An International Symposium on
Travelling Cuisines: Culinary Politics and Transnational Foodways in and out of Asia

Japanese as Global Food: Umami, Celebrity and the Global Urban Network

Shoko Imai, The University of Tokyo

This paper looks at the way in which Japanese food culture has recently come to be seen as a global phenomenon. Not only dishes such as sushi and sukiyaki, but also traditional food ingredients and techniques are now appreciated worldwide by a wide ranging clientele as well as by celebrity chefs who were trained in and are using other cuisines as their base. With dashi stock, miso, and tofu now attracting curious chefs around the world, these ingredients are being examined, adopted and adapted to create new innovative dishes. In this paper in order to analyze this global culinary trend, I focus on the sense of taste from geographical perspectives. The signature concept of Japanese cuisine is umami, often defined and recognized as the fifth basic taste. I discuss how the ingredients and techniques of traditional Japanese cuisine have become disseminated within networks created by globally famous chefs and thereby spread around the world. And I also investigate how the notion of place-based authenticity complicates the whole process of the globalization of Japanese food.

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