The Japanese Table
The Japanese-Style Meal: Shokuiku, Food Educationby Ayako Ehara
In this current Feature series, the nature of the Japanese-style meal is discussed, including such aspects as the country’s diet, its traditional foods and its eating patterns. This third installment introduces the concept of shokuiku, Japanese food education.
Changing Dietary Patterns
There has been a growing need for education about food in recent years, and the subject is currently a focus of public attention in Japan.
By around 1980, the Japanese-style meal had achieved what was considered an ideal balance of nutrition for most people. The appropriate rates are generally considered to be 12 percent to 15 percent for protein; 20 percent to 25 percent for fats; and 60 percent to 68 percent for carbohydrates. But as that decade continued, nutritional imbalances in national eating patterns began to surface.
The quantity of rice consumed as the staple of the diet fell off sharply. According to a National Nutritional Survey, the average per capita daily intake of rice was 226 grams in 1980, but this had fallen to 198 grams by 1990, and to 160 grams in 2000. This decrease in the intake of rice, which had long been the center of Japanese meals, led to changes in the content of the main and secondary side dishes, including an increase in the intake of meat and fats. The basic balance achieved by the traditional meal known as ichiju-sansai—one-soup, three dishes—collapsed. Moreover, as more people began to rely on automobiles for transportation, they got less exercise—and an increase was seen in lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
The 1980s saw a variety of social changes: as the number of women in the workforce began to surpass that of full-time housewives, the consumption of pre-prepared and frozen foods rose. As home-cooked meals became more simple or Westernized, eating out at fast-food and casual Western-style restaurants became more frequent. This increase of nutritionally unbalanced meals raised public concern.
The habit of families eating together had begun to break down, leading to concern about the issue of children left to eat meals alone, and about family members eating separately according to personal preferences. Surveys also revealed a sharp rise in the number of people who skipped breakfast.
International Dietary Guidelines
The publication of dietary guidelines began in the 1980s, and eventually many countries based their recommendations on the 1995 Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO).
The focus of these guidelines is not on nutrients, but rather, on food combinations with an emphasis on the distinctive food cultures of individual countries. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (1995) presents a pyramid, placing grains at its base and indicating the number of servings for the various food groups at separate levels rising to its apex.
Distinct from Japanese eating patterns, the U.S. guidelines define cereal as grains in addition to bread, rice or pasta/noodle products. In 2005, these dietary guidelines were revised to recommend the "My Pyramid" approach to eating, which is geared to the individual and emphasizes the need for exercise, while advising that whole-grain products compose more than half of total grain intake.
In some Asian countries, the main focus tends to be on fighting undernourishment; in others it is on eating patterns and foods, including preventing so-called lifestyle-related diseases. For example, China’s dietary guidelines (2007) encourage consumption of the traditional diet centering on grains, legumes and vegetables and reducing fat intake.
The Basic Law of Food Education
In order to address the country’s various problems relating to food and diet, the Japanese government established the Basic Law on Shokuiku (food education) in 2005. To foster the healthy growth of children and nurture their natural survival instincts, this law sets forth a set of basic principles for food education; e.g., the importance of good food and eating patterns, learning about food through various experiences, and the individual’s ability to choose appropriate foods.
The law also addresses such issues as the need for understanding the traditional food culture; the need for interaction between the producers and consumers of food; ways to invigorate domestic agriculture and fisheries and achieve a higher rate of food self-sufficiency; and the role of parents and educators in food education for children.
The passage of the law sparked food education-related initiatives in various parts of the country. That same year the Dietary Guidelines for Japanese was published to encourage intake of a better balance of foods. The guidelines are graphically illustrated as the "Japanese Food Guide Spinning Top"—a rotating, inverted cone, divided from the top down into separate food categories.
Nutrition Education in Action
There had been earlier efforts to promote food education in various parts of Japan, but the passage of the Basic Law on Shokuiku prompted many new initiatives such as special classes to educate school children about food, launched not only by schools and local boards of education but by food- and energy-related businesses.
Kikkoman Corporation has taken an active role in these educational initiatives by presenting lectures at elementary and junior high schools. These lectures cover various topics relating to soy sauce, including its ingredients, its production, and its effect on daily dishes. Kikkoman also sponsors a program that introduces elementary school students to soy sauce production at one of its plants.
Some high schools conduct programs on food education for elementary school students. Students at one agricultural high school instruct local elementary school students in traditional soybean-growing methods, from planting to harvest; making tofu from the harvested beans; and holding classes about soybean imports. These examples of food education programs demonstrate an experiential emphasis on the processes from production of food ingredients to their final preparation. They also reflect the growth of a renewed appreciation for traditional eating patterns and foods.
Ayako Ehara was born in Shimane Prefecture in 1943. She graduated from the Faculty of Home Economics (currently, Department of Human Life and Environmental Sciences) at Ochanomizu University. She holds a Ph.D. in Education and taught for many years at Tokyo Kasei-Gakuin University, where she is currently professor emeritus and guest professor. She is also chairman of the Japan Society of Home Economics, Division of Food Culture. A specialist in food culture, the history of food education and cookery science, Dr. Ehara is the author and editor of many publications, the most recent of which is Nihon Shokumotsu-shi (The history of food in Japan).