A Japanese Thing: Yoshoku

28 September, 2009

Here’s an interesting article I found about Japanese Western food from a post on Frugal Traveller.

What has this to do with books? I hear you say. Well, food is a joyous thing in my life and I’m always happy when it makes an appearance in the books I read.

Yoshoku, translated as Western food, became popular once Japan opened up to the West, especially in the Meiji, Taisho and post-war eras. Essentially it’s a bastardised version of Western food revamped to suit Japanese tastes. Most famous are hamburgers (hambagoo), Japanese curry (kare raisu) and katsu (like a Wiener Schnitzel but thicker and eaten with a Worcestershire-like sauce called ‘sauce’ or ‘sōsu’). I always have problems romanising Japanese loan words as I automatically translate them into English, and feel a bit shy about saying it in a Japanese way when I am perfectly capable of saying it in English. Anyone else feel this way?

Recently I finished reading Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki for Bellezza’s Japanese Literary Challenge 3 in which the main characters, Naomi and Jōji, considered themselves ‘modern’ and set themselves apart from their peers by learning Western dance, living in a Western style house and eating yoshoku. A lot of the literature from that period that were trying to emulate the West focussed on the idea of modernity and what it was to be modern. A change in dress style, food and language were the main things they incorporated into their previously traditional Japanese existence. Young mogas and mobos (modern girls and modern boys) were considered fast, often seen out drinking, smoking and dancing.

Now yoshoku is often considered traditional Japanese Western food as there are a plethora of incredibly good, authentic Western restaurants that can be found all over Japan. My friends and I all grew up with hamburgers, Japanese curry and katsu and it often brings back nostalgic memories of when we were young.

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