Introducing Washoku – the food of Japan

Tokyo has every right to consider itself the centre of the food world. At the last count the Michelin Guide lists 226 restaurants in Japan’s capital to which one of its legendary stars have been granted. Its status as a must-visit for gourmets has been earned over centuries – a period in which Japanese cuisine has developed and innovated to become one of the most sophisticated in the world. The best dishes are considered a work of art, while its accompanying crockery has achieved cult status. Washoku – the name for the traditional food of Japan – is part of the intangible cultural heritage of the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Japanese cuisine sets itself apart due to exceptional quality that’s the result of the most exacting of standards. Sushi masters undergo a rigorous ten-year apprenticeship, for example, and display pure devotion to their art. It takes years for an apprentice to be allowed to prepare a fish for the first time. Meanwhile, the famed Wagyu beef from Kobe has become the be-all and end-all for fans of great meat the world over. This exceptional, highly marbled meat from Japanese Black cattle is considered to be the finest you can buy. It is particularly tender and succulent. As a rule, the greater the marbling in the meat, and the whiter the fat, the better the quality of the prime cut and more intense the flavour, as we learn on this foodie road trip through Japan.

Meat from Wagyu cattle, sprinkled with salt
Japan’s celebrated Wagyu beef is more than just meat – it’s a premium

For perhaps the greatest delicacy of all the food of Japan, the focus is on its preparation. In the case of the spectacular fugu puffer fish, proper filleting is an art form in its own right. This spiny animal is only available in Tokyo’s world-renowned fish market for those with a special licence. The parts of it that are fatally toxic to humans, such as the liver, intestines, and roe, must be professionally removed. The sashimi slices are so thin that the pattern on the plate can be seen, and for this slice of Japanese heritage, the preference is for it to be arranged in the form of a flower, then dipped in ponzu, a mixture of soy sauce and citrus juice. Gourmets can recognise fugu restaurants by the inflated puffer fish at the entrance. There are 50 such establishments in Tokyo alone, all serving this expensive, highly sought-after delicacy, so getting the opportunity to sample it is a must on any road trip in Japan.

If the smell of sizzling meat or fish is wafting through the air and the chefs are acrobatically preparing dishes on a hot iron plate, then it’s probably teppanyaki you are watching being prepared. The first of these types of restaurants opened in 1945 in Kobe, a city with a spectacular mountain backdrop at the foot of Mount Rokko. “Oishii!”, meaning delicious, can be heard from mouths of the gourmands as they tuck in – a comment about both the great food and exceptional presentation. 

A feast for the eyes

In top restaurants in Japan, the attention to detail in preparing the food of Japan is striking. Chefs artistically cut vegetables to resemble flowers or leaves while decorations are perfectly in line with the seasons or the theme for the menu. It’s important that both eye and palate is tantalised by the arrangement of the dishes. 

Japanese dish, artistically garnished, with cherry blossoms in a broth
Artistically garnished dishes are a feature of Japan’s cuisine – like this one using cherry blossoms

The balanced arrangement of dishes, decoration, colours, and the appropriate crockery are features that needs to be mastered by top Japanese chefs. Nothing is left to chance. They use real cherry blossoms in spring, fir cones or pine needles in autumn, fruits in summer while, in winter, rice is formed into snowballs. Traditional presentation and techniques, handed down through the generations, remain a feature to this day. 

Plates and bowls arranged in the Japanese style
The correct crockery acts as a beautiful canvas for painstakingly arranged dishes

A road trip to see the art of food in Japan

The final pillar of Japanese dining culture is the cult around using the correct crockery and the traditional handiwork associated with it. Just as the best food of Japan is testament to the mastery of its creators, the same goes for Keiko Masumoto. The ceramics artist from the Hyogo region in the heart of the country combines traditional craft with modern design, creating vivid works of art that have attracted fans from all over the world. Decorative plates and vases are adorned with objects that appear to jump off the plate. They vary from traditional motifs such as branches and flowers to wriggling octopuses and traditional buildings. When it comes to interpreting Japanese traditions, Keiko isn’t afraid to give them a twist. Her designs are often shot through with wry humour.

Blue and white plate featuring Japanese flower motif
Keiko Masumoto is one of the leading exponents of the new wave of ceramic art from JapanKeiko Masumoto

Food is always a key part of a Porsche Travel Experience. But in Japan you’ll discover it’s a way of life. Whether it’s an intensive day at the wheel driving through Japan’s beautiful countryside or embarking on a culinary journey, there are memorable experiences to be had at every turn. 

This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.

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