Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

washoku-unescophoto.jpg (Photo credit: The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan)

Yesterday, UNESCO put washoku or traditional Japanese cuisine on ther list of Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity. The details are here. It's only the second national cuisine to be put on this list, after French cuisine in 2010, but it's by no means the only food-related one to be there, not even the only one for 2013 (more on that later).

This has been in the news in Japan for some time, and it is regarded as quite a big deal there. There has been a lot of concern amongst some purists that washoku is slowly being eclipsed by the popularity of food imported from elsewhere, especially the west. And, I have to say this about my countrymen: Japanese people just love it when they as a collective or a Japanese person gets official recognition overseas. To be a bit sarcastic, it's like one has not really and truly 'made it' until they get some kind of award from a non-Japanese entity. It's a bit weird.

In any case, as someone who is deeply interested in the history and sociology of food, I think that recognizing food as a crucial part of our heritage is a great idea. Food is as noble a cultural heritage as dance or art or crafts, is it not? And I don't understand the snark and negativity that I have seen around it either, both about the designation of French cuisine when it happened and Japanese cuisine now. Food gets little respect amongst some people, I tell you.

However, I'm not too sure what that Intangible Cultural Heritage designation does. Does it help to boost tourism? I don't know, and haven't really been able to find out, if it did anything for French cuisine in any way. Don't people travel to France for the cuisine anyway, and to Japan too? It is a hook to hang some promotions on.

Or, maybe it's most important in raising awareness of the value of the cuisine within the country itself. In Japan as in many other developed nations, many people are increasingly going for convenient pre-processed foods and taking shortcuts. At the same time there's also an interest in going back to natural ingredients and traditional ways of doing things anyway. Perhaps this UNESCO recognition will boost such efforts.

This is the video that presented the case of washoku to UNESCO. (They seriously need to get another narrator the next time...but the video itself is nice.)

Other food and drink related Intangible Cultural Heritage recognitions

As I mentioned above, Japanese cuisine is not the only food and drink related tradition to be recognized this year. Here are the other ones:

Also, if you want to know exactly what an Intangible Cultural Heritage is, there's a definition here on the UNESCO site. I think this is the part that is most important:

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

More about washoku!

If you want to learn some of the basics of washoku and you missed my Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku a few months ago, just start here and follow the links at the bottom.

And last by not least, English Cookpad is showing a link to a washoku recipe on the site in Advent-calendar style until December 25th. I have a little essay on the page where I talk a little bit about how Japanese expats feel about the 'cuisine from home'. I hope you enjoy it. ^_^

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