J-STORIES - Like many other countries, fast food is a staple of modern life in Japan, often replacing ancient regional food traditions that are in danger of being lost. Thanks to a new series of picture books, however, Japanese children are being introduced to their country's rich and delicious food heritage.
Four books have been produced so far, each featuring a food item from a different part of Japan. Colorful illustrations and text explain the local history and stories related to the food. One book is on "shottsuru," a pungent fermented fish sauce from Akita Prefecture in Japan’s north. Another covers a local arrangement of mahi-mahi, a tropical fish found in Okinawa in Japan’s south.
The books’ writers and illustrators also hail from the regions featured, so they are well placed to explain the cultural backgrounds of their local foods.
The project is headed by the president of Slow Food Nippon, Megumi Watanabe. She told J-Stories that the organization works to rethink contemporary cuisine and create a richer food culture.
She explained how traditional foods were created at a time of limited technology and transport. People used the wisdom gained from living alongside nature to prepare dishes from locally available ingredients. Now, the dishes are disappearing—not just because of environmental problems, but because there are fewer opportunities to pass traditions on to future generations.
The book project is funded both by the Nippon Foundation and a crowdfunding campaign that raised around 3 million yen from 350 people. Part of the profits go to local projects, while books are donated and lent to libraries, where special reading events are held.
The picture books are part of an international Ark of Taste project run by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. Since 1996, the project has collected 5,718 local foods from 150 countries. According to its website, these are “small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet.”
Translation and editing by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by Slow Food Nippon
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