Formation of Japanese cuisine and Japanese food, until approximately 700 A.D.

Period
(Western calendar)
Events
BC Mainly hunting and gathering
walnuts, chestnuts, sea bream, sea bass, and clams were eaten.
Cooking was done with fire. Earthenware and stoneware were in use.
50 The deity “Iwaka Mutsukari no Mikoto” presents clams and bonito to Emperor Keikou.
Considered as the origin of Japanese cuisine, the founder of cooking.
— 300 The beginning of rice cultivation -> food culture revolving around rice, with fish, meat, vegetables are used as side dishes, the birth of sake and salt was very valuable -> The birth of hishio as a method to preserve salt Kokubishio (rice, wheat, and beans were fermented and saturated with salt), uobishio (fish sauce) (salt was saturated in fish, meat), kusabishio (preserved vegetables) (plants or seaweed pickled with salt)
— 500 Buddhism is handed down from China -> Killing is prohibited
-> Eating meat is prohibited by law A faith that causes the failure of rice production due to the prohibition of drinking wine and eating meat.

Before 0AD, life was centered around hunting, and cooking was done with fire. A fire was made, stones were heated and food was grilled on top of them. Earthenware and stoneware were used, ingredients were beaten or crushed. Nuts and berries were stored and preserved.

According to the Nihon-Shoki, the oldest Japanese chronicle record after the nation was formed, around 50AD, Iwaka Mutsukari no Mikoto, presented clams and bonito in namasu (raw fish and vegetables, seasoned with vinegar) to the ruler of the time, Emperor Keikou, and this is said to be the origin of Japanese cuisine, and Iwaka-Mutsukari-no-Mikoto is considered to be the very first chef.

Around 300AD, rice production began. The hunting era continued with rice at the center, and fish and meat and vegetables would come to be collected. This period would be the origin of Japan’s sake. Glutinous rice as its raw ingredient gave it sweetness. Overnight sake also existed. Harvesting salt from seawater also started at this time. It wasn’t possible to harvest large amounts of it so it was extremely valuable. In order to preserve this salt it was saturated into rice or wheat, fish or meat, leafy greens or seaweed. As a result kokubishio, uobishio, kusabishio and the like could be made, and became the forerunners of miso, soy sauce, salted fish (shiokara) and pickled vegetables (tsukemono). The origin of sushi, narezushi (*1), was also made around this time.

Around 700AD, due to the influence of Buddhism the eating of meat was prohibited due to the prohibition of killing. It can be said that it was a religion that caused rice production to fail, and the resulting seafood and bean products that were developed became hugely influential on Japanese food culture. That is the reason why that for a long time Japanese cuisine revolved around these kinds of ingredients.

For seasoning, there is mainly salt, vinegar and hishio. Hishio was made, as previously mentioned, by pickling grains, fish, leafy greens etc. Its role was primarily as disinfectant, sterilizer and as a source of nutrition. Sugar, which was imported from China, was valuable and used in medicines. The nobles came to use vegetable oil for cooking due to influence from China, and some of them were also eating food that was similar to yogurt and cheeses made from the milk of cows and sheep.

*1. With the objective to preserve and store fish, starchy ingredients, such as rice or millet, are pickled together with fish meat, and the lactic acid that is produced by natural fermentation prevents the fish meat from rotting. If pickled for a long time, the rice and other ingredients become viscous, and only the fish meat can be eaten. In the present time, the funazushi at Lake Biwa is famous.  After which, in the 16th century, the pickling time was shortened, and fish came to be eaten together with rice, and by the 17th century, vinegar came to be used, and sushi rice increased, and oshizushi, where the fish meat is lined up on top of the rice and pressed down, was born and after which, sushi as we know it today came to be.