Japanese cuisine has been influenced by the food customs of other nations but has modified them to create its own unique cooking style and eating habits.
Two significant foreign influences on Japan were China around 300 BC when some Japanese went to China to learn about the Tang Dynasty’s constitution and cultures and the U.S. occupation of Japan following World War II. Much of what we know about Japanese cuisine and culture today can be traced back to China. Rice, domestic chicken, soy sauce and tea, all originated in China.
For our DA, we focused on Japanese egg cuisine, or ‘Tamago’ as it is called in Japan. We chose this focus as Tamago is a staple of the Japanese diet, often cooked at home and enjoyed in the bento boxed lunch.
According to the International Egg Commission, the average Japanese person eats around 320 eggs per year, placing it in the Top 3 worldwide. In comparison, the average American eats around 245 eggs per year (Barry 2018).
Eggs are enjoyed in many sweet and savoury dishes, and we decided to try one of each: tamagoyaki, a sweet egg roll, and omu-rice, a savoury omelette cover on fried rice. Additionally, both of these dishes have featured on Japanese media that we have consumed, including the popular TV show Midnight Diner.
To ensure an authentic experience of Japanese cuisine, Leah (our cook) followed the instructions of Japanese YouTubers and the Japanese chefs on Midnight Diner. Through this, we found that the sweet egg roll is the firm staple side dish in the bento boxed lunch and that the dish is enjoyed both hot and cooled down. To have a bento boxed lunch experience, Leah prepared the tamagoyaki four hours before filming, which is the way the meal is typically consumed in the boxed lunch.
Additionally, we learnt that the omelette rice is a perfect example of how Japanese cuisine has been influenced by China and America. It is served with Chinese fried rice as the base, and a Western-style soft omelette as the cover. Westernisation after WW2 brought new ingredients like tomato ketchup to Japan.
Through our auto-ethnographic study, we learnt that our immediate reactions and epiphanies were shaped by our sense of familiarity with the foods. The omelette rice felt more nostalgic and familiar to us due to our proximity to the western diet, whereas, the tamagoyaki felt unfamiliar. Additionally, this provided an interesting insight into how western and Chinese culture has influenced Japanese consumption and cooking of eggs.
Food is an important part of the culture in both Australia and Japan. In both countries, traditional food culture and the act of eating a meal ties in with a larger cultural identity, as well as a means for socialisation and celebration. It’s notable to say that the unique food cultures in Australia and Japan have been influenced in a way by the eating customs of other nations and cultures all over the world. Due to this, there are both similarities and differences that we have identified whilst doing this digital artefact.
Immigration leading to the multicultural society we now have in Australia has meant that what we now know to be Australian food culture has been largely influenced by places like the United States, the UK, and Asia. Wahlqvist (2002) notes that “Australia’s food and health patterns are inextricably and increasingly linked with Asia” with traditional foods, cooking facilities, techniques, and utensils now commonly used in Australian households. In our homes and in restaurants in Australia, we consume dishes from all over the world, often known as fusion cuisine. In this way, we can see key similarities between the Japanese food we tried and the food we regularly consume in Australia.
Popular Japanese dishes have also been influenced by the United States and other western countries. The Omu-rice which we taste-tested in our video is recognised as a western-influenced dish. Brooks (2018) notes that “After World War II, the influence of Western cooking and the accessibility to ingredients such as ketchup, onions, green peppers, and meat made it easier for restaurants and families to make this tasty meal.” Along with many other meals, Omu-rice is served in western diners in Japan and is a simple and nostalgic traditional dish. As we state in the video, when trying the two dishes, Millie and myself both preferred the Omu-rice because it tasted familiar which makes sense when learning of the origins of the dish. Although neither of us had previously tried Omu-rice, it felt similar to an omelette or scrambled eggs covering fried rice, all things that are commonly eaten in homes in Australia.
Through our autoethnographic research, we have described our personal experience to understand deeper cultural experiences, and through the analysis of our own personal and cultural understandings, we’ve been able to gain further insight into interesting facets of Japanese egg cuisine and food culture more broadly.
Ellis et al. (2011) argue that “auto-ethnographers… use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders.” A key element of this is to explore ‘epiphanies’ or key understandings during the research project and consider the ways others may experience similarities.
Epiphanies are lightbulb moments in our research experience that are made possible by being aware of our own culture throughout the field study, which makes insiders and outsiders able to recognise cultural features distinctly. At the beginning of our reaction video we each introduced ourselves and our cultural background. This highlighted our position in relation to the research and helped outsiders understand our epiphanies. As Pitard (2017) would say, for a reader to trust the perspective of a qualitative researcher, “the disclosure of the researcher’s position in relation to the data is vital.”
The epiphanies of Lydia and I are recorded throughout our reaction video to trying Japanese egg cuisine. Due to our lived experience of growing up in Australia, our relationship and experience were different from Leah who grew up in China with connection to Japanese cuisine from a very young age. This is why we decided to overlay audio of Leah cooking the Japanese meals that she loves and is somewhat familiar with and include Lydia and I’s reaction to the meals that we had never tried before.
Notably, an example of an epiphany that we experienced was the significance of chopsticks. Lydia and I both recognised chopsticks as an important part of Japanese and Asian food culture, however, we did not understand the wider significance or history behind them. Leah, being from China, had much greater knowledge on this topic and knew that chopsticks originally came from China. Combining our personal and cultural understandings with our autoethnographic fieldwork, we came to understand that Korea, China and Japan all use chopsticks of varying length, shape and material. Chopsticks were originally created as a cooking utensil, however, are now commonly used for consumption of food as well.
Additionally, an interesting epiphany that Lydia and I experienced stemmed from the fact that neither of us had eaten egg in the way that the Japanese cuisine presented it. Tamagoyaki, the sweet egg roll, is a meal that consists only of egg and is very popular across Japan. Japanese cuisine tends to isolate ingredients so that each is very recognisable in a meal. This differs from the way we usually consume egg as a secondary ingredient that may be unidentifiable by taste or smell in a western diet. These epiphanies were made possible by possessing our particular cultural identities whilst being part of another culture.
By Millie, Lydia and Leah.
- Barry J 2018, ‘Egg Consumption Booming’, Australian Eggs
- Brooks R 2018, ‘The Japanese Omurice: A Brief History & Best Places to Try It’, TripZilla
- Ellis C, Adams T E, & Bochner A P 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1
- Nye J 2011, ‘The Future of Power’, PublicAffairs
- Pitard J 2017, ‘A Journey to the Centre of Self: Positioning the Researcher in Autoethnography’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 18:3
- Reynolds C 2012, ‘The Soft Power of Food: A Diplomacy of Hamburgers and Sushi?’, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- Wahlqvist M 2002, ‘Asian migration to Australia: food and health consequences’, Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 11, Issue 3, pp. 562-568
- Link to Google Slides