Shocker: Japanese people prefer “Japanese food”

The Nielsen research company has conducted a global survey on dining out preferences (Japanese PDF). The Nikkei presents the results from Japan. When asked what type of food they prefer when dining out, Japanese respondents said:

  1. Japanese (48%)
  2. Italian (20%)
  3. Chinese (12%)
  4. French (7%)

Globally, Japanese food was the fifth most preferred food. Surprisingly, the 46% of Japanese people who eat out more than three times per week is only marginally above the 44% global average.

Japanese people have a comparatively high level of what I would term “gastronomic nationalism” – that is, their preference for their own food far exceeds the global rate of 27%.

Anyone who has spent any time in this country will not be surprised to see Japanese food topping the results. Inside Japan, Japanese food is simply everywhere. The children are raised on government-supplied lunches and mother’s obento box lunches, on TV there is an endless parade of B-list celebrities fawning over the latest restaurant, and on the street the vast majority of eateries are nominally Japanese. On top of that, Japanese food is objectively scrumptious and awesome, a fact not lost on people.

But what exactly is Japanese food? The survey was apparently taken based on the respondents’ own definitions of what “Japanese food” means, but this is not always so clear-cut. Under such conditions, food that might otherwise be considered foreign must have been included under the “Japanese” rubric. “Japanese food” spans a very wide variety – from obviously Japanese foods like sushi, pickled radishes, and soba buckwheat noodles to more complicated foods that blur the lines between “pure” Japanese food and fusion dishes that have developed over the years. Other foods that may have foreign origins might not be perceived as foreign by some of the consumers (yakiniku aka Korean barbecue comes to mind as I have heard some tell me it is Japanese).

For example, it’s hard to tell whether ramen would be considered Chinese or Japanese (though the recipe is distinctly Japanese, many ramen shops advertise themselves as chuuka (Chinese) and also sell gyoza, which are more or less Japanized versions of Chinese dumplings), or for that matter whether Japanese-style curry can be called Indian (it was apparently adapted from Britain, which itself adapted it from the Indian dish). And then there is the plethora of dishes that are considered youshoku (Western/occidental food) in Japan but would be hard to find on a table anywhere in the actual West. These include omuraisu (ketchup rice wrapped in an omelette) and hambaagu (a bunless hamburger often seasoned and stuffed with onions, served with a variety of toppings such as grated daikon radish (oroshi) and ponzu, a kind of  citrus/soy/vinegar sauce).

Conversely, much so-called Italian food has been considerably Japanized as well (think mentaiko spaghetti), but I doubt many respondents who go into their local Capricciosa to order noodles drowned in spicy fish eggs and mayonnaise would consider themselves to be eating at a “Japanese food” establishment. Confusing things further, many “retro Showa era” restaurants serve a “Neapolitan” spaghetti-and-ketchup dishes, but in a very Japanese izakaya atmosphere. And then there are the “rice burgers” served at Mos Burger, the new  soy sauce-enhanced fried chicken at KFC, and Okinawa-style taco rice (this unlike the other two would be likely termed “Japanese”). I could go on, but it’s getting close to dinner time.

So all that said, the data could be kind of biased in Japan’s case (and the same probably goes for other countries) since Japan has co-opted so much of the Western menu into its own native cuisine. As far as I am concerned, the world is all the richer for it.


Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

23 thoughts on “Shocker: Japanese people prefer “Japanese food””

  1. Great post.

    “data could be kind of biased”

    I can’t help but think that the 27% globally that prefer their own foods is dragged down by countries like Canada that don’t really have their own cuisine (no poutine jokes).

    “American Ryori” also seems to be a stand-in on the graph for “British”. I have to wonder if there were Americans taking this survey who would consider “meat+2veg” (or pan seared sea bass with a mango reduction or even sausage and eggs) to be “American Food”.

    It is also interesting that in Japan, we seem to have foreign foods being domesticated – Ramen, Tonkatsu, etc. while I’m pretty sure that much of the Chinese food that would show up on the American graph (chicken balls, General Tao’s) would be things designed for American taste that are being exoticized as foreign. Meanwhile the cultural stereotype is that America melts it all into the pot while Japan asserts its difference (and that of others) and cultural uniqueness.

  2. “…countries like Canada that don’t really have their own cuisine…”

    Come now, don’t you have fiddleheads and Nanaimo Bars?

