Japan wants its cuisine added to UN heritage list

From sushi to tempura, okonomiyaki, ramen and yakitori, Japanese dishes are in line to be added to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's list of cuisine designated as an intangible cultural heritage.

The agriculture ministry in Tokyo has announced that it will put forward the nation's food culture - which includes the utensils used in preparing and eating food and Japan's unique table manners - for inclusion on the list.

The ministry aims to file the application with UNESCO in March next year and a decision on whether it is worthy of inclusion may be reached as early as November 2013, ministry officials said in a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.

"If it were registered, we anticipate there would be a wide range of positive effects, such as on tourism and exports," Masayo Tanabu, a parliamentary secretary for the ministry, said at the press conference.

One of the driving forces behind the idea is to provide new support for Japan's agricultural and fisheries sectors, which have been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan in early March, as well as the ongoing problems in farming and fishing communities close to the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor.

Many countries halted imports of Japanese produce in the weeks after the crisis struck and it is taking time for exports to recover and for consumers to have trust in Japanese foodstuffs.

That loss of faith is unfortunate because Japanese cuisine has earned a devoted following around the world in recent years.

Sushi restaurants have popped up in cities around the world - in part because of their healthy ingredients - while chains such as Wagamama have turned humble noodles into a huge international success story.

That growing popularity also extends to traditional Japanese drinks - such as green tea and sake - while famous chefs such as Nobu have helped spread the word about the unique cuisine of these islands.

To date, the traditional cuisines of France, Mexico and the Mediterranean have been recognized as being of important intangible cultural heritage, while Korean imperial cuisine is expected to be added to the list in November.

JR

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