Nobu and After:
Westernized Japanese Food and Globalization

Shoko Imai



In my paper, focusing on the case of Japanese Chef Matsuhisa Nobuyuki (Nobu), I outline the cultural and social impacts of the worldwide popularity of Japanese food in contemporary society. In analyzing the whole phenomenon of Nobu, world city theory as proposed by geographers seems effective and insightful. World cities such as New York, London, Tokyo and Los Angeles, are usually considered in terms of their authority as economic and political centers (Friedmann, 1986; Sassen, 1991; Castells, 2002). However, the notion of world cities can also be applied to cultural issues, such as food. The food industry, supported by enormous flows of money, humans, materials, and information, has established the nodes of the networks in world cities (Taylor, Walker and Beaverstock, 2002). In this space, the currents of globalization have been shaped, influencing the foodways of the rest of the world. The popularity of Japanese food is one significant example of a food culture that has developed a global influence particularly through its presence in world cities.


The case of Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, a Japanese chef well-recognized for his success in the United States, gives us interesting insights when we think about the process, in which the global reputation of Japanese food emerged. His food is based on Japanese cuisine with accents of South and North American cooking. His practice has always been to look for some tastes that would be accepted and enjoyed among the local people wherever he has worked. In a sense, his cooking-style can be described as American food since his style has been transformed in America.


The location of his restaurants is another significant point. He opened Matsuhisa in Los Angeles in 1987, and up until now in 2008, he has been running more than 20 restaurants around the world. He has established his own network for running restaurants at the nodes of the world cities. With the Americanized flavor of his Japanese dishes, he has influenced the spread and recognition of Japanese food around the world.


The Nobu-style, based on his training as a sushi chef in Japan and developed through his personal experiences of working in various places on the American continent, can be seen as Americanized Japanese food. He has successfully established a sense of authenticity for his dishes at the nodes of world cities and contributed to the worldwide popularity of Japanese food, a trend which can be described as the globalization of Japanese culinary culture.


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Imai Shoko is a graduate student in Area Studies Department of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at University of Tokyo. Currently she is working on her PhD thesis about the popularity of Japanese food in the world and globalization.