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11.00  Defining Washoku: Japanese Food Heritage Before and After UNESCO Inscription

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9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

 “Washoku, the traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese” was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in December 2013. Although the term washoku (literally, “Japanese food”) has been used for a long time in Japan to refer to traditional and local (or localized) Japanese food, the UNESCO inscription marked the formal introduction of the concept on the global culinary stage.

Washoku has never been easy to define, and the application for UNESCO inscription presented Japan with an opportunity as well as a challenge to formally define the concept of “Japanese food.” This paper will investigate the process through which the formal definition for washoku evolved, from the situation in Japan before UNESCO inscription, during the nomination process itself, and after intangible heritage designation. In particular, the study will look at the ways in which the UNESCO intangible heritage system influenced and affected the status of food as heritage in Japan, as well as how other national food heritage, specifically the French tradition, played a role in the establishing the status of washoku.  

The application for intangible heritage inscription for washoku also represented a turning point for Japan with regard to its recognition and evaluation of intangible heritage; it was a departure from convention, which heretofore was region- and tradition-specific. This paper will also consider the reasons for such a shift, especially in relation to the transformed and transforming status of food as heritage in Japan as well as in the UNESCO framework, and how this may have or have not affected the status of other intangible heritage traditions in Japan in general.

Voltaire Cang


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