    I must say, I’m rather surprised by the variety of local food culture in the U.S., and I think that “American food” has gone through the a similar process as Chinese food when it is presented overseas, with a significant difference; you generally wouldn’t find too many Chinese people chowing down on bland generic “world” Chinese food in China, but McDonald’s etc thrives in the US. I guess it is because cheap muck can be replicated anywhere that only that aspect of the American culinary experience is prominent overseas. (Well, Tex-mex is prominent overseas as “Mexican food”, but that is kind of the regurgitation of a modified import anyway.)

  3. Oh, don’t get me wrong – there is certainly “American food” – Cajun, south-west style pork ribs, etc. and it is good…. but prime rib and mashed potato or “steak” (which I see is from the Old Norse “steik”) ain’t American.

  4. Actually potatoes are definitely American – they are one of the “New World” vegetables found during colonization of the Americas. Also those hot chili dishes you get in Asian countries such as Thailand, India, Northern China – those didn’t exist in their cuisine until the Europeans brought chilies back from Central and South America. (I’ve always found it a bit odd – that the group that first brought chilies from the America’s is also the one least likely to use it in their cuisine – might be the difficulty in growing it in a temperate climate).

    What is interesting is how just about all cuisines have borrowed ideas and foods from somewhere else, and made it their own.

  5. “Actually potatoes are definitely American”

    But by no means アメリカ料理.

    In any case, we shouldn’t be too anxious to claim a food or cuisine as a national thing, just like we shouldn’t be too anxious to blame another culture for chicken balls.

  6. “I’m rather surprised by the variety of local food culture in the US”

    Yeah, that’s what I try to impress on people all the time. There is this stereotype that Americans have no unique cuisine except the lowly hamburger and that their culture is all borrowed from the Old World, but that is such a myth! Then of course there is the myth that it is all unhealthy junk food, but what about deep-fried sushi? That’s healthy.

    I would also say that while it’s often that no nation can lay 100% claim on a particular food commodity, certain dishes are a reflection of the particular tastes of the people and the ingenuity of the people who came up with them.

    And as we have discussed, the new dishes are often a reflection of colonialism (Neapolitan spaghetti and taco rice were both gifts of the American occupation). For another example, Dagashiya-san (children’s candy shops) only came about in Japan after the conquest of Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1895 provided a steady supply of sugar to the country. They are still around today and are enjoying something of a revival from the Showa nostalgia boom, and are particularly intriguing because they have some pretty innovative products that for one reason or another wouldn’t show up in an American candy store, such as sheets of sweet dried squid, and giant tube-shaped Doraemon-branded fried puffs that come in assorted flavors (texture not unlike Cheetos). Not sure if they *all* date back to pre-war Japan (esp the Doraemon part) but those stores are still pretty cool.

  7. “Actually potatoes are definitely American”

    It seems that it is not the ingredient that makes the cuisine “yours”; it is what you do with it. Sure the New World had potatoes, but it took the British to boil all of the nutrients out of them and then pulverise them to a lumpy paste. As M-Bone has pointed out “steak” is not “American food”. However, “chicken fried steak” definitely is.

    I find it a bit strange when national identity is affixed to beer, which is a common phenomenon in places other than Japan. Even though Japan invented Dry Beer I’ve never really seen Asahi or Kirin etc play up its status as “Japan’s beer”, brewed “in water as pure as the rays of the sun”, or whatever. I think Sapporo has, in the past, even tried to play the national disctinctiveness of their brew *down* by stating that it is just as good as Milwaukee and Munich beers (same line of latitude, apparently). Overseas “beer nationalism” seems to be de riguer. Down Under it’s getting pretty silly:

  8. “but what about deep-fried sushi? That’s healthy.”

    I was afraid that they would be deep frying the rice in beer batter.

    “but that is such a myth!”

    We also don’t want to downplay the massive influence of French food on most US menus, however.

    In a way, the foods that the US does best (BBQ ribs) are done best at home while most of the French canon are done best at restaurants.

    “chicken fried steak” definitely is”

    Have you had? I did. Once. Never again.

  9. giant tube-shaped Doraemon-branded fried puffs that come in assorted flavors

    Those things are a source of major nostalgia for Japanese folks who grew up in the 70s — they were one of the few tasty things which kids could buy with pocket change at the corner store back then (the days before convenience stores brought fresh food to every city block).

