Sino-Japanese Relations

[Beijing Restaurant Review] How Japanese Food is Perceived in Beijing

If you ever get a chance to visit China and look for Japanese food you would be surprised by the number of Japanese restaurants there are in the major tier-1 cities. You’d think because of the recent Sino-Japanese tensions, Chinese people would boycott Japanese food but as a general rule of thumb, it really has no effect. What I find most interesting through my stay in China over the years is that a majority of Japanese style restaurant owners in China don’t have any connections with Japan at all. I ask them what they think about Japan and the common response that I hear over and over is that they can sell Japanese food for a much more expensive price than Chinese food. This is because in China, consumers know that Japanese products are considered high quality and thus, much more expensive. In China you’ll see a Takoyaki restaurant with the name Hokkaido (北海道) or a ramen restaurant with the name Nagano (長野). In Japan, Hokkaido is not known for Takoyaki and Nagano is not known for ramen. But in China, Hokkaido is a rather popular tourist destination for the lavender fields and so a lot of people associate Hokkaido with random Japanese food for their marketing strategy to attract more customers.
In Beijing you can find anything from B-Class Gourmet, as they call in Japan as being ordinary but still tasty dishes like ramen, udon, dumplings to upscale venues providing sushi and sashimi imported directly from the Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market. You can enjoy a 130RMB (about $18USD) all you can eat and drink Japanese food or spend 15RMB ($2USD) on a bowl of Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. Some of the Japanese restaurant owners say that although they attract an abundance of Japanese customers from a pool of about 10,000 Japanese residents currently residing in Beijing, without attracting the Chinese consumers their business won’t last. So the Japanese food in China has a bit of a Chinese feel to it creating a brand new fusion.
From my view point, Beijing has adapted the idea of Japanese food as any foreign country would. Like in the US, when you think of Japanese food, sushi, sashimi, ramen and sake comes to mind. Beijing is exactly like that incorporating the exotic high class model into Japanese cuisine.  Most people here are surprised to find out that Japanese people don’t actually eat sushi at least once a week but only maybe once a month on a rather special occasion. But the fact of the matter is that in America, most middle income families can afford a night out at a high-end Japanese food restaurant but in China these restaurants market their food towards high class Chinese and expats so the majority of the population here in China doesn’t get to interact with Japanese food and culture at all.

At Kagen in Beijing, a American Style Japanese grill restaurant. Chinese chefs are busy preparing the Robatayaki.

Creative Commons Licence
Go Katayama – Photojournalist in Beijing by Go Katayama is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at gokatayama.com.

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[Sino-Japanese Relations] Recap of Sino-Japanese Relations: September to October

Let’s look back at the major events that happened in the last 2 months span between Japan and China. This is the most tension these two neighboring states have experienced since 2005.

9/8/2010 Collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and the Japanese coast guard near a chain of disputed islands.
9/16/2010 Death of a Giant Panda in Japan loaned by the Chinese government.
9/20/2010 The arrest of four Japanese construction company employees at a Chinese military site.
9/20/2010 China cancels 1,000 Japanese youths visiting the Shanghai Expo.
9/21/2010 China cancels the ticket sales of Japanese boy band Smap’s first ever concert in Shanghai.
9/27/2010 Japan asks China to pay for boat damages from the 9/8 incident.
10/7/2010  Japan complains to China on their difficulty to import rare earth resources.
10/20/2010 Ironically, Japan welcomes China for the 10th anniversary of the military exchange program.
10/25/2010 China cancels their attendance to 23rd Tokyo International film fest concerning over the naming of the event’s Taiwanese delegation.

As a result of these actions and reactions by the two states, Japanese tourism to China has dropped significantly. Heavy distrust between the 2 states have grown dramatically in the past couple weeks. Of course, we also witnessed protests in both countries:
10/16/2010 2,000 Japanese protesters marched Saturday to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.
10/23/2010 Anti-Japanese protests in Sichuan, China.
10/26/2010 Anti-Japanese protests in Chongqing, China.

There were other protests in China as well, but from the trends it seems like the Chinese government is doing a lot better job controlling the protests as the most recent ones in Lanzhou and Baoji were controlled by local officials before the demonstrations expanded into larger groups. It is said that most of these protests are organized through online groups which enables protesting to happen much efficiently and jointly as we have seen through the Honda labor strikes. It was interesting to see how in some of the latest protests in China, while some were shouting slogans slamming Japan and to boycott their products, some people also raised banners criticizing Chinese Communist Party rule. One called for the introduction of a multiparty political system. Another berated the government for the high cost of living. Many people have fallen victim of this dispute as a Japanese school in Tianjin was attacked and Japanese owned businesses and Japanese restaurants were hit hard by angry protesters. But it is ironic since most of these restaurants are Chinese owned and personally, they hold no ties to Japan. I asked a couple Japanese restaurant owners in Beijing if the last couple months have affected their business and they said they said they have fewer people coming in to their restaurants.

What is effecting such public opinion is the more interesting topic of debate as education in both states clearly list in their history books that the controversial islands belongs to them and nobody else. The unfortunate incident happened in the sea territory of dispute over both state’s sovereignty which stirred the events listed above in the last couple months.  I understand there’s mixed reactions to all this but what really hit me was Yoshito Sengoku, Japan’s chief government spokesman statement “The ball is in China’s court” and Japan currently must remain calm. Japan relies heavily on the booming Chinese tourists for its economic recovery. China seems to have more say and control in the relations as we have seen in the past couple months. Japanese citizens are angry about the outcome but Japan currently has to stay calm as any move to anger China will have a longterm damage  on the 2 states bilateral relationship, which Japan doesn’t want at the present. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the following months to come before the Asian Games are getting ready to boot up in Guangzhou China.

Nonetheless, the two countries need each other in the economic field and as I have said over and over, lack of interaction between actual Japanese and Chinese people have stirred such emotions and comments to each other being influenced heavily by popular media and propaganda history books from both sides. At the moment, the 2 states have been playing power diplomacy as both states want to stay as the ‘older brother’ in terms of Confucian relationships as China passed Japan as the second largest economy while Japan has been struggling politically and economically internally as the yen continues to be strong.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s interview with WSJ covers the basic views from Japan as well.

Picture taken at Japan Pavilion at Shanghai Expo, even with rising diplomatic tensions, the Japanese Pavilion remained one of the most popular destination)

Picture taken at Japan Pavilion at Shanghai Expo, even with rising diplomatic tensions, the Japanese Pavilion remained one of the most popular destination

Creative Commons Licence
Go Katayama – Photojournalist in Beijing by Go Katayama is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at gokatayama.com.