For Gluttons, Not Housewives: Japan's First Gourmet Magazine, Kuidoraku

Eric C. Rath

Restaurant reviews specialize in providing information about dining out locally, and they can also contribute to national discussions about culinary identity. When the globally famous Michelin Guide affirmed in late 2015 that Tokyo had more starred restaurants than any other city in the world for the ninth year straight, the story was breaking news and a matter of national pride in Japan.1 Five years after the launch of the first Michelin Guide in France in 1900, the earliest regular restaurant reviews started appearing in print in Japan; these too, sought to place dining out in a larger national - if not international — context. More than simply offering reports on where to go and what to eat, the magazine that printed Japan’s first restaurant reviews framed the ephemeral and personal experience of dining out as part of a [1] [2]

national debate about the definition of good food. Today, the ‘traditional Japanese dietary cultures’ (washoku) included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage listing celebrate the customs and knowledge of the home chef, and yet, a century ago the first popular monthly about Japanese cuisine valued restaurant meals much more than home cooking.

The first recurring column of restaurant reviews in Japan appeared in Culinary Magazine (Kuidoraku), a monthly published from May 1905 to August 1907. Launched in the month of Japan’s military defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, Culinary Magazine embodied a new sense of confidence in the nation’s dietary culture as one deserving exhibition in a monthly publication. The publication briefly included an English-language table of contents as if to assert an international readership, but its targeted market was a wealthy urban middle- and upper-class audience accustomed to newspapers, magazines, and to dining out.2 Kuidoraku took an eclectic approach to ‘Pleasures of the Way of Eating, which is a literal translation of the magazine’s title. An advertisement for the debut edition heralded the monthly as ‘a must read for people who want to eat delicious food, those who wish to create meals economically and those who seek to improve their health’.3

But, eating delicious food was not necessarily the same thing as cooking economically. Culinary Magazine struggled between trying to appeal, on the one hand, to a wealthy male readership eager to dine out but less willing - or able - to cook themselves, while on the other hand, it sought to support a female readership taxed with preparing healthy and thrifty food at home, but largely unable to dine out themselves. Writers for Culinary Magazine occasionally challenged the elitism offine dining and acknowledged the barriers of wealth, social background and gender that prohibited many - if not most - of the monthly’s readers from eating at the best restaurants. On several [3] [4]

occasions, the editors professed an equal balance between coverage of restaurants and home cooking, but in practice the magazine published seven times more articles about dining out than about the world of the housewife.[5] Thus, restaurant reviews, found in an ongoing column and in occasional feature stories, were a defining feature of Culinary Magazine. Most of the published readers’ letters to the publication were about restaurants. The monthly even created a club where staff and readers could dine out together, critique the meals they shared and the magazine would publish the findings. As this chapter describes, the lopsided coverage given to restaurant dining not only contributed to a break between the monthly and the person who had originally inspired the publication but it also limited the monthly’s potential wider appeal, a reason why the magazine lasted less than 3 years. Despite its short lifespan, Culinary Magazine initiated a national debate about where to find the best food and how to eat well, topics that remain central to Japanese culture to this day.

  • [1] The author appreciates the comments of Benjamin Uchiyama and Alexy Simmons on this chapter.
  • [2] ‘Tokyo Retains Gourmet Crown in Global Michelin Rankings’, Japan Times, 1 December 2015,accessed online from E.C. Rath (*) Department of History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, USAe-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © The Author(s) 2017 83 A. Niehaus, T. Walravens (eds.), Feeding Japan, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50553-4_4
  • [3] From issue number 1.5 (September 1905) to 2.2 (February 1906) Kuidoraku included anEnglish table of contents, which used the title ‘Kui do Raku or Culinary Magazine’.Advertisements in the magazine make use of some English words, but the remainder of themonthly was in Japanese, so the value of the inclusion of the English table of contents wasprobably to make the journal look more cosmopolitan and international rather than appeal toEnglish readers who would not otherwise be able to make sense of it. Kuidoraku magazine wasrevived from 1928 to 1941.
  • [4] Yomiuri Shimbun, 15 May 1905, morning edition, 1.
  • [5] Imai, ‘Ryori zasshi’, 198.
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