Food Transition in the Meiji era

The menu I chose is the menu of Grand Hotel in Yokohama in 1900. This hotel is located in Yokohama city in Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. Yokohama is the first harbor city introduced to the world as an entrance to Japan. Since the time the port was opened, Yokohama imported many cultures as well as products from Western countries. So, the city is known as the birthplace of Japan’s modern culture.  

Yokohama in Japanese map

In 1900, Japan was in the Meiji era, which extended from 1868 to 1912. It was a time of incredible transformation when Japanese society adopted a lot of Western customs and cultures.

The Grand Hotel opened on August 16, 1873, on the Yokohama Bund, overlooking the harbor. The hotel mainly catered to foreigners and it soon became popular among rich travelers for its good service and hospitality.

the picture of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama

At the Grand Hotel, some services were given to customers in a Japanese traditional way. For example, tea was served by waitresses who wore a kimono (traditional Japanese dress).

waitresses wearing a kimono

Also, cherry blossom trees were planted in the hotel’s garden.

cherry blossom trees in the Grand Hotel

Furthermore, when we look at the menu of Grand Hotel, we can see that the illustrations on the menu intended to reflect Japanese culture. The menu illustrates cherry blossom, peony, and Japanese wisteria to show the beauty of Japanese nature. The menu also illustrates the women wearing kimono, Japanese temple, and Japanese festival (you can see the red lantern).

Despite these illustrations on the menu, almost all the foods on the menu are not Japanese, but instead represent French cuisine. Why is it? Most likely because the hotel mainly gave service to foreign visitors. In 1900s, most wealthy foreigners preferred French cuisine over than ethnic food.

As I have already explained above, the Meiji era found Japan being deeply changed by Western cultures, often blending Japanese and Western custom. For example, fashion was inspired by western style. In this era, female students were considered to be fashion leaders. They wore kimono and hakama (kind of pants, they are tied at the waist and fall approximately to the ankles) with boots. The image below is female student riding bicycle in Meiji era.

image of a female student riding bicycle in Meiji era

One of the big changes which occurred during Meiji period was in cuisine, which like fashion, was inspired by Western cultures. Although the Grand Hotel mainly served French cuisine, different kinds of cuisine developed in Japan during this same time period that mixed. Japanese with Western food culture. The foods might be described as Western Japanese foods. Western Japanese foods refer to the western dishes which were arranged for Japanese or Japanese taste. They also refer to the foods which were invented in Japan by using western ingredients.

These are some examples of Western Japanese foods which were invented during Meiji era:

Korokke which was inspired by French croquette

Omurice

Which means omlet and rice. Rice is usually cooked with ketchup.

Hayashirice

The name comes from Hashed beef with Rice. This food is inspired by Western beef stew.

Here I would like to introduce the recipe for Hayashirice.

Hayashirice (4-5 servings)

The recipe and images from https://rekisi-omosiroi.com/meizizidai-kurasi/.

Ingredients

  • Beef (thin beef) 300g
  • Onions 2
  • mushrooms 2-3
  • canned tomato 1
  • smashed garlic 2 teaspoons
  • butter 30g
  • flour 3 tablespoons
  • red wine 100 ml
  • water 300 ml
  • beef powder (or chicken powder) 2 tablespoons
  • ketchup 3 tablespoons
  • sugar 3 tablespoons
  • worcester 4 tablespoons
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • rice

Direction

1

Slice onions and beef and cut mushrooms into bite-size chunks.

2

Put butter and minced garlic to the saucepan.

3

Add onions and cook until they become tender.

4

Once onions become tender, add beef and stir-fry.

5

Once beef changed its color, add mushrooms and stir-fry.

6

Once everything is cooked through, put flour and stir-fry well.

7

Squash tomatoes and stir-fry.

8

Once tomatoes are squashed, add beef powder, ketchup, sugar, Worcester, salt, black pepper and mix well.

9

Cook for 20 minutes over medium heat until the sauce has thickened.

10

Once the sauce has thickened, serve sauce and rice on the plate.

This is the recipe of Hayashirice (ハヤシライス in Japanese). As we can see, the recipe is similar to that of beef stew. Despite its similarities, the way it is cooked is a little bit different. As we can see from its name, Hayashirice is usually served with rice. So, although the recipe and ingredients are inspired by Western countries, the food are cooked in Japanese way. This is the characteristic of Western Japanese foods developed in Meiji era. Hayashirice as well as other Western Japanese foods developed in this era remain popular in Japan today. The recipe I introduced here contains directions for making sauce, but not many people in Japan make from scratch nowadays, instead using a sauce mix. This sauce mix is very useful, and it makes it so much easier to make Hayashirice. All you have to do is cut, cook vegetables, put water, add the sauce mix and simmer. I also found the sauce mix which is produced by Japanese brand at the Golden City Asian Market in Metairie.

Today, Western Japanese foods are very popular in Japan. They exist in everyday meals and considered to be one of Japanese foods. It can be said that Western Japanese foods play an important role in Japanese food culture. So, there is no doubt that Meiji era played essential role since it established the new kind of food culture and enabled people to eat in an entirely new kind of way.

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