The History of the Japanese Table For One

In Japan, the Edo period between 1603 to 1868 was a representative era of modern Japanese culture, and the history of Table For One was already in full bloom. Under the stable political system of the Edo period, many citizens became economically prosperous, and thus, the food/restaurant industry was emerging along with the development of the urban economy. During this development, eating habits changed from 2 meals a day to 3 meals a day. Dishes such as sushi, soba, tempura, and unagi (eel) were sold at food stands as fast-food service which suited the people of Edo’s busy lifestyle. Also, certain restaurants which were called Izakaya and Teishokuya (another name for a Teishokuya is Ichizenmeshiya), emerged. These types of restaurants both started to provide the first set menu dishes, establishing the restaurant business that we commonly see today.

Jōrurimachi hanka no zu by Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858) ©the National Diet Library

Asian famous eating utensils, such as chopsticks, became common at fast-food places. With the demand and proliferation of these convenient places to dine outside of the home, Japanese main seasonings, such as soy sauce and mirin, as well as popular drinks like sake, began to be mass-produced in this era. The Japanese culture of enjoying food more conveniently was born.

The Edo period’s main protein was seafood. Edokkos prefer the deep fragrant soy sauce used for Edomae-sushi, which was useful for eliminating the smell of seafood rather than the dashi sauce utilized in Kyoto and Osaka. Since there was no refrigeration and ice wasn’t cheap, and transportation was not well developed, the Edo people processed the raw fish in various ways. They used certain methods such as soaking items in soy sauce and rinsing & marinating items in vinegar or salt to make food last longer.

What is Dashi ?

Dashi is a Japanese traditional soup stock. Tokyo’s dashi is a dark color, made from dried bonito fish. Kyoto’s & Osaka’s dashi is manufactured with more of a lighter taste. These differences between the areas still exist today. At what are known as sushi stands, there were no actual physical seats, which is not the current style of sushi restaurants that we know today. During the Edo period, people actually ate sushi while standing. Diners would just quickly eat their sushi with their bare hands and then head off to go to work, which was the norm. The customer would typically walk into a sushi stand and pick out the slices of fish. Then the Itamae (the sushi chef) would gather the chosen fish slices and from a pot of rice, make the individual sushi pieces for the impatient Edokko people who look to satisfy their hunger in a short time. At the sushi-stand, customers look across from the Itamae at the counter, which still is the style that remains today.

What is Edokko and Edomae-sushi ? Is it different than regular sushi?

Edokko is a native person from Edo who was born, raised there, and traces their family history resides in this city. Edomae means the style of the Edo. Edo itself was the former name of Tokyo. The Tokyo-style sushi/Edomae-sushi only uses their own main ingredients which are local to the Tokyo Bay, such as tuna, bonito, halibut, sea eel, etc.

 Photo:MIKI Yoshihito from Sapporo City,Hokkaido., JAPAN

In the photo above, a businessman finishes a meal quickly at the soba stand on the station platform. Even modern Japanese business people eat soba at fast-food stands.

The culture of meat-based dishes is more widespread since the end of the Edo period. The types of meats in the past were horse, deer, wild boar, chicken, etc. Most of the meats were miso-flavored and eaten in a hot pot with leeks/green onions. Wild birds were also grilled and eaten. This grilling may have been the origin of yakitori dish (Japanese skewered chicken). The meats of this era were not common ingredients, as meat was thought of as medicine for the body to recover when people fell ill or needed energy. Many of the creations and innovations of the Japanese food culture, such as Japanese cooking techniques, ingredients, seasonings, chefs, and restaurants, started and grew from this special Edo period. In addition, the culture for the table for just one customer began at this time.

Many foreigners and still some Japanese think that a sushi meal is expensive and exclusive, but this is not the case. There are actually many different price ranges, with varying styles of sushi places. Thus, as it was in past Japanese history, we really should feel sushi is accessible and affordable to all people. So please enjoy your Table For One Japanese food dining experience without any hesitations!

Recent Posts