    Even now they’re something like 30 yen a pop, which is probably still not a good nutrition-to-price ratio.

  10. “They are still around today and are enjoying something of a revival from the Showa nostalgia boom”

    Yeah, I’ve even seen them in the really oshare chains like Parco and Forus.

    Some nostalgic things from MY childhood like those foam WWII planes pop up too.

    Oh yeah, the Johnny’s Jimusho photos that Marxy writes about are often there as well.

  11. On food and colonialism,you just can’t count out ramen/gyoza/Yakiniku/Kimichi/and curry rice.

    Ramen became popular only after Japan’s conquest of Manchuria.Gyoza became popular from Utsunomiya,Tochigi,only because the city had army garrison for the expeditionary to Northern Chinese front.

    Yakiniku was started by Korean emigre and kimchi became popular only after yakiniku industry grew big due to imported beef.

    Curry rice became Japanese because the navy served curry every friday.(Still do in MSDF).ANd that’s because the imperial navy had allied with Brits(of which was ruling India) back in the day.

  12. Yeah, the growth of ramen is definitely a Showa era thing. The general rule is that ramen restaurants that try to evoke a more old-school atmosphere call it 中華そば (i.e. 天下一品) while others just use the word ラーメン.

    For those who missed it, the NYT article by Onishi on yoshoku was actually pretty good.

    “In any case, we shouldn’t be too anxious to claim a food or cuisine as a national thing, just like we shouldn’t be too anxious to blame another culture for chicken balls.”
    They didn’t have tomatoes in Italian food until the discovery of America, and yet nothing is more Italian than red sauce today. Likewise, before chili peppers filtered over to East Asia in the 16th or 17th century, kimchi was merely sour pickled vegetables without the spice that makes it so awesome.

  13. No.Roy,the old school calls it 支那そば
    中華そばis post-1945 term since Chinese/Taiwanese achieved dai-sankoku-jin status and demanded that “Sina”is a derogatory term.

  14. Yeah, “Shina soba” is the OLD old school term, but noone actually uses it anymore. Chuka-soba is more modern than that, but it’s still kind of old school, evoking post-war Showa. A place that just calls it “ramen” feels more Heisei, right?

  15. The Japanese right is trying to reclaim the Shina naming as they don’t want to let China get away with the “flower at the heart of humankind” idea that comes with 中華.

    “They didn’t have tomatoes in Italian food until the discovery of America”

    Of course, this is American the continent, not America the country. The main concern of my earlier comments was the large number of North Americans that think that there was no steak before Columbus. In any case, we’re talking about centuries before there was an Italy or a Germany.

  16. Yeah, I don’t quite see why poutine or okonomiyaki would be referenced in the Garbage Plate article. What do you have against poutine anyway? It sounds pretty good-kind of like what we call disco fries in New Jersey and NYC diners. (Incidentally, Taipei’s New York Bagels Cafe actually has disco fries on the menu, although not using that name, which is better proof that the proprietor actually learned how to prepare the menu in NYC than any other menu item.)

  17. I once taught a discussion lesson on health food in my third grade high school elective English class. Of course the students said, “Japanese food is very healthy.” and “Junk food is McDonalds.”

    When I questioned them about the nutritional value of ramen and gyoza, they said, “That’s not Japanese food. That’s Chinese food.” So we listed exactly which foods in Japan are Japanese food, and which are not.

    Then, I had them write down which foods they ate for a week. As it turns out, my class of about fifteen girls, about 30% of what they ate was “Japanese food” by their own definition.

    The point being, “Japanese food” may be healthy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Japanese people are eating healthy.

  18. “What do you have against poutine anyway?”

    It is representative of a national race to the nutritional bottom.

    I thought that “The Onion” had jumped the shark (ironically, this phrase has already jumped the shark) but many of these newer vids are excellent.

    ““Japanese food” may be healthy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Japanese people are eating healthy.”

    True, but look on the bright side – Japanese menus are mercifully free of 3000 calorie appetizers. This brings us back to “The Onion” –

  19. The point being, “Japanese food” may be healthy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Japanese people are eating healthy.

    Well,it seems the kids are alright according to the stats.


Comments are closed.