize Japanese food culture


“Washoku” — traditional Japanese cuisine — is now likely to be designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

A UNESCO body that screens cultural asset candidates has recommended that “washoku, traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese,” gain the status, the Cultural Affairs Agency said Tuesday.

An intergovernmental panel is expected to make a final decision on listing the Japanese food culture at a meeting in Azerbaijan in early December.

Currently, 21 Japanese assets, all designated as important cultural assets by the government, are on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Washoku would be the first Japanese asset related to food to make the list.

The government proposed washoku in March 2012, saying it is closely “associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature.”

“Washoku has developed as part of daily life and with a connection to annual events” such as New Year’s celebrations and rice planting, and “is constantly re-created in response to changes in human relationship with natural and social environment,” the government said, adding that washoku also “has important social functions for the Japanese to reaffirm identity, to foster familial and community cohesion, and to contribute to healthy life.”

Washoku is nutritionally well-balanced and thus contributes to long life and the prevention of obesity, the government stressed in its proposal to UNESCO.

Japan also sought washoku’s registration as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage to dispel false information about the safety of Japanese food amid the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

At present, 257 items, including oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, and knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts have received the UNESCO designation.

The 21 Japanese items on the list are eight government-designated important intangible cultural assets, including kabuki and noh, and 13 important intangible folk cultural assets, including traditional dance of the Ainu.

Four food-related items are on the list. They are French cuisine, the Mediterranean diet in Spain, Greece, Italy and Morocco, Mexican cuisine and “keskek,” a traditional ceremonial dish in Turkey.

Leper colony heritage

Setouchi, Okayama Pref.


People with links to Nagashima, a symbol of Japan’s dark history of isolating Hansen’s disease patients, are working to have the island listed as a World Heritage site.

Two of the country’s 13 national Hansen’s disease sanatoriums are located on the island, which was cut off from Setouchi, the Okayama Prefecture city it is part of, until a so-called bridge to restore human dignity was built. Hansen’s is also known as leprosy.

A number of historical buildings showing the harsh isolation methods remain on the narrow island, which stretches some 6 km east to west in the Seto Inland Sea. These include a detention camp, wards for those who attempted to escape and a cinerarium where unwanted remains are kept.

During about 90 years of the isolation policy, which ended in 1996, as many as 3,000 people were confined to the two sanatoriums — Nagashima-Aiseien and Oku-Komyoen.

Some 400 people live there today. Their average age is 83.

Tetsuo Hirose, 85, who has lived in Nagashima-Aiseien since he was 16, said: “The state policy disregarding human rights was horrible. But I can’t deny the fact that I have been able to live my life here due to the same policy.”

An effort around 10 years ago to try to have the facilities listed as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site ended in failure as the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry refused to give its approval.

  • Starviking

    More “Japan’s uniquely unique” rubbish.

    The following is particularly egregious:

    “The government proposed washoku in March 2012, saying it is closely “associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature.””
    Respect for nature? Hoovering up tuna, ‘scientific’ whaling. Please!

    • hudsonstewart

      Yes, Japan should be more in line with other countries and expand it’s factory farming capacity. After all, nobody cares about hordes of cows or chickens raised and slaughtered in atrocious conditions, but god forbid if you kill a few thousand whales and dolphins!

      Traditional Japanese cuisine has nothing to do with “hoovering up tuna”, despite whatever injustices should be committed by fishermen in the modern day.

    • zer0_0zor0

      I think that there actually is merit to this action, but I’m sort of a person that enjoys food and cooking.

      Many times I’ve found myself comparing Japanese cuisine, “washoku” to the cuisines of other countries, because it is unique. I generally draw the comparison between Italian and Indian cuisine, more specifically, traditional Southern Italian pasta sauce and Indian curry. The heart of the matter is that the respective sauces of India and Italy are sort of like chemistry: what goes into the sauces is transformed into something new, and not generally recognizable in the delicious final product, which is a new creation unto itself, whereas with Japanese cuisine, the emphasis is on accentuating the flavor of the individual ingredients that comprise a meal, where the end product is more a symphony of the elemental constituents of the fare than the synthesis of something completely new.

      In that regard, it is not unreasonable to point to an “essential spirit of respect for nature”, though the connection is more involved than the article brings out.

      • Starviking

        A fair enough point.

  • joe_shiki

    I am sorry. I love Japanese food, but this is simply silly. How can food be a cultural treasure? Can we say that Japanese food is superior to Chinese food or Thai food?
    So so silly.

    • hudsonstewart

      It doesn’t mean or even imply that Japanese food is superior to another culture’s food. The status of cultural treasure for food just indicates the strong link that a culture has with its traditional cuisine. I’m sure a lot of countries could apply and be awarded the status. It’s more for PR purposes than anything else.

      • joe_shiki

        It may not mean to, but I think it implies it. But, that’s my opinion.

        Do you think they would give certification to Texas Billy Joe Bob’s BarBeeQ? It’s a cultural treasure to Texans…..

  • Natalie Griffen

    I am sickened by the rude comments down here. Japan is a well respectable country. Though this may simply be my opinion, countries like the USA do more injustice to wildlife and nature. Look at those Americans: smoking, throwing cigarettes, garbage, you name it on the ground. Heck, I’ve never seen a single American picking up garbage. I always see Americans screaming and yelling to each other about their problems with themselves and others. Look at how united Japan is. What would it take to get that in other countries? A nuclear crisis? Geez. What I’m trying to say is that us westerners are a bit rude, selfish, and inconsiderate. Japan should NOT be more in line with other countries. Why? Think about it. Without Japan, we probably wouldn’t be enjoying technology so much. How about anime? Vocaloid? How about you sushi lovers? If Japan was “more in line,” then the Japanese would be on a pizza every night diet. Oh. Guess what. They would probably speak English if they weren’t unique. Japan’s language is unique. The food is unique. Everything about a culture should be treasures. Without so many countries and cultures, we’d all be eating hamburgers. Please, get a grip! Think internationally!