If you live in the Western world, you are used to international fare catering to your tastebuds. In the case of sushi, that includes rolls jam packed with cream cheese, spam sushi, and even massive sushi burritos.
If a Japanese restaurant wishes to stand out among the regionalized fare as a purist of Japanese cuisine, certification will be available through the Japanese ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The program is set to unveil within the year.
The Japan Times reports that in order to become certified, chefs will study through a private body, including lessons on how to handle raw seafood and how to treat guests as they enter the establishment. Foreign chefs will be allowed to participate, with a minimum of six months of study in Japan for the second tier certification and potentially an entire two years for the highest level of certification.
Washoku is not simply skill based. UNESCO describes it as “associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources” in their briefing on why Washoku is recognized as worthy of the designation of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is a practice which is present in the sourcing of ingredients, the preparation of meals, and the attitude with which meals are served and enjoyed.
The certification is not mandatory in any way. It is optional and will allow restaurants to advertise that they follow the traditional ways of Washoku. Regional cooking is always going to appeal to its client base, however, and it is unclear how popular the new program will be. My personal prediction is that the Washoku certification program will be limited to higher end establishments. It simply does not make sense at a cost/benefit level for more casual options to pursue this certification, as it involves sending a chef to study in Japan. When you think about it, it is the cheaper, more casual fast food style Japanese restaurants which tend towards more westernized or Americanized styles of Japanese food. I can’t see this as being more than a niche trend.
Regardless of the programs scope or scale, it will offer an novel way for consumers to experience a more authentic experience will in their hometown. Globalization has been criticized as having a homogenizing effect on the world, and studying in a culturally authentic manner is key to retaining the essence of the sushi tradition. This new program will help the old ways flourish and survive, all over the world.