The Development of the Japanese Restaurants in New York City

TheDevelopment of the Japanese Restaurants in New York City


Thepurpose of this paper was to evaluate the development of the Japaneserestaurants in New York City from 1950s to date. The Japaneserestaurants that were started from 1958-2000 in New York City wereowned and operated by American Chefs who aimed at diversifying themenu for local foods. The Japanese chefs ventured into this businessin 2000, which led to the booming of the Japanese restaurants in NewYork City. The ownership and operation of these restaurants by theJapanese themselves incorporated the aspects of cultural exchange andoriginality of the Japanese foods. The rapid development of theJapanese restaurants was facilitated by three major factors,including the provision of healthy foods in the Japanese restaurantscompared to the local restaurants, craftsmanship of the Japanesechefs, availability of information. The effects of these restaurantsin New York City include change in food culture, the growth of localbusiness, cross-cultural exchange.

Keywords: Sushi, Japanese restaurants, Japanese chefs, healthconsciousness, cross-cultural exchange.

TheDevelopment of the Japanese Restaurants in New York City

Theincrease in spread of food culture and food networks in contemporarysociety is one of the ways of exploring the concept of globalizationand its effects in the world. This is because consumption and culturehave gained an unprecedented relationship in the modern world(Goldstein, 2005). The increase in the dispersion of the Japanesefoodstuff and restaurants in different parts of the world serves asan example of social interactions between Japanese and the rest ofthe world. The Japanese restaurants have been spreading at a highrate in New York City within the last six decades (Olver, 2000).Although initial Japanese restaurants offered sushi as the main diet,the modern Japanese food stores provide a wide variety of theJapanese diet that attracts not only the Asian Americans, but alsothe Native Americans who appreciate cultural diversity. The presentstudy will address the issue of the development of the Japaneserestaurants in New York City with a focus on their history, effectsin the local society, and factors that facilitates their development.

Historyof the development of the Japanese Restaurants in New York City

Althoughmost of the Asian foods were introduced to Americans in the middle ofthe nineteenth century, the first Japanese restaurant was opened inNew York City in 1958, about a century later. Olver (2000 states“Sushi bars did not make an appearance until 1957 when Moto Saitoopened Saito restaurant” (p. 1). The introduction of the Japaneserestaurants in the United States was a unique venture that attractedmany residents who wished to explore the exotic tastes, fresh foods,and the interesting textures. However, the Japanese restaurantsestablished in New York City were owned and operated by the NativeAmericans who provided a narrow range of the Japanese foodstuff theyknew. The main focus of the American chefs who introduced theJapanese foods was simply to expand their menu, but there was noincentive to facilitate cultural exchanges.

Bythe years 2000, the Japanese chefs had realized that their culturaldiet was a viable investment opportunity that could be exploited inNew York City (Sakuma, 2013). This resulted in the establishment of alarge number of the Japanese restaurants (including EN JapaneseBrasserie,Matsuri,and MEGU)and the expansion of existing ones within the city of New Yorkbetween 2000 and 2004. The new restaurants that were owned andoperated by the Japanese Chefs offered a wider range of the Japanesefoods and prepared meals using original Japanese cooking styles.Sakuma (2013) says Japanese cuisine takes a simple approach, usingseasonings such as miso and soy source that already incorporate umamiand finding a perfect place where they blend” (p. 1). Currently,there is a large number of the Japanese restaurants, both large andsmall offering a wide range of the Japanese foods, including soba,robata-yaki,ramen, yakitori, kaiseki,and shojin-rori.This implies that the new restaurants, not only provided exotictastes, but also an opportunity for the exchange of the Japaneseculture with the Native Americans and other residents of New YorkCity.

Factorsthat encouraged the development of the Japanese restaurants in NewYork City

Theboom of the Japanese restaurants in New York City has been motivatedby three major factors. First, the high rate of the increase inhealth consciousness in New York and the United States at largeexpanded the popularity of the Japanese restaurants. Many people,especially in the United States have developed a perception thatequates the Japanese foods to healthy foods. Japan External TradeOrganization (2013) states “An image has been created in whichJapanese food equals healthy food” (p. 1). To this end, theincrease in health consciousness and the popularity of food therapyin the late twentieth century provided an opportunity for theJapanese restaurants to thrive. The foods are rated as being healthy,balanced diet, and low levels of empty calories, unlike the Americanrestaurants that offer unhealthy fast foods.

