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Modern Tokyo–one of Japan’s most renowned cities–refers to the “Edo”. But what Edo also correlates to is the time period of internal peace, political stability, economic growth, refined enjoyment in the arts. Lasting for almost 300 years, the Edo period was established in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu received the title of “shogun” and subsequently focused on developing the Tokugawa shogunate. 
All in all, a great deal of changes occurred during this period: the increased urbanization, the transition from the traditional Japanese government system, and primarily, the advances in the culinary culture and dietary habits which translated in various socio-economic implications of the existing institutions during the said period. The food culture honed in this period not only mirrored the creativity of the Japanese but it also reflected the freedom and enjoyment they had when creating and consuming such meals. 
 
It was during the Edo period that there was a movement towards a society more inclusive, in a sense, as the common people were welcomed and embraced to enjoy the freedom and mundanity of having to prepare and eat a variety of meals. The culinary culture became more accessible to the less well-off residents. Ideally, this intensified and strengthened not only the relations of the people but also their experiences and understanding of their very own culture.
In reality, however, this measure of development during the Edo period did not remain to be as inclusive given that power relations between social classes were very much still present. One of the circumstances that testify to this is that the “sophisticated food culture” at that time was very limited to the urban districts. The farmers and people who had been residing and working in mountains and fishing villages only had the experience of the growing food culture during the late Edo period. Overall, the advances in the culinary culture and dietary habits had a causal sequence—starting off with the regional lords and the wealthy and later on reaching the common people and the masses.
The significance of the food culture during the Edo period also found its way in literature. Poets such as Ihara Saikaku and Matsuo Basho wrote about the enjoyment of satisfying the pleasures of palates as well as the luxuries, privileges, and the specificities of the experience of dining. Moreover, the changes in the food culture of Japan had its peaks and its lowly phases spread throughout the whole period. Truly, the implications of the improvements and changes are held to be historically significant and have influenced the course of the economy.
Expansion and the movement of people has led to the formation of the urban districts in the city of Edo. The extension of the Edo castle compound to a district was continuous as more people found their way to Edo, eventually becoming a true metropolis because of the hundreds and thousands of townspeople, as recorded in the 1743 census records.
Why did people move to the metropolis, you may ask? The answers varied, but employment opportunities served as one of the most significant factors, especially among young bachelors. The growing population was tantamount to the effects of the reforms in order to achieve economic development. Restaurants flourished across the towns, and the streets were filled with different food stalls and vendors. The diversity of people and large population was the evident premise to the provision of meals daily and growing demand for food, especially among the samurai and shogun as they were considered as a consumer class. 
In general, the increasing demand and growth of food supply resulted in more people engaging in the industry of food service. Commerce and trade continued to thrive because of the variety of businesses. Consequently, one of the common forms of trade manifested through the existence of peddlers who were known to have walked through the city of Edo, selling all kinds of daily necessities and food that ranged from fruits, candies, and to other ingredients such as soy sauce, tofu, miso, vinegar, among many others. 
Moreover, the culinary culture brought a rich sense of community during the period because of the shared experiences evident in a society. Their daily routines were so similar with each other, especially among the rowhouse dwellers. The meals of the common people were also alike, and these very dishes were shared among themselves, building a sense of familial community within their groups.
Politics in the development of the food or culinary culture of Japan was also very much evident given the existence of social hierarchy, gender stratification, and power relations. History was a witness to the existence of a hierarchical social structure and this finds its wait in the food culture during the Edo period.
As stated previously, the diets of the commoners were considered “extremely frugal”, wherein their meals and ways of consumption were very much rooted in their socio-economic status. Although the dishes that were served to them may have been considered sufficient, it was definitely not as grandiose as the dietary habits of those who were of higher seats in society.
Particularly, the kitchens and the meals in the households of high-ranking samurais were much more different from that of the commoners. The houses of the daimyo, or the regional lords, had several kitchens; on the other hand, the houses of lower-ranking samurai had only one kitchen with limited space. For daily meals, the lower-ranking families had only soup, rice with green tea, pickles, and tofu; eating eggs was even considered an extravagance.
Comparatively, the nobility easily had more privileges when it came to their diet. Common to them were expensive and quality pickled plums, yams, freshwater clams, miso soup, and striped mullet. Even inside the castle, extravagance was very much present. The lady of the shogun received daily meals of a portion for ten people! She had her food taster, as well, to confirm whether or not the food served to her was poisoned. 
Truly, the rich culture of food and culinary during the Edo period of Japan translated to the influences on practices in politics, developments in economy, and changes in society. All these were interconnected, and both the struggles and improvements born out of this period were highly considered as intersectional. In general, the food culture was dependent on how the institutions functioned, and at the same time, these institutions have been capable of controlling the dietary habits of the people. Although the meals of the rich and the poor varied greatly during this time, it nonetheless showed the creativity and community the people built amongst themselves—and all with and through the food culture they built at that time. 
A lover of old Japan from Heian to Edo, Lee is quite the geek when it comes to the customs and traditions of Japan and its people.
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Japan Nakama is an online lifestyle and culture magazine. We explore our love for Japan by writing about food, art, fashion and style and anime. We also champion and promote small businesses inspired by Japan. Check out our curated Japanese product marketplace.

 

For order, product or support queries. Email [email protected]japannakama.co.uk

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Japan Nakama is an online lifestyle and culture magazine. We explore our love for Japan by writing about food, art, fashion and style and anime. We also champion and promote small businesses inspired by Japan. Check out our curated Japanese product marketplace.

For order, product or support queries. Email [email protected]japannakama.co.uk
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