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.
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.