The Showa era, from 1926 to 1989, saw some of the largest changes in Japan’s history. From the political to the social and the economic, this was an era of great change that directly influenced and built Japan into the country we know today. In the midst of all these changes, it is perhaps no surprise that this era also saw great changes in Japanese food culture and the way that food is understood and consumed.
The Showa era encapsulates many decades, but surely one of the most influential events was the second World War. In particular, the aftermath of the war and reconstruction in Japan led to one of the largest economic booms in Japanese history. With increased financial stability and prosperity, the sales and proliferation of what was once considered luxury goods, namely the refrigerator and the microwave oven, increased to the point that these goods became normal in households.
While the refrigerator was available in Japan from the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it became widely found in homes. This, along with a move to have homes connected with stable gas lines, opened the door to new trends for cooking and consumption.
Previous to the advent of the refrigerator, staple foods which were shelf stable made up the majority of foods prepared, with daily trips to the local market or store to buy perishable goods. The refrigerator allowed goods like dairy and meat to be purchased and stored at home, whereas a stable gas supply and range allowed for more expression in cooking, such as pan or deep frying. Also, similarly to Europe and the United States during this time, frozen foods became more common in Japan.
With the focus for meals moving away from just staple foods, the diet of many Japanese people changed as a result. This variety, along with the nutritional benefits of having a newly varied diet, provided Japanese people with increased food security.
During this time, a resurgence of restaurants was happening throughout Japan. Not only did this allow more expression and creativity for chefs, it expanded the horizons of people and exposed them to new and different kinds of cooking.
While yoshoku (western cooking) was already popular by this time, the sheer availability of options, from bakeries to family restaurants and even fast-food chains, altered Japan both from a nutritional standpoint and from a social and economic standpoint.
Although food may have only been a small part of the prosperity and changes of the Showa era on Japan, the effect on the everyday household can still be felt to this day. The economic, social, and nutritional developments of this era have formed the foundation that allowed Japan to succeed on the global stage
and grow its economy to one of the largest in the world.
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!