Sushi Leaves Home: Japanese Food and Identity Abroad
Voltaire Cang (RINRI Institute)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the shifting of national identity through food that has left its “home.” It looks at the case of Japan, particularly sushi and locally-trained but now foreign-based sushi chefs, to investigate the processes of identity transformation through “migrated” national food.
Paper long abstract:
The status and image of sushi as food have shifted - seismically it may be said - within the past few decades, from being an esoteric but tasteless and downright unappetizing raw-fish victual of Japanese origin, to becoming a healthy and desirable delicacy consumed no longer exclusively in Japan but in an ever-increasing number of countries and cities around the world, in multiple styles and versions targeting all kinds of consumers. Japan, referred to by many within and outside the country as the "birthplace of sushi," has reacted to the transforming status of sushi through the years in various ways, from amusement to shock (at many "blasphemous" styles of sushi abroad, for example), and to humiliation and alarm (particularly towards Japan's weakening grip on what is considered a quintessential "Japanese" food). This paper is an inquiry into the shift of national identity through food that has been taken out of its "home," that is, its place or origin. It focuses on sushi and particularly sushi chefs from Japan who have been trained in the country but now work abroad, to investigate the ways and processes through which national identity is linked to food in the Japanese case, and how identity shifts its shape/s - or not - when the food as well as its maker venture outside the boundaries of its nation.
Food for thought (and dwelling) in uncertain times