Japan’s food diversity key theme at Milan expo



Most people would think of sushi, tempura and ramen when it comes to Japanese food, but advocates of the nation’s cuisine say its culinary culture has many more unique dimensions.

Now this diversity will be on display for six months when the northern Italian city of Milan hosts the Universal Exhibition from May 1 to Oct. 31.

Expo Milano 2015 is all about “food” and some 150 organizations and countries, including Japan, will exhibit their cultural ideas and technologies under the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

Spanning a 1.1-sq.-km site, about 50 participants will run their own pavilions, while others will display at exhibition spaces on various themes, such as coffee, spices and chocolate.

At the Japan Pavilion, to be one of the largest, around 60 municipalities and groups will showcase local foods and introduce farming technologies.

Over the course of the expo, visitors to the pavilion can enjoy Japanese matcha powdered green tea served in the traditional Urasenke tea ceremony style. They can also experience Buddhist cuisine featured by Fukui Prefecture — home to many Zen temples.

The city of Iga, Mie Prefecture, will showcase its unique food culture related to ninja — fighters trained in Japanese martial arts — while other municipalities will display regional offerings such as their own brand of rice.

Within the pavilion, a restaurant serving traditional, authentic Japanese cuisine as well as a more casual eatery will be set up.

“Japanese cuisine has (experienced) a global boom in recent years. . . . We hope to introduce our deep and diverse food culture,” said Toshio Kurakazu, deputy director at the farm ministry’s expo project team.

Washoku traditional Japanese cuisine was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013. With more and more people acquiring a taste for it, the number of overseas Japanese restaurants jumped to around 55,000 as of March 2013, from 24,000 in 2006, according to Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries estimates.

The ministry hopes the world exhibition will boost tourism ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and help promote exports of Japanese agricultural products, Kurakazu said.

Fukushima Prefecture, which was hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will also take part in the expo.

Between Oct. 11 and 14 “Fukushima Week” will focus on the prefecture’s food culture, including its seasonal ocean and mountain fare.

“Many people overseas have concerns about food products from Fukushima. We would like people to know about what we are doing to ensure the safety of Fukushima food,” said a prefectural official.

Countries including Brazil, China, Germany and Russia will also open pavilions. Italy, the host country, will feature its national dishes and advocate the “slow food” movement that began there to protect regional traditions and gastronomic pleasure.

The expo will also provide an opportunity to reflect on global issues, such as food shortages, death and diseases linked to poor nutrition or too much food, and food waste.

For its part, Japan will display technologies and innovative ideas as potential solutions to those problems, including technology to utilize euglena — a microscopic alga capable of photosynthesis — as food and for energy generation, and a cutting-edge method to reduce food waste, among others.

Around 20 million people are expected to flock to the expo. Japan aims to attract 1.4 million visitors to its own pavilion.