Secondly,the introduction of restaurants owned and operated by the Japanesechefs in New York City has resulted in the boom of the Japanese foodstores within the last one decade. This is because the Japanese chefsbrought the original craftsmanship in food preparation, whichrepresented the real Japanese foodstuff and culture. For example theJapanese chefs are able to clean up and fillet fish without affectingits freshness, which makes a big difference between American chefsand the Japanese chefs (JETO, 2013). The use of simple techniques toprepare original Japanese foods allowed the restaurant operators tosell quality foods at low prices, which increased the popularity ofthese restaurants in the city.

Third,there has been an increase in the number of professionals who areintroducing the Japanese culture and food to the people of New YorkCity and the United States at large. Sakuma (2013) states “One ofthe reasons behind this is the rise in the number of people providingintroductions to Japanese food culture, and an increase in resourcessuch as recipe books” (p. 1). These people are interested in theJapanese foods and culture and they are presenting this informationin different forms, including books, recipes, blogs, and other onlinesources. This has increased the spread of information about the highquality of the Japanese foods, thus enhancing the popularity of theJapanese restaurants in New York City.

Effectsof the development of the Japanese restaurants in NYC

Theintroduction and the development of the Japanese restaurants in NewYork City have three major effects. First, these restaurants havefostered the process of change in food culture in the city. Theacceptance of the Japanese foods, especially sushi in New Yorkoccurred gradually because most Americans considered raw tuna to bedistasteful and exotic. Carroll (2010) said “My experience ofhaving to eat raw tuna to complete sea survival training in 1966illustrates that such food was seen as exotic and even distasteful toAmericans at that time” (p. 454). However, the increase in theJapanese executives in the city who consume these foods created aperception that the Japanese foods (such as sushi) was prepared forindividuals of high class. Consequently, most Americans andnon-Americans residing in New York City have adopted the Japanesecooking styles as well as foods. In addition the use of freshingredients to prepare sushi and other foods, the Japanese foods arecategorized both as light and healthy. These aspects attracted thediet conscious and affluent Americans. This represents a gradualchange in food culture in New York City, which is a directcontribution to the development of the Japanese restaurants in thecity.

Secondly,the development of the Japanese restaurants in New York City hasresulted in the growth of other local business. Research shows thatthe rapid growth of the Japanese restaurants in New York City openednew investment opportunities for local suppliers. For example, localfarmers have diversified their agricultural produce to include crops(such as soybeans that are used as adamame)that are in high demand on these restaurants. Davis (2012) stated“the fishing industry has had to provide the type and quality offish Japanese chefs desired” (p. 6). Moreover, local firms thatsupply the Japanese tableware have boomed following the increase ofthe Japanese restaurants in the city. In essence, this shows that theJapanese foods and food culture have been accepted in New York Citywith prospects that this trend will continue in the foreseeablefuture.

Third,the Japanese restaurant provides an opportunity for cross-culturalexchange. The Japanese restaurants established overseas act as anexotic genre that represents the spread of the Japanese cultureoutside Japan. Hamada (2012) states “there is de-contextualizationand re-contextualization in the cross-cultural construction, theJapanese restaurants always refer to that which is ‘Japanese’within the exotic genre” (p. 88). This implies that people whopatronize the Japanese restaurants in New York City are not onlypushed by physical pressure, but also by socio-cultural forces thatincrease their desire to exchange cross-cultural aspects. A study hasalso shown that the existing Japanese restaurants are being used bythe Japanese chefs to increase the range of initiatives whose aim isto spread the culture of Japanese restaurants overseas (Sakuma,2013). EN Brasserie is one of the Japanese cuisine in which theJapanese chefs are introducing shochidistilled spirit to clients who are acquainted with cooking glassesand sake. This has allowed the resident of New York City to learn theJapanese cultural practices, especially those that pertain to foodand cooking styles.


Thedevelopment of the Japanese restaurants in New York City occurredgradually in the middle of the twentieth century and boomed in thefirst few years of the twenty first century. Initial restaurantsfailed to appeal to many Americans because they were owned andoperated by Americans, and this limited the range of the Japanesefoods available and lacked originality. Some of the key factors thatfacilitated the rapid development of the Japanese restaurants in NewYork City include the health consciousness, increase in the ownershipof restaurants by the Japanese chefs, and an increase in theavailability of information pertaining to the Japanese foods to cityresidents. The rapid development of these restaurants has fosteredthe process of the process of change in food culture, the growth oflocal business, and cross-cultural exchange.


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