Ukiyo-e, Tokugawa family, prosperous market culture … What kind of picture should we imagine in the Edo era in Japan? More than 200 years ago, the bustling streets of Edo exuded fragrance. “Flowers are not as good as jiaozi, and lust is not as good as appetite.” There are four famous edo cuisines hidden here, which are called “unparalleled edo flavor”. Cuisine is actually an excellent window to understand Japanese history. From Edo to Tokyo, from Tokyo to the world, how has Japanese cuisine changed in this money? A few days ago, Sha Heping, a researcher of modern Chinese and Japanese history and deputy director of the Historical Documentation Center of Shanghai Library, introduced the food story and historical background of the novel Four Stutters Across Edo.

On-the-spot sharing session of the new book “The Story of Edo Gluttony: Four Stutters Eating All over Edo”, from left to right: Photo courtesy of Shah and Publishing House.
The rise of Edo and the urbanization of catering service industry promoted by “single men” [h/]. Before the 16th century, Japan’s political, economic and cultural centers were all in the Kansai region (now Osaka and Kyoto). After the 16th century, the opening of Tokugawa shogunate made Japan’s center of gravity move eastward. After two or three hundred years of development, Edo became the largest city in Japan in the mid-18th century, with a population of over one million.

More than 200 years ago, a large number of single men flooded into Edo, and their appearance was due to the “attendance confession” system of Tokugawa shogunate. “Participating in Hajj” is also called “attending”. This system requires governors to go to Edo to perform government affairs for the shogunate for a period of time, and then return to their own territory. When these single men lived alone in Edo, because their wives and servants had no food and clothing, their demand for urban service functions increased greatly, which promoted the vigorous development of Edo catering service industry. It is said in the Book of Rites that “food is the most important thing for the people in eat drink man woman”, and the Edo Street depicted in the cursive script “Playing for Qi” is also “Yoshino’s flowers are beautiful when they are in full bloom, but not as beautiful as a bunch of calamus and jiaozi when they are hungry”.

“From the details of food, we can find clues of Japanese politics, which is very interesting.” Sha Qingqing said. From the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo, to the system of “participating in the DPRK”, to the rapid growth of Edo population, “townsman culture” (citizen culture) and the development of catering service industry, all these are closely related to the political background of the whole era. The development of food culture provides us with another way to see the imprint of the times.

Four stutters across edo
[Japan] Iino Ryu translated Tian Rui.
Century Wenjing Shanghai People’s Publishing House 2021-7
Four famous foods in Edo and the eastward shift of Japanese social center of gravity
Take tempura, one of the four famous foods in Edo, as an example. There are many explanations about the origin of the name “Tempura”. One is the etymology of “Tempura” from Portuguese cooking, and the other is the Spanish “Tempora” Christian Friday commemoration. It is said that the name Tempura was taken by a ronin who fled from Osaka to Edo. Another way of saying it is that the word “てんぷら” has existed for a long time in Japanese, and three Chinese characters “tempura” appear in a net. It can be seen that “Tempura” comes from foreign words, from the “ronin” in Kansai, or from existing vocabulary, which implies the background of the times like a gray line of grass snakes.

Buckwheat noodles have also gone through such a process of “moving eastward”, and it has the longest history among the four famous foods in Edo. The Japanese began to eat buckwheat in Muromachi era, and in Edo era, “buckwheat cutting” appeared, that is, buckwheat Daoxiao Noodles. Edo used to eat “udon noodles”. Since buckwheat noodles entered Edo, the status of buckwheat noodles in Edo has risen rapidly. Not only famous buckwheat noodle shops have appeared, but also buckwheat noodle night stalls have appeared late at night. Referring to “buckwheat noodles” and “udon noodles”, Huang Lijun said that until today, there is still a “dispute between buckwheat noodles and udon noodles” in Tokyo. Sha Qingqing added that the different ways of eating buckwheat noodles and udon noodles actually reflect the track of Japanese historical development: buckwheat noodles are usually cooked and drained, while udon noodles are hot soup noodles. A samurai who rushed to Edo for “pilgrimage” wanted to eat a bowl of noodles, and convenience was what he valued. This is one of the reasons why buckwheat noodles can be carried forward in Edo or on the way to Edo.

The signboard of Pushao restaurant says “with rice”.
A suspicious woman can’t be Mameo.
Photo courtesy of publishing house
Then it’s braised eel with pus. In Japan, the way to eat eels is to string them with bamboo sticks, roast them on the fire and eat them. This is also related to the name “Pu Shao”. “Da Cao Jia Cai Shu” once recorded: “The practice of Yuji Pill Pu Shao: first roast the whole one on the fire, and then cut it. Brush with soy sauce and wine, then brush with some peppers and miso, and you can serve them to the guests. During the Edo period, there was a custom of eating eels on “ugly days” (ugly days between dog days, meaning the hottest time of the year). As for the eel rice that we are familiar with now, Sha Qingqing pointed out that the popularity of eel rice was also related to the Japanese historical background at that time. Before the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese didn’t eat much meat, for one thing, because of the tradition of farming culture, and for another, because of the religious “no meat” rule. After Meiji Restoration, Japanese talents began to cultivate their own “meat-eating culture”. At this time, delicious eels came into people’s sight and became a popular dish on the Japanese table.

Finally, the sushi with the shortest history among the “Four Famous Edo Foods” is the most familiar one. It turns out that sushi is not the form of “holding sushi” that we see now, but the cooking method of “cooked sushi” is to put salted fish and rice into a container and press heavy stones. Lactic acid fermentation in rice ripens fish and becomes fish fermented food with sour taste. This “cooked sushi” was even used as a tax. Subsequently, sushi experienced the changes of raw and cooked sushi, early sushi and bamboo leaf green sushi, and became familiar to us today, and other types of sushi were derived.

The change of food culture is full of the imprint of the times. Sha Qingqing mentioned that in “Four Stutters Crossing Edo”, there is an image of a samurai who wants to eat tempura at a roadside stall and block his face. This is because tempura originated from a roadside stall, and the samurai felt that it was beneath their dignity to eat at the roadside stall because of their social status. Another example mentioned in the book is that Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, a general of the Five Dynasties, once banned the “Biological Mercy Order” because he thought it was cruel to sell eels separately, which directly impacted the sales of Pushao at that time.

From the “Four Famous Edo Foods” [h/], we can see that Japanese food culture strategies range from tempura and buckwheat noodles to Pu-Shao eel and sushi, which have undergone some high-end development. Sha Qingqing described the evolution of sushi diet. At first, sushi originated from roadside stalls. On the streets of Edo, people are eating sushi with bowls at sushi stalls. Similarly, tempura, Pu Shao and buckwheat noodles also have a history of roadside stalls, and later “takeaway” business was derived. Until later, these foods gradually moved from street to indoor, from roadside stalls to high-end kiosks.

Tempura food stalls with signs. Diners eat tempura with chopsticks.
“Da Hui Ri Shu Cao Paper” 18)
Huang Lijun believes that the above-mentioned development of catering industry is just a “food culture strategy” developed from Edo’s commercial marketing methods. In this regard, Sha Qingqing mentioned the “Edo Front” catering system: “Edo Front” refers to the sea area in front of Edo, which is now Tokyo Bay. At that time, people thought that only eels in front of Edo were the freshest and delicious, and even had the concept of “before Edo” and the most authentic view of “before Edo”. This is a food culture strategy for Japanese catering industry to pursue food quality. In Huang Lijun’s view, eating eels on “ugly days” is also a kind of “commercial speculation”. This traditional influence, which originated in the Edo period, has continued to this day. No matter in the Edo era or today, in August, people will go to restaurants to eat “eel rice”, which has even developed into a festival in Japan.

Besides pursuing the quality of ingredients and commercial speculation, the Japanese brand-building strategy of “high-end restaurants” is also worthy of attention. Sha Qingqing mentioned the well-known “Erlang Sushi Store” and “Shanju” high-end restaurants. By improving the quality of ingredients, cooking skills and celebrity effect, they gradually built the popularity of their own stores, and after years of inheritance, they became “century-old brands”. Finally, Huang Lijun concluded that Japanese food culture strategy is worth learning from when we are eager to promote China cuisine.

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