The news that it was nominated came out in October, but now it’s official: “washoku” traditional Japanese cuisine has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The proposal from the Japanese government was approved by the panel on Wednesday at their Intergovernmental Committee meeting in Azerbaijan, according to the cultural affairs agency.
This piece of good news comes at a time when Japanese agricultural products are taking a beating in the export industry due to ongoing fears of radiation fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Japan is also facing a low food self-sufficiency rate of 40% based on calorie intake. But the government is now expecting that being listed as a cultural heritage asset will enhance the global reputation of Japanese cuisine, get more tourists to come to the country to sample its culinary delights, and eventually boosting the exports of the agricultural products. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “We would like to continue passing on Japanese food culture to the generations to come … and would also like to work harder to let people overseas appreciate the benefits of washoku.”
The government is also hoping to revive the interest of the younger generation when it comes to learning the traditional dietary cultures that should be passed on to them, even as globalization and changes in economic and social structures come to play. Kiyotoshi Tamura, an official of the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, said that he hopes the authorities will put more effort into advertising Japanese food in international markets. Washoku is only the fifth food culture to have made it to the heritage list with the other four being French cuisine, traditional Mexican food, the Mediterranean diet and “keskek,” a Turkish ceremonial dish. It is also the 22nd Japanese asset to be included in the list, including Kabuki (traditional dance-drama), Noh (classical musical drama), and Bunraku (puppet theater), among others.