Japanese people love food. More than that, they love to eat out, particularly in the cities. This is partly due to the long working hours in Japan and the small living spaces that many city dwellers have to put up with. Kitchen space is limited for many Japanese and, as eateries are plentiful and often cheap, dining out is a favoured option for many.
Dining Habits in Japan
The love of presentation and ceremony is a well-known trait of the Japanese. Dining out is often an excellent way to enjoy a well-presented meal served with traditional Japanese formality and etiquette, and it is hardly surprising news that Tokyo's restaurants have earned more Michelin stars than those in any other city on Earth.
The Japanese also like things to be new. It is practically a national obsession, with cars being considered for scrapping after five years of use and television programmes rarely being commissioned for more than one season, not because they are unpopular but because the viewers are more interested in new shows than a second season of the same again. Where else in the world would you find a biscuit manufacturer spending five years to develop a particular flavour and texture for their product, only to remove it from the shelf after three months because it's considered to be out of season? In Japan such occurrences happen all the time.
It is because of attitudes like this that restaurants continually seek to find new experiences for their diners. While some traditional foods have remained popular, the preparation of them has changed many times over the centuries, with each regional prefecture having its own gastronomic speciality which they are keen to promote to others. The national desire for new culinary experiences has, not surprisingly, led to the Japanese people discovering the delights of foreign food. They did so many centuries ago, but the post-Second World War tourism boom has led to its increased popularity. Just as today's Westerners like to enjoy a night of Asian cuisine, to their counterparts in Japan the lure of exotic foods from across the globe still maintains a fascinating appeal. Yes, the Japanese really do like to 'go out for an English'...or any other Western dish. They've even given this love of exotic cuisine from the far away West a special name:
It's important to realise that Yoshoku isn't a faithful reproduction of foreign cooking. It's Western food which has usually been adapted to suit the palate of the Japanese diner. Consequently, when the unwary foreigner (or Gaijin) orders something on the menu that they recognise, the actual dish they get may be completely different from what they were expecting. In fact, if you do get something you expect to receive, you are blessed with unusually good fortune and, as soon as you finish your meal, should take yourself off to a shrine immediately, to give thanks to the local Deities that have smiled upon you1.
Originally, Yoshoku tended to be served only on special or family occasions but its popularity has increased over the years and it is now eaten frequently across Japan. One particular item that has proven indispensable to Yoshoku restaurants is Worcestershire sauce. It's even pronounced properly2. However, all is not as it seems with this well-known condiment. For the Worcestershire sauce in Japan is entirely different from the sauce discussed in the h2g2 Edited Guide Entry Worcestershire Sauce.
Worcestershire Sauce in Japan
As the name suggests, Japanese Worcestershire sauce was derived from the English sauce of the same name and it's probably no coincidence that the top manufacturer of the sauce in Japan is the very British sounding brand 'Bulldog' which, at the time of writing this Entry, produces a staggering 200,000 bottles every day.
Nobody knows exactly when Worcestershire sauce was first introduced into Japan, but it is believed to date from the 1890s3, in the middle of the Meijei era (1868-1912). At that time, Yoshoku was already popular in Japan. However, the only condiment the Japanese were familiar with was Soy Sauce and the restaurant chefs felt this did not compliment the Yoshoku flavours. English Worcestershire sauce was introduced to Yoshoku diners, who universally hated it. This was because they were using it the wrong way. In England, the sauce had been used in tiny quantities as a condiment or, more usually, mixed with the food during the cooking process. The Japanese were using it like soy sauce - pouring it over their food. Not surprisingly, the sauce was drowning the flavour of the food.
Some enterprising Japanese chaps decided to develop a weaker version of Worcestershire sauce that kept the same flavour as the original. However, they had to guess the ingredients of the English sauce as the recipe was a closely guarded secret of the manufacturers, Lea and Perrins. Their first attempts were made by using vegetables found in England, but it was only when they tried adding Japanese soup stock ingredients, sardines and kelp, that they found a close flavour match. They allowed the fish stock to ferment for four months and found they had developed a sauce with the much sought after mildness. They went on to develop a method of extracting the flavour essence from the ingredients, enabling them to bypass the fermentation process and begin mass production of their new sauce, for distribution across Japan.
The flavour has been continually developed over the last century and today's Worcestershire sauce uses apple as one of its ingredients. The Japanese sauce had always used sugar as a sweetener but, in the Second World War, apples were used as a replacement due to the sugar supply being rationed (apples weren't covered under the rationing restrictions). This addition, combined with Prune paste, created the flavour of the sweet Worcestershire sauce used in Japan today. There are now several blends of Worcestershire sauce in Japan. By varying the proportions of the ingredients, they have created an even milder variety and a creamy, 'Tonkatsu' sauce for use with pork cutlets. A 'Vegetable and Fruit' Tonkatsu sauce is also available, using a high fructose Corn Syrup instead of fish extract to cater for Vegetarians. Yakisoba sauce and Okonomiyaki sauce also derive their origins from Japanese Worcestershire Sauce.