Why is there Edo-style sushi outside of Tokyo? The answer is found in a historical event!

The Edo-style nigiri-zushi that was born toward the end of the Edo period (the beginning of the 1800’s) instantly spread throughout Edo. Circa 1850 in the towns of Edo, there were 1-2 sushi shops per town. At the time there was one soba shop for every two towns, which means the ratio of sushi shops was much higher.

This Edo-style sushi eventually spread throughout the entire country. One of the catalysts for this was the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. The sushi shops throughout Tokyo were destroyed in the earthquake and many of the chefs were out of work. Unlike now, it took a long time to reconstruct after disasters in those days.

The sushi chefs needed to work in order to survive and they dispersed throughout Japan, opening “Edo-style Sushi” restaurants. In other words, the reason you see Edo-style Sushi signs in the Tohoku and Chubu regions is because of the Great Kanto earthquake.

After another 20 years or so passed, Tokyo burned down in air raids. After the war they were unable to secure the fish and vegetables, let alone the rice, needed to make sushi, so it was difficult for restaurants to survive off of sales alone.

That was when an innovative system for sushi shops was allowed for by GHQ (General Headquarters). The system was called a contracted selling system in which the customer would bring in one cup of rice (180cc) in exchange for 10 pieces of nigiri-zushi, including any sushi rolls.

This system was limited to Edo-style sushi. It didn’t apply to “Hakozushi” (meaning ‘box sushi’, also called ‘Osaka Sushi’), which was popular in Kansai, so any sushi shops that wanted to stay in business had to serve Edo-style sushi, which means that Edo Sushi shops appeared all over the country.

It soon became more well-known than Hakozushi* and the term “sushi” became synonymous with the Edo-style nigiri-zushi.

*Hakozushi : Sushi is made by stacking toppings such as shrimp, sea bream and conger eel on top of vinegar-rice and pressed into a wooden box to create a square-shaped sushi. The vinegar rice is cooked with a sweetened kelp and all of the toppings are flavored with mirin (sweet rice wine) and sugar.


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Revision date: October 1, 2018

What is the difference between “鮨,” “鮓” and “寿司” (all ready “Sushi”). Most Japanese people don’t know the answer to this question.

As far as I know, there are three ways “sushi” is written on sushi restaurant curtains in Japanese kanji characters: 鮨, 鮓 and 寿司. Do you know the difference?

Broadly, in the Kanto area 鮨 is generally used while 鮓 is more common in Kansai. 寿司 is used commonly everywhere in Japan.

However, of the three, only 鮨 and 鮓 are seen in ancient Chinese literature. 鮨 was seen as a dictionary entry as early as the 5th to 3rd centuries B.C., and it’s origin is described as combining “fish” and “shiokara” (briny flavor) resulting in the term 鮨.

On the other hand, in A.D. 1st to 2nd century dictionaries, “鮓” appeared, and is explained to depict “a storage container for fish.” Toward the end of the second century 鮓 was used for the term “narezushi”.

But around the third century, the briny meaning of 鮨 and the term “narezushi*” written as 鮓 started to be used interchangeably. That is how the words were imported to Japan.

In Japan, the character “鮓” was often used in literature from the end of the Heian era to the end of the Edo era. Eventually the use of “鮨” was revived during the Meiji era (for unknown reasons). It was a natural transition that Kanto came to use “鮨” and Kansai came to use “鮓”.

Incidentally, the kanji “寿司” was created from the phonetics. Its use for celebratory occasions became commonplace throughout Japan.

*”Narezushi” is the primitive version of Japanese sushi. It means covering seafood with salt and then soaking in rice for a few years as a form of lactic acid fermentation, which brings out the acidity.


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Revision date: September 24, 2018

Gizzard shad (kohada) flavor is refined by exquisite salt seasoning!

According to most sushi masters, salt is the defining factor in the taste of gizzard shad (kohada).

Before seasoning gizzard shad with vinegar, the process starts with salting the spread open shad. It is the length the fish is salted that makes or breaks the fish. The reason for salting the gizzard shad is not just for flavoring, but also to draw out the umami of the fish. Salting for too long results in a briny taste; too short and the umami won’t come to the fore. The timing must be perfect in order to achieve that emotional “umami” moment.

This timing can be compared to boiling eggs: 3 minutes gets you soft-boiled eggs but five minutes gets you hard-boiled eggs. With eggs you can follow this rule of thumb, but no such rule exists for the spotted shad. The conditions for the salting time differ depending on the temperature, humidity, size of the fish and the degree of fat.

For example, a more slender fish in the middle of summer may be salted for 30 minutes, but a fatty fish in the winter needs to be salted for four hours