Okinawa takes steps to make Okinawan cuisine part of cultural heritage

June 25, 2015 Ryukyu Shimpo

Okinawa Prefecture’s schools superintendent, Akira Moromizato, announced the start of a study aiming to designate an Okinawan dish as “intangible cultural heritage.” During the plenary session at the prefectural assembly on June 24, he stated, “We would like to study the situation surrounding local cuisine and consider the possibility of designating it as an intangible heritage”. Moromizato answered questions raised by Masatoshi Onaga from the Liberal Democratic Party.

The Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) explained its reason for considering the designation of Okinawan cuisine, saying, “As Westernization of the food customs of Okinawa accelerates, we would like to contribute to the promotion of Okinawan dishes as well as health and longevity by preserving Okinawan traditional cuisine.”

Okinawan cuisine is known for its diversity, with dishes such as “Tofu Yo” from the Ryukyu Kingdom era as well as local food like Goya Champuru. A 76 year-old cuisine researcher, Kayoko Matsumoto, said, “There are various opinions in defining Okinawan cuisine. I would like the OPG to provide an opportunity where many people involved can exchange their opinions.”

A spokesperson for the OPG explained, “There is no fixed definition of the local cuisine we would like to be designated as an intangible cultural heritage at this point. As the study continues, we hope that we will have clearer ideas.”

Okinawa has faced a drastic change in the westernization of its food customs, more so than other parts of Japan, as the prefecture spent 27 years under U.S. military administration after World War II. Some people are concerned about its bad influence on Okinawan people’s longevity.

The OPG will next month establish the Committee for the Study of Food Culture, which will consist of food researchers, nutritionists, agriculture practitioners as well as people related to Okinawan tourism. The committee will aim to develop a study on surrounding Okinawan cuisine, and the challenges it faces, as well as steps to take for its promotion. Based on the study, the OPG plans to make policies such as improving publicity for Okinawan food culture.

(English translation by T&CT and Sayaka Sakuma) 

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