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Editor’s Note:  The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and also Society (Routledge, 2011) edited by Victoria Lyon Bestor, Theodore C. Bestor, and Akiko Yamagata is currently available in paperback.

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The Tsukiji Market as viewed from Shiodome. Source: Wikimedia Commons at

If one requirements any kind of proof of the abundance and variety of fish, shellfish, and various other marine assets in the daily diets of Japanese, one need just look through the stalls of the famous Tsukiji Market . . .

With Japan’s financial increase after 1955, the fishing market continued to expand also. By the 1960s, flash-freezing aboard big manufacturing facility ships had actually become prevalent, and well-organized Japanese fishing fleets (usually a large factory ship through a number of smaller trawlers or other vessels) were searching fish in every corner of the world. As prosperity enhanced, so did Japan’s taste for delicious seafood, and also Japan’s imports of fisheries commodities exceeded exports by the 1970s.

Though Japan’s taste for seafood appeared inexhaustible, the ocean’s supply was not, through demand also always outstripping supply. Japanese fisheries were first depleted in their seaside waters, and the industry increasingly saw more distant waters to secure their catches. As awareness of the depletion of fisheries stocks raised worldwide, old notions of the freedom of the seas were supplanted by even more and also more global regulation, and also by the beforehand to mid-1970s, the oceanic or international enclocertain activity encouraged many kind of nations to institute 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) to defend their waters from foreign fishing fleets. These and also many kind of various other maritime regulations were included in the negotiations that brought about the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1973–1982, coming into force in 1994). UNCLOS benefitted Japan profoundly, as the 200-mile limit about its thousands of far-flung islands (consisting of undersea mineral rights) covered an offshore area of 1.73 million square miles— twelve times even more than its full landmass.7 But it additionally signaled the finish of Japan’s large-scale distant-water fishing sector, as many type of of the world’s the majority of vital fisheries regions are contained in other nations’ EEZs.

Seafood and also Japan

Japan’s appearance on the worldwide financial scene in the 1970s as the worldwide company destination du jour, coupled with a rejection of hearty, red-meat American fare in favor of healthy and balanced cuisine prefer rice, fish, and vegetables and also the appeal of the high-concept aesthetics of Japanese design, all prepared the people for a sushi fad. And so, from what to previously generations of Americans was an exotic, nearly unpalatable ethnic specialty, then to haute cuisine of the a lot of rarefied type, sushi has end up being not just cool, but renowned. The painted window of a Cambridge, Massachusetts, coffee shop advertises “espresso, cappuccino, carrot juice, lasagna, sushi.” Mamelted potatoes with wasabi (horseradish), sushi-ginger relish, and also seared sashimigrade tuna steaks present Japan’s prospering social affect on uprange nouvelle cuisine throughout North America, Europe, and also Latin America. Sushi has actually also end up being the stuff of fashion, from “sushi” lip gloss, colored the deep red of raw tuna, to “wasabi” nail polish, a soft avocado green.

Fresh seafood is among the hallmarks of modern Japanese cuisine, and also if one needs any type of proof of the abundance and also array of fish, shellfish, and other marine products in the everyday diets of Japanese, one need just look via the stalls of the well known Tsukiji Market in main Tokyo, the world’s largest wholesale marketplace for fresh and frozen seafood.8

Tsukiji stands at the facility of a technologically advanced, multibillion-dollar international fishing sector, and eextremely day the market’s auctions complement international supply with the conventional demands of Japanese cuisine, made ever before even more fancy by Japan’s prosperity and the gentrification of culinary tastes.

Over the course of a year, vendors at Tsukiji sell probably 2,000 ranges of seafood, and in any kind of given season, a number of hundred are available; each of the market’s roughly 1,000 stalls stocks its own specialized selection. One stall screens mountains of red and white boiled octopus; in the stall beyond that, trays of gold fried fish cakes; over tbelow, squid still oozing babsence ink; throughout the means, fish pâté in neat pink and white blocks. Around the edge, an apprattract wields a meter-long knife to carve an massive tuna carcass; in the next stall, a woman closely arvarieties clams on dozens of trays; even more dvery own the aisle, an old male watchtotally stands over open crates full of sawdust and wriggling shrimp. The stalls are awash through seafood of almost eextremely conceivable species, form, shade, and also size. Black tubs of unagi (live eels) stand by a cutting board in one stall; next door, cprices of crabs packed in moist sawdust press out into the aisle. Colorful rows of hamadai (fresh snapper), perfectly matched in dimension, are set off by the blinding whiteness of a Styrofoam carton. Clams spread by the square meter across shpermit tanks. Amorphous mounds of anko (grayish pink monkfish liver) spill over the edge of trays. The selection is global: slabs of Canadian and Chilean salmon; trays of Thai shrimp; Okhotsk crab; fresh bluefin tuna airfreighted from New York, Istanbul, Adelaide, and Madrid; eels from Hamamatsu; boiled West Afrideserve to octopi; Shikoku sea bream; glittering tubs of fish roe from British Columbia; live lobsters from Nova Scotia; snapper from China; and also sea urchin roe from Maine, repackaged in Hokkaidō.

Tsukiji stands at the facility of a technologically advanced, multibillion- dollar international fishing market, and eexceptionally day the market’s auctions match international supply via the traditional requirements of Japanese cuisine, made ever even more fancy by Japan’s prosperity and also the gentrification of culinary tastes. Boosters encourage the homey check out that Tsukiji is Tokyo no daidokoro—Tokyo’s kitchen or pantry—yet at its height, in this pantry, more than 1,389 million pounds of seafood worth US $5.7 billion changed hands the mid-1990s.

Not So Many type of Fish in the Sea

In spite of its huge EEZ and its pelagic fleets in far-off seas past any kind of nation’s 200-mile limit, the Japanese fishing sector got in sharp decline from the 1980s onward. One important variable was that global overfishing started to end up being obvious around the world and also across many species. Fishing capacity and climbing demand in Japan had, in many kind of instances, overstripped supply. Populations of assorted species were start to decline, if not collapse. In the situation of whaling, an international moratorium was intfinished to preserve many species from extinction. In various other cases, the situation has actually been less clear: the actual international dimension (and also ultimate fate) of the bluefin tuna populace stays hotly contested, as does Japan’s function and responsibility in stimulating overfishing of this delicacy. To be fair, demand for tuna has soared about the people in emulation of Japanese culinary fads, and also in particular the financial increase of China has put tremendous push on the international trade in tuna and also various other high-top quality seafood.

Quality and also scarcity go hand also in hand also, and at leastern until March 11, 2011, the Japan “brand” was extensively regarded as height of the line in seafood. Perceptions readjusted via the destruction of around 10 percent of the Japanese fishing fleet in the tsunami that complied with the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and the nuclear contamination resulting from the meltdvery own of 3 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant on the Tōhoku coastline.

As listed previously, the waters off the Sanriku shore of Tōhoku are enriched by the mingling of the warm waters flowing north in the Japan Current (Kuroshio) as it meets the cold, southwardly flowing Okhotsk, or Kurile Current (Oyashio) producing one of the world’s a lot of fertile and also numerous fishing grounds. The warm Kuroshio swirls along with the cold Oyashio to develop huge oceanic eddies (gyres) wright here fish breed and also additionally wright here nuclear contaminants concentrate. The specific level of contamicountry is unclear, and the Japanese federal government has actually been anything yet forthcoming in providing detailed details and also analysis of the disaster. What is well-known is that the contamination from Fukushima is currently ranked second just to the 1986 nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. While Chernobyl is believed to be included and also is being fitted through a brand-new cap to additionally seal the contents, the radiation from Fukushima proceeds, and at this minute, there is little bit concrete expertise around the effects of the nuclear contamicountry on fish populations off the Tōhoku coast. But in well-known perception, guilt by association taints food products—consisting of seafood—from Fukushima and also other parts of Tōhoku.

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Internationwide Tensions, Resources and also Technology, and Rising Waters

Even if the waters off the Sanriku coast remain contaminated for years to come, Japan still controls one of the world’s height half-dozen fisheries areas, and the worth of that riches is all the even more starkly demonstrated by the existing problems of island sovereignty that have resulted in controversy in between Japan and its next-door neighbors. Even tiny specks of uninhabited land also have come to be significant points of contention between Japan and China (over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea), in between Japan and also Korea (over Takeshima/ Dokdo Island also (the Liancourt Rocks) in the Sea of Japan/East Sea), and also between Japan and also Russia (over the southerna lot of 4 islets of the Kurile chain between Hokkaidō and also the Kamchatka Peninsula). However before important fisheries sources may be, they are just a tiny part of these worldwide disputes. Questions of nationalism and also national pride, and also accessibility to undersea mineral rights, are even more instrumental than fishing rights per se. The 1.73 million square miles within the 200 mile limit about Japan’s hundreds of far-flung islands consist of a riches of sources just start to be tapped. In addition to the potential for fisheries, new modern technologies will certainly make means for mining of minerals from deep ocean waters, giant floating water generators are envisioned from electrical generation, good untapped resources of geothermal and also wind energy may be discovered or sited in Japanese waters, and also the potential for and also profit from polished seawater desalination are incalculable. Going forward, worldwide warming and the melting of the Antarctic icecap are now estimated to be unstoppable, with sea levels projected to rise ten feet over the next century. The danger of climbing seas is grave for many kind of nations, and Japan—with its populace, industries, and also other crucial framework mainly clustered in low-lying seaside areas—will sucount be dramatically affected by global climate change. Accuracy or the absence thereof of these dire predictions notwithstanding, anyone that desires to understand Japanese society will certainly execute well to always think about the historic and also modern significant impacts of the sea upon huguy life on the archipelearlier.