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January 2004

Tokyo Kids Get a Taste of History

Tetsu and Tomo
Kids eating Edo period food with local residents (Fukagawa Second Middle School)

There are many ways to study history, and eating is one of them, as some kids in Tokyo recently discovered. In December 2003, students at Fukagawa Second Middle School got a taste of the Edo period, the period of Japanese history from 1603 to 1868. (Edo is the old name for Tokyo.)

The year 2003 marked the 400th anniversary of the launch of the Edo government by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the first shogun of the Edo era. Ieyasu ended years of civil war and established a stable society based on the Shi-No-Ko-Sho system of samurai (warrior), peasant, artisan, and merchant classes. For one week, Fukagawa students experienced the kind of meals eaten by different classes of people in Edo.

Japan enjoyed more than 250 years of peace during the Edo period, when many forms of art and culture flourished, including kabuki theater and ukiyo-e woodblock printing. The basic cooking methods of today's Japanese cuisine - boiling, roasting, steaming, and frying - were also refined during this period.

On Monday the students were served a simple peasant's meal: a mixed-grain broth with barley and millet, cooked root vegetables, steamed potato, and pickles. "It made me feel like a farmer myself," said one student in response to a school questionnaire. Not quite, said school nutritionist Denno Yuko. "In reality, a broth and some pickles were all peasants ate in a meal. I added steamed potato to the menu and put egg in the broth because otherwise students wouldn't get the required nutrition."

Tuesday's main dish was a bowl of hot udon noodles, one of many "fast foods" enjoyed by the busy townsfolk of Edo. Udon is still a very popular food among Japanese people today, and this dish proved to be the students' favorite.

On Wednesday the students discovered that the samurai, men of honor popularized in historic movies, were no gourmets. The menu that day was Fukagawa-meshi (a local clam dish that is still eaten today), miso soup, dengaku-dofu (tofu coated with miso paste and baked), and cooked seaweed. But for samurai, this would have been a meal enjoyed on special occasions. On ordinary days, they ate only a bowl of rice, miso soup, and some vegetables.

On Thursday the students learned about quickly prepared meals of rice balls filled with dried fish and pickled vegetables, which the shogun and samurai ate on the battlefield.

The final day's menu was a meal once enjoyed by Tokugawa Ieyasu himself: rice mixed with barley, grilled sea bream, clear soup with Chinese watermelon, and stewed chrysanthemum. Some students expected a more elaborate meal. But Ieyasu was a health-conscious man who lived to the age of 75 - a ripe old age by Edo Period standards. The importance of a healthy diet is one thing that hasn't changed over 400 years!

Edo cuisine 1 Monday's lunch

Edo cuisine 2 Tuesday's lunch

Edo cuisine 3 Wednesday's lunch

Edo cuisine 4 Thursday's lunch

Edo cuisine 5 Friday's lunch (Fukagawa No.2 Middle School)

NOTICE: Since October 9, 2003, Japanese names in Kids Web Japan have been written in their original order: surname first.

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