The following article was written as an assignment for the Analytical Reading and Writing class.
Japan's Ministry of Agriculture announced that they planned to certify authentic Japanese restaurants overseas in November 2006, many foreign media including The Washington Post, Financial Times, and The Independent reported it and criticized the attempt with the strong words like "sushi police"(Sanchanta) It was also condemned by the chefs around the world as "meaningless" (Lewis). This news drew so much attention that one of the officials of the Japan's Foreign Ministry had to admit finally that it became a "PR catastrophe" (Lewis). As Japanese food has become popular in recent years around the world, the number of Japanese restaurants overseas has dramatically increased. It is estimated around 25,000 by 2007 ("Proposal" 2) and would be 48,000 by 2009 (Faiola). Especially in the U.S., the number of Japanese restaurants increased rapidly to about 9,000 by 2006, which is more than doubled in the previous ten years. This increase is one of the reasons why the Japanese Government launched this certifying program. The Government strongly concerned that in the long run some of the restaurants might gradually damage the reputation of Japanese cuisine due to the poor culinary skills and knowledge about Japanese cuisine of the chefs working there and insufficient sanitary management in the restaurants. In order to maintain the original quality of Japanese cuisine and present the traditional Japanese cuisine correctly, the Japanese authority finally decided to tell the people in the world what the authentic Japanese food is through certifying Japanese restaurants outside of Japan.
Sanchanta). Seaweed rolls with smoked salmon and cream cheese are a typical example of the localized Japanese food popular in the U.S. (Faiola). Aren't these considered as "Japanese food"? After all, Japan itself is the country that has adopted many kinds of foreign foods throughout history. For examples, tempura, which is believed to be Japanese now, was originally from Portugal and ramen noodles came from China. Both were adopted into Japanese food long time ago and now became one of the most popular foods in Japan (DPA). Even today, spaghetti topped with mentaiko (spicy cod roe) is found at an Italian restaurant and a rice burger can be ordered at a hamburger shop (Sanchanta). The Washington Post even sees the plan as "another expression of resurgent Japanese nationalism" (Faiola). While adopting and modifying foreign cuisine from abroad, it does not make any sense for Japanese in telling the authenticity of their own foods and blame other localized Japanese foods outside of Japan. Food has changed and will change influenced by other food cultures. Don't they evaluate any creativity in fusion-style Japanese cuisine at all? (Actually, fusion is one of the popular cuisine styles in many Japanese restaurants in the U.S. today.) Overall, there is no merit for the Japanese restaurants abroad to be distinguished authentic or phony. As all the news shows, the notion that only the Japanese Government can tell what is good and what is bad is not acceptable outside of Japan.
the Advisory Council for Japanese Restaurant Recommendation Program in 2006, most of the Japanese restaurants were ran by the private owners and on average, less than 10% of them were owned by Japanese or Japanese descents. The percentage of the chefs who has experience of training at a Japanese cooking school or working at a traditional Japanese restaurant as a chef is much less than that. The number of the chefs who were actually licensed back in Japan is very small. These numbers show that many of the chefs working at Japanese restaurants abroad do not seem to have had any chance to learn Japanese culinary properly. It can be assumed that a quite many of them just followed someone's example and studied by themselves. The same situation is also confirmed by Masashi Yamagata, who is the Vice-president of the All Japan Sushi Association and also a guest speaker at the Second Advisory Panel for the Japanese Restaurant Recommendation Program hold by the Agriculture Ministry in February 2007. One of the main activities of his national organization is to dispatch sushi instructors to conduct workshops and give lectures on sushi making all over the world. What he found there was the facts that many chefs only have very poor knowledge of how to prepare raw fish in safe and sanitary conditions. According to him, sanitary condition in the kitchen is the most important point in sushi making to eliminate the risk of germ and bacteria infection to raw fish. Germs and bacteria are usually killed by boiling or roasting, but since a sushi chef does not use fire for preparing sushi, he or she constantly has to run water while making sushi to keep his or her hands and the utensils completely clean. Sometimes Japan's hygiene standard conflicts with that in the foreign country. The members of the organization then have to solve the problem by adjusting the Japan's hygiene standard to the local circumstances and rules while maintaining the original quality of the food. For example, there were strict sanitation guidelines for restaurants in Los Angeles. They were required to keep their hot food in 60ºC (140ºF) or above and cold food in 5ºC (41ºF) or below before they serve the food to the customers. Sushi does not fit in these guidelines because vinegared sushi rice is supposed to be kept in 37-38ºC (98-100ºF) almost as same as the warmth of a human hand. In order to solve this problem, the members of the organization asked the health officials to ease the restrictions for sushi. As a result, they got an agreement that the health officials are not going to regulate it within three hours after cooking rice (the rice has to be discarded after that). This negotiation with the public bureau could not be done by any one but the representatives of the association that have the proper knowledge and culinary skills of making sushi.
the Proposal for Japanese Restaurant Recommendation Program in March 2007, the Agriculture Ministry set up the NPO called the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad (JRO). Now it has set up its 18 branch offices with the local Japanese restaurants and food companies in major big cities in the world to support Japanese restaurants in the area. Currently it is building a worldwide network and helping to establish the Japanese Restaurant Association in each area. It has not launched the certifying activities yet, but has already started its mission to develop human resources for Japanese cuisine through conducting many workshops of culinary skills and hygiene managements of Japanese foods for the chefs and managers around the world. They have also held business conferences for developing new Japanese cuisine menu and helped importing Japanese ingredients from Japan for the restaurants ("Activities"). Although the activity progresses little by little, through these varieties of practical workships for Japanese-restaurants staffs, the quality of Japanese restaurants abroad will surely improve. As a result, the consumers also gain benefits from the activity.
JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) has already started certifying the local Japanese restaurants in Paris. The reason it was set up is that there were so many Japanese restaurants that offer pseudo-Japanese foods and many French people believed that they were authentic. The committee gives the logo to the certified restaurants assuring that the restaurant offers orthodox and traditional Japanese cuisine. Through this certifying system, the restaurant can add an extra value to promote its business. Even it fails to be certified, the staff then knows which points need to be improved and has an incentive to get certified. At the same time, the certifying organization knows through consulting what the local restaurants actually need so that it can prepare the ingredients or give beneficial advice for them. The system always comes with the backup support for the restaurants. It helps and motivates those who have an intention to improve their cuisine and services. This is not a mundane inspection for all the Japanese restaurants abroad such as "sushi police." It is a rewarding system and doesn't conflict with the idea of localization of Japanese food at all.
Among Japanese restaurants in the world, many of them seem to lack the basic culinary skills and knowledge of Japanese cuisine. To upgrade them and promote more high-quality Japanese foods, there are many things that a Japanese organization can do. One of them is to give lectures and workshops of the basic culinary skills, the knowledge of original Japanese cuisine, and the sanitary management to the chefs working at Japanese restaurants. Under this system, they can recommend the restaurants as safe and high quality for the consumers. They are both good and beneficial for not only the chefs, but also the consumers to check the restaurants and Japan's exporting companies to expand their business. It may take a time to see the visible results, but this certifying system will surely bring much better food circumstances for the restaurant staffs, the consumers, and the people involved in this business. On the whole, introducing a national culture to the world is an essential strategy to raise the bar on quality standards of the national food in the world.