Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Japan’s most important library, The National Diet Library, serves Library Curry in its canteen[UPDATED: 8-19-2019]

    Japan’s National Diet Library (NDL), founded in 1948, is the library of Japan’s parliament, The National Diet (Kokkai), and the nation’s national library. It is not only one of the most important libraries in Japan, but also one of the largest libraries in the world.

    It was set up to assist members of Japan’s parliament with research and policy-making and now has a similar function as the Library of Congress and the British Library.

    It functions as a national deposit library and copies of all books published in Japan can be found within its collection of books. The motto: ‘The Firm Conviction that Truth Makes Us Free’ is engraved in Japanese and Greek in the hall of its main building in Tokyo. 

    Within the library’s large collection Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook can be found, published in 1643, as well as many historically important books about Japan’s early culinary exchanges with other countries and cultures.

    This includes a book by Robun Kanagaki (1829-1894), a well-known author and journalist, that contains the first recipe in Japanese for making curry, published in 1872. 

    Curry-rice, now a very popular Japanese dish, has not just found its way into the pages of the National Diet Library’s collection of around 10 million books. It also appears as Library Curry –the signature dish of the 4thfloor cafeteria of the library in Tokyo, which is located between the headquarters building of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) and the National Diet.

    This popular beef curry served with rice and pickles costs 550 yen upwards depending on which version you order. Vouchers are purchased using a vending machine found next to a display of plastic models of all the dishes the cafeteria offers.  

    After handing over your voucher to kitchen staff, you are served the signature Library Curry, which has been reviewed positively by appreciative patrons of the library and its canteen on websites like Tripadvisor

    On average, just under 2,000 people visit the Tokyo library every day. Registration is required, but the library, which has published a newsletter in English on its services and collections since 1958, welcomes international visitors. 

    It’s
    not possible to estimate how many servings of curry are consumed on a typical day, but 9.9 billion servings of curry are reportedly served nationally each year in all its varied Japanese forms. This equates to 78 meals per person. In comparison, about 1 billion books, of which only about 640 million are actually purchased, are distributed annually in Japan.

    This said, every year 1.5 million photocopies are made at the National Diet Library and 21 million individuals access the library’s website through which the cover of the book, The Expert on Western Cookerycontaining Japan’s first recipe for curry-rice can be viewed. 

    Japan’s most important library, The National Diet Library, serves Library Curry in its canteen Posted by Richard Nathan
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    50 years before the first Michelin Guide, Tokyo already had a popular guidebook for its foodies[UPDATED: 4-14-2019]

    It has been widely reported that for more than a decade Tokyo has had more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world. But what isn’t generally known is that Tokyo, or Edo as it was previously called, had its own guidebooks for Japanese gourmets long before the two French industrialists behind the famous Michelin Guidebook were even born.

    These included Edo Shuhan Tebikikusa, The Pocket Guide to Eating and Drinking in Edo, a copy of which resides at the British Museum library in London.

    Some of these Japanese guidebooks mimicked the approach taken at the time to rank Sumo wrestlers of varying stature grading eating and drinking establishments with similar terminology, as opposed to awarding stars as the Michelin Guidebooks currently do. 

    The Pocket Guide to Eating and Drinking in Edo, published in 1848, lists the names and addresses of 594 restaurants, as well as specialist sushi, soba and eel restaurants in Edo. The guide, like its modern counterparts, was selective – only including, for example, 90 eel specialists from a possible pool of around one thousand or more.

    Japan and Edo may have been isolated from the rest of the world at the time of the publication of The Pocket Guide, but Edo was one of the world’s largest and most literate cities with a strong publishing culture and a very vibrant nightlife.

    The first Michelin Guide was published 52 years later in 1900. At this time there were only a few thousand cars in France, so in order to encourage the French to buy cars and drive across France, two brothers launched the Michelin Guide, which initially focused exclusively on France. The first issue was distributed free to encourage people to buy cars and tyres made by the brothers’ company, Michelin, which they had set up a decade earlier in 1889.

    In the 2018 Guide, Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants with 234 – ahead of Osaka with 96 and Paris with 92. These are the three leading cities among the 28 countries that the guide currently covers.

    Given all this, it is perhaps not surprising that in 2013 Japanese cuisine, Washoku, was added by the United Nations’ organization UNESCO to The Representative List of The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Other Japanese items included on this UNESCO’s list are Kabuki, Noh and ritual rice planting.

    50 years before the first Michelin Guide, Tokyo already had a popular guidebook for its foodies Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook was published in 1643[UPDATED: 2-4-2019]

    According to historians, Japan’s first modern cookbook Ryori Monogatari, Accounts of Cooking, was published just as the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), came to power in 1603, and Japan’s Edo Period began (1603-1863). 

    Tokugawa was a supporter of publishing and in particular books that provided practical guidance. The oldest surviving example of Accounts of Cooking, was printed in 1643.  The author of the book, which has 20 different sections organised in two parts, is unknown.

    A copy is now part of The Tokyo National Museum’s collection and another copy of an edition, published by Fukuda Bunko, can be found in the National Diet Library.

    The 1643 edition is an unusual cookbook as it includes recipes for game at a time when eating meat was viewed by most as a taboo. Some, however, considered game as medicinal.

    Interestingly, Japan is currently experiencing a mini-boom in restaurants serving deer and wild boar following a relaxation of regulations and the extension of the Japanese hunting season.

    The 1643 book includes recipes for grilling venison, wild-hare, wild boar, and even raccoon dog and dog.  As well as recipes for shark, whale and more typical dishes such as sashimi, sushi, udon and yakitori that are now popular dishes eaten around the world.

    That said, a hand copied edition of a 13thcentury document about cooking, Chuji-ruiki, Kitchenry Enyclopedia, is believed to be the oldest Japanese document describing practical cooking techniques, according to The History and Culture of Japanese Food by Naomichi Ishige. The document from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) is sometimes described by academics as an ancient cookbook.

    Other books including the Nihon ShokiThe Chronicles of Japan, one of Japan’s oldest books, refer to hunting, food and the dishes preferred by emperors, but the 1643 edition of Ryori Monogatari, Accounts of Cooking, is believed to be the boldest surviving Japanese cookbook.

     

    Japan’s oldest surviving cookbook was published in 1643 Posted by Richard Nathan