Here is the history of sushi, one of the representative foods of Japan, and the difference in tastes between regions.
History of Sushi
Sushi is a traditional Japanese food that mainly uses rice and seafood. We understand that nigiri is commonly brought to mind when we say sushi, but there are further classifications beyond the nigiri style of sushi. Sushi can be broken down into two types of sushi: hayazushi, which is a recent style of sushi with vinegared rice and fresh seafood, and narezushi, a formal style of sushi made by fermenting seafood with rice and salt. Let’s track down the history of sushi.
The Roots of Sushi
Around the 4th century BC, fish and other food were fermented in steamed rice and barley as a method of long-term preservation in southeast Asia. This method was transferred to Japan in the Nara era (710 to 794), and was the beginning of sushi.
*The photo is for illustrative purposes.
The Prototype of Sushi
The prototype of sushi was invented in the Heian era (794 to 1185). It was called narezushi, a preservative food made by fermenting seafood, like trout and gibel, in rice for a few months to a year. It had a strong sourness from the fermentation that condensed the fish's flavor, and only the fish was consumed.
Establishment of the Nigiri Style of Sushi
By the time of the Muromachi era (1336 to 1573), the fermentation period was shortened and both the rice and fish were consumed. Shortly after the Muromachi era, hayazushi, a style of sushi without fermentation, was established thanks to the spread of vinegar. Oshizushi, a type of sushi in which rice and fish are pressed into a box, and nigirizushi (Edomaezushi, in which seafood is placed on top of vinegared rice with wasabi paste in the middle), invented in Edo, are both types of hayazushi. Oshizushi was more common in Kansai (west), and nigiri in Edo (east). In recent days, nigirizushi has been popularized nationwide, and other types of sushi like oshizushi and narezushi continue to be consumed as local cuisine around the country. There are various types of sushi which have been invented in the process of development, like makizushi and chirashizushi. Many sushi with various local specialty factors were also created.
Characteristics in Different Regions
Here, we will introduce the different rice flavors used for sushi, and other local types of sushi.
A main feature of Hokkaido-style sushi is a salty vinegared rice with almost no added sugar. One of the strong points of Hokkaido is the availability of a range of fresh seafood like salmon, salmon roe, and crab that can be enjoyed. Izushi is also a local specialty of Hokkaido. This is a fermented product made of rice, fish, vegetables and koji (a type of mold commonly used in sake fermentation). Recently, Nemuro sanma roll sushi, a local sushi of the Nemuro region made with saury, is becoming popular.
Tohoku and Hokuriku Sushi
The rice used for these regions' sushi is fermented, and has a strong, sour taste. The common ingredients are seafood and vegetables for Tohoku, and river seafood and vegetables for Hokuriku. In these areas, the sushi culture of narezushi still remains. There are famous types like izushi from the Tohoku region, hatahatazushi from Akita, and kaburazushi from Ishikawa and Toyama, which uses turnips and yellowtail. Additionally, there are famous types of sushi that are not fermented, like kakinohasushi from Ishikawa and masunozushi from Toyama.
*The Hokuriku region is a part of the midsection on MAP 4.
The Kanto region uses a moderately sweet vinegared rice using sugar. The main part of Tokyo favors sour vinegared rice with less sugar, and Tochigi, Ibaraki, and Chiba prefer sweet rice. Foods from the mountains, rivers, and ocean are used as the main ingredients. In Tokyo, nigirizushi has been mainstream since the Edo era. Makizushi (rolled sushi) from Chiba, and sasazushi from Nagano (close to the Kanto region), invented in the Sengoku era, are also famous.
Tokai, Kinki, and Chugoku Sushi
These regions use sweet vinegared rice with as much sugar as there is vinegar. The sushi culture of Kinki developed mainly with oshizushi, so some areas in Kinki think immediately of oshizushi when talking about sushi instead of the nigiri style. The Tokai and Kinki regions use vegetables and seafood, and the Chugoku region mainly uses vegetables. Batterasushi from Osaka, saba no bozushi from Kyoto and barazushi from Okayama are famous. Funazushi, a fermented sushi from Shiga, is also well-known.
Their sweet vinegared rice made with vinegar and an equal amount of sugar or fish broth and yuzu citrus juice is what makes this sushi characteristic of the area. Most of the ingredients are actually harvested from the mountains. Kouchi's inakazushi especially uses mountain vegetables.
This region has especially sweet vinegared rice with a larger amount of added sugar. The main ingredients are vegetables and seafood. Kakinohazushi from Fukuoka and omurazushi from Nagasaki are popular.
Hachijojima Island Sushi
Hachijojima Island has salty vinegared rice without added sugar, and mustard is used instead of wasabi. The main ingredient is seafood. Their famous sushi include daitozushi, which uses marlin and mackerel, and shimazushi, with snapper, tuna, and greater amberjack.
*Hachijojima Island is an isolated island of the Kanto region on MAP 3.
Understanding the history and characteristics will make your sushi experience even more enjoyable!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.