On Tuesday, Japan launched a campaign to certify authentic Japanese food overseas, but insisted it was only promoting its cuisine rather than setting up a “sushi police.
Promoters unveiled a logo that will identify “real Japanese restaurants overseas – a pair of chopsticks holding a cherry petal set in front of a red rising-sun flag.
The effort is led by a non-governmental group of experts set up in July with the blessing of the agriculture ministry, although organizers said it will open offices in various countries to do local appraisals.
The body has so far opened bureaus in Bangkok, Shanghai and Taipei and plans to expand to Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles and Paris by the end of March.
“We are not aiming at something like a sushi police aiming to crack down on inauthentic restaurants, said a member of the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, declining to be named.
“Our objective is to promote Japanese food, not eliminate Japanese restaurants.
The campaign when first announced was mocked by some Western media as a futile effort at a time when Japanese food is growing in popularity across the world.
To qualify for certification, applicants are required to use Japanese rice and seasoning along with traditional ingredients. Restaurants must also show knowledge of Japanese recipes and proper hygiene.
Restaurants must also clear at least two of five criteria such as originality, dish arrangement and customer service.
“It’s important to share the heart that goes into authentic Japanese food with chefs around the world, but we can’t force them, said Yukio Hattori, a board member of the certification body and president of Hattori Nutrition College.
“We also have a history of fusion dishes between Japanese and French, Italian or Chinese food, Hattori, a noted food critic, told AFP.
“I think we should aim to have two wheels – one is authenticity and the other is the local quality of Japanese food in each country, he said.
The organization will hold a conference on March 27 and 28 in Tokyo to explain the system, inviting restaurant owners and others from around the world.
Japanese officials and tourists have voiced growing alarm at what they see as vile imitations of their cuisine overseas, fearing that Japanese food will go the way of Chinese cuisine in North America and Europe.
The ubiquitous California roll is a case in point. The vegetarian sushi dish, which replaces sushi with avocado or cucumbers and may include cream cheese, is unrecognizable to most Japanese.
Japan estimates 25,000 restaurants around the world purport to serve Japanese food and that the number is expected to double in a few years amid perceptions that the cuisine is healthy.