Michelin-starred Japanese chef fears loss of simple, traditional food

Tue May 13, 2014 4:08am EDT
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By Junko Fujita

TOKYO (Reuters) - At his three-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo, Yoshihiro Murata serves elaborate 12-course meals of delicate Japanese food. But his real passion is to make sure simple, traditional food is passed on to the next generation.

Japanese food is now widely available around the world, and “washoku” – traditional cooking – was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO last year. But Murata fears that even though sushi has become universal, appreciation for Japanese food is declining in its homeland.

“Japanese cuisine is becoming extinct", Murata said, seated in a quiet tatami mat room in his Kikunoi restaurant in Tokyo’s Akasaka business district.

“The fact that it has become a 'cultural heritage' means it is fading so it needs to be protected.”

Murata, 62, is the third generation of his family to run the restaurant established in 1912. He lived in France to learn French cuisine in his younger days and now runs three restaurants in Kyoto and Tokyo, one of which has three stars from Michelin and the others two stars.

His big concern, though, is that many Japanese have drifted away from their own national cuisine.

“Japanese people rely too much on Western food every day,” Murata said. When he asks school children what their favorite dish is, the most popular item is hamburger steak - essentially a hamburger minus the bun, followed by curry & rice and spaghetti. At many schools in Japan, bread is served more often for lunch than rice.

“They have lost their identity when it comes to the food they eat every day,” Murata said.   Continued...

A chef places wasabi next to slices of tuna sashimi as he makes a "Gakuyameshi" lunch box at a Japanese-style restaurant in Tokyo in this December 5, 2013 file photograph.   REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files