Sushi Police

As I claimed before, I love sushi and I think it’s one of the most delightful dishes. I am sure there’s millions of Sushi lover all over the globe.  And thousands of thousands veteran or well-trained sushi chef amusing and serving every kinds of Sushi to the Sushi lovers in countless restaurants. 

According to Kyodo News via Japan Today  , The Japanese agriculture ministry has stirred unease among restaurateurs in Los Angeles with its plan to send food experts to judge the authenticity of Japanese eateries, an idea that has been dubbed “the sushi police.”  Here’s full article for your perspective,  

Officials of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, claiming that some of the food served in Japanese restaurants abroad is not recognizable as Japanese, announced late last year that they planned to create a panel of food experts to travel abroad and inspect restaurants for authenticity.The panel has met twice so far, and according to ministry officials, will convene for a final meeting prior to the end of March before presenting a recommendation to the ministry for dispatching the “sushi police” between April 1 this year and March 31 next year. To allay fears the “police” nickname may arouse, ministry officials have said the panel will only check places that volunteer for certification.Jake S Oota, the owner of R23 in downtown Los Angeles, said he has no worries about his highly regarded sushi restaurant meeting the panel’s standards for certification. “We are one of the most authentic Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles. They are welcome to come here and check us out.”Ministry officials say that one of the aims of the program is to help the world better appreciate Japan’s culinary arts by correcting misunderstandings about what has come to pass as “real” Japanese fare. Oota agrees that “fusion-style” cuisine sold as “Japanese” has had an impact on many Americans’ understanding, or rather, misunderstanding, of what is authentic Japanese. Oota recalled that an angry customer once berated him for not serving a “crunch roll” (a roll made with deep-fried ingredients or deep-fried itself) at R23. While unconcerned about the status of his own restaurant, Oota, an American of Japanese and Korean descent, says he worries for the fate of less-traditional restaurants owned by non-Japanese. ‘More than half of the Japanese restaurants here are run by Koreans,” he said. “People are hysterical.”Some critics have suggested that xenophobia is one of the motives behind the program, while others fear that the panel will discriminate against non-Japanese restaurant owners, despite ministry officials’ assurances that this will not be the case.Asked to comment about the “sushi police,” sushi chef Jerry Kim laughs, “Ooh, sounds scary!” Kim, who learned how to make sushi in Chicago and now works at Ginza Sushi in Koreatown, an area in Los Angeles, where most Japanese restaurants are owned by Koreans and Korean-Americans, said, “I’m not worried because I’m proud of the way we make sushi and sashimi. Besides, I make Korean-style sushi and sashimi, so what can the Japanese government even say?”Kim said the Japanese do not have much right to claim sushi as a product of their food culture. ‘Sushi and sashimi are originally from China and Korea,” he insists. “The Japanese have only started eating sushi since World War II. Koreans and Chinese have been making sushi and sashimi for thousands of years.”

Tom Cardenas is one of the partnership that owns six ultra-trendy Japanese-fusion restaurants in the Los Angeles area that attract hip, young crowds and celebrities. He said in an interview at Sushi Roku, his West Hollywood venture, “We know we are pretty authentic so we have all the confidence in the world that we would pass.” Cardenas calls Sushi Roku’s food “modern Asian cuisine.” “The chefs at Sushi Roku take traditional Japanese preparation to another level by adding things like jalapenos, olive oil, and caviar.” Despite Cardenas’ confidence, such unorthodox combinations might disqualify his restaurant for certification by the “sushi police,” who will base part of their rating on the use of “authentic” ingredients. Japanese ministry officials have said that new standards for Japanese food may help increase exports by encouraging restaurants abroad to use as many Japanese ingredients as possible. But Cardenas is skeptical. “Ninety percent or more of our ingredients come from Japan, but restaurant owners are not going to change the way they buy their products based on this certification.”

Yoshikazu Maeda, head chef of the Thousand Cranes restaurant in the Los Angeles New Otani Hotel, said while preparing fish “flown first-class from Japan” for the evening meal, “It is impossible for us to use only Japanese products. Even Japanese restaurants in Japan probably don’t use 100 percent Japanese products. Kikkoman (soy sauce), for example, is produced in the U.S.”  The veteran sushi chef is not bothered so much by what ingredients he is being asked to use, but by why the Japanese government has suddenly taken such interest in the food industry. “My biggest concern is the purpose,” Maeda said. “For instance, the French government spends a lot of money and time maintaining the standards for French food because they believe that food is culturally very important. I don’t know why all of a sudden the Japanese government has begun to think about it.”  “In the end, it’s the customer who decides,” Maeda says. “If the government wants to spend Japanese taxpayers’ money, they can go ahead, but our customers have already ranked us. What matters most is the response we get from our customers after every meal.”

Not all restaurateurs in Los Angeles, home to more than 500 restaurants that claim to be Japanese, feel the same way about the ministry’s plans. Yuki Kadota, the manager of Izayoi, an “izakaya” — a drinking place with food — in Little Tokyo, says she believes the government is doing what is necessary to protect Japanese food culture. “They want to make sure people from other countries learn what proper Japanese food is. In America, people think the ‘California roll’ and ‘teriyaki’ are authentic, but, really, American teriyaki is completely different from authentic Japanese teriyaki,” Kadota said. “People will get the wrong knowledge of Japanese food if it goes unchecked.” Kadota also said she believes being checked for authenticity will, in the end, help her restaurant more than hurt it. “If the government sends a special person to check how authentic our food is, it will be good for us,” she said. “We have to be corrected and made to do things properly. We can’t be lazy.” Kadota’s enthusiasm for authenticity does not seem to take into account the fact that one of her chefs specializes in Japanese-French or Japanese-Italian fusion food, garnishing the restaurant’s menu with traditional foods infused with ingredients such as prosciutto, olive oil, and balsamic sauces.

In the end, many wonder whether or not restaurants will really respond to the threat of Japan’s “sushi police” the way the government hopes.

Even Kadota, who says she supports the Japanese ministry’s actions, said that regardless of how the panel rates her restaurant, it probably will not make much of a difference.  “If they say that our restaurant is not authentic, I don’t think we will change our menu. Not all our customers are Japanese, so we need a few non-Japanese items. And, sometimes it is our Japanese customers who want to try something other than traditional Japanese food.”

I do think it could be a good idea to let the sushi Lovers in L.A. enjoy real (traditional) Japanse sushi and pay 100 bucks more for real authentic dishes.  Many savvies will enjoy the real authentic Japanese dishes.  But, I wonder if many Japanese are happy to see their tax money being used this way. Are owners of these 500 restaurants no longer serve “California Roll” if their restaurants to be certified as Authentic Japanse Sushi Restaurant?  Personally, I do not care if they use 100% pure Japanese ingredients or fishes directly imported from nor care the nationality of sushi chefs as long as they serve me good sushi.  People will still eat what they like.


5 Responses to “Sushi Police”

  1. tomojiro Says:

    NO, we are not happy. And the minister of agriculture sucks. A realy dump person who is now in trouble with money.

  2. typeslowly Says:

    I read this too and I believe this will mean discrimination against non Japanese restaurant establishments. I don’t think your average consumer will really look for the Ministry of Agriculture approval though. Italians could have a field day here in Japan judging what passes as Pizza in this country (Japan).

  3. JiMong Says:

    Hi tomojiro / typeslowly,

    Thanks for your comments.

    As I digg a bit more on it, the plan was called off by the Japanese Agriculture Ministry after receiving complaints – some from overseas – that the plan was discriminatory, according to a report in the Asahi Shimbun daily. According to article, The ministry had earmarked more than Y276 million ($2.3 million) for the “Sushi Police” project.

    Yes, $2.3 Mil., I would not like to see my tax money spent on this way if I were Japanse tax payer. It would be a good idea if the ministry spent these projected money to promote Sushi by give sort of training session in Japan for non Japanese national sushi chefs from around the world.

    Anyhow, a quote from an article nails down whole issue “It would be difficult to completely reject what is locally accepted as Japanese food”.

  4. dragonlife Says:

    Dear dreamer!
    greetings and congratulations on a great blog!
    Would you believe they do the same in Paris with a French/Japanes Association checking the authenticity of all Japanese Restaurants. I’ve herad they also plan to do the same with Korean restaurants! About time!
    If you want to know what kind of sushi we eat here in Shizuoka City, Japan, come and visit!
    Looking forward to talking to you about our common likes!

  5. JiMong Says:

    Hello Dragon,

    I just visited your site and couldn’t stop watering in my mouth. I believe I’ll be regular reader of your blog and appreciate the art of sushi.
    Many thanks.

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