Sushi – is there any dish more associated with Japan? But how Japanese is sushi really? Who really invented it and when? Marion has gone to the bottom of the history of sushi. Please don’t forget to check out her blog Life-Style-Luxury-Brigade!

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Marion from Life-Style-Luxury-Brigade

Marion started blogging and suddenly had an entire online magazine.
Together with her author friends and guest bloggers she runs a varied lifestyle platform, with many different topics that all revolve around one thing: Luxury.

For years, Sushi and I had a relationship status that Facebook would describe as „It’s complicated.“ But true love grows slowly. And so today I am a true sushi fan. But how did the dish we all assume originated in Japan come to existence? On my research trip through books and the web, I came across something amazing. Sushi did not originate in Japan :-o !!!

Sushi was invented on the Mekong River (China) to preserve freshwater fish longer. The fish was pickled in rice and fermented in it. The rice was then thrown away, it was inedible. The fish pieces, however, lasted up to half a year.

This method of preserving fish spread from China. The method was also very popular in Thailand, until it was brought to Japan from there.

Around the year 718 Sushi is mentioned in an old parchment in the city then called Edo, today Tokyo.

While in China this preparation did not survive until today, in Thailand you can still eat this kind of fish dish. In Japan, too, this technique was first used for freshwater fish. Especially at Lake Biwa, crucian carp was preserved in this way. Even today, you can get this funazushi in some restaurants. However, over the centuries, the preparation of this dish changed.

The Modern Way of Sushi - Tokyo's Heritage

Around the 18th century, zushi or sushi reappeared. This time, however, it is the sea fish that is preserved in this way. The society of Japan has changed. More and more people can now afford the expensive sea fish. But it does not last long. So the millennia-old technique for preserving fish is adopted from the Chinese and adapted to saltwater fish and nori (seafood).

The fish is fermented in this way for a shorter and shorter time. With the rice vinegar, it goes faster and the taste should improve with it. Over time, the fish is then no longer preserved, but simply processed raw – for immediate consumption. Only the rice is now soured.

This is how the first sushi stands in old Tokyo are born, some of which still exist today.

Western Sushi - It Starts in Los Angeles

In my research on the first sushi in the Western world, I keep coming across a name – Noritoshi Kanai. The Southeast Asian exporter brings a real sushi master with him one day, and he prepares the exotic dish at the Kawafuku restaurant starting in 1966.

First sushi chain in the USA

Initially, sushi was something that tended to be associated with elite society, even in the US. During the Pacific War, many US soldiers were in Japan and discovered the culture and cuisine for themselves.

Aoki Hiroaki, an immigrant to the USA, brought this Japanese-style dining to the USA even before Noritoshi Kanai. However, he was more likely to offer teppanyaki and sushi was considered a side dish, appetizer.

The decor was typically Japanese. Floors made of bamboo mats, the typical Japanese partitions, sitting on the floor, around an ebony table on cushions. Shoes must be removed. There is a classy ambience, subtle music and pretty women serving dishes in traditional robes and Japanese style. Hiroaki wasn’t just selling Japanese food. He was selling the Japanese way of life to wealthy Americans. And very successfully.

Kaitensushi conquers the world

Kaitensushi roughly translates as conveyor belt sushi. Many of these restaurants still exist today in our major European cities. Shiraishi Yoshiaki is considered the inventor of this method of serving as many people as possible. The first restaurant in this form was created in Osaka in 1969. Rumors claim that he copied this conveyor belt technique from factories.

Then, when the Expo 70 World’s Fair is held there, this type of restaurant sets a precedent throughout Europe. From Paris to London, sushi bars make their way into the big cities starting in the ’80s. And each city gives sushi its own touch. In California it’s the sushi rolls, in France the spicy wasabi, which is spread thinly on the fish, is replaced with mayonnaise. There’s hardly a country that hasn’t adapted sushi for itself.

The first sushi bar chain - Yo! Sushi

It’s not just sushi that’s on the conveyor belt at the first Yo! Sushi Bars. There’s also room for tempura, miso soup, teppanyaki and baked fruit. And the concept for success is working. While sushi still cost around 100 yen in the ’70s, the clever mix of Japanese dishes is bringing prices down. Running Sushi was invented and today it’s hard to imagine life without it.

If you are interested in Japan and its culture, sushi, lifestyle and people I can recommend these series from Amazon: Sushi – The Global Catch. Much more about the fascinating Japan and excellently researched is the series Prime Japan.

Do you have something to say about this post? Then do so with a comment! And please don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and share the post.

Foto credits:


Moritz Hoffmann Der Weg japanischer Küche um die Welt

Trevor Corson: The story of Sushi – An unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice. HarperCollins Publisher, New York 2008, ISBN 978-0-06-088351-5.

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