From meat to fish and back again

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As part of our series “True? Not true? Let’s vote!” we made the claim that meat-eating is not allowed in Japan. That’s not quite true, though. Here’s the story in full. Read and enjoy!

The land of the rising sun has perfected the art of processing fish during the course of its history. Generally speaking, in Japan there’s hardly a meal which doesn’t include seafood. The classic dish is known as “sashimi”, where raw fish is served in thin slices. But why has the preparation of fish evolved into such a fine art?

Unofficial indulgence

In 675 AD, emperor Temmu was the first Japanese leader to enact a law banning the consumption of meat. This legal ruling was renewed by each successive emperor in turn. The basis for the ban was the Buddhist principle that it is wrong to kill animals. By the 10th century, there was hardly anyone in Japan still eating meat – not officially, at least. Excavations near Tokyo, however, have revealed the bones of wild animals such as pigs and birds from this period. The remains of dogs, bears and even monkeys have also been discovered here, providing evidence that the ban had different interpretations from one region to another.

Meat for the economy

Many years later, from 1868, western influences arrived in the country and Japan wanted to grow to become an industrial nation. However, this required the population to grow too, quite literally. The average Japanese person was not of a very large stature. Meat-eating was, therefore, officially sanctioned again. Today, the Japanese enjoy a wide-ranging cuisine characterized by many types of vegetable, seafood and meat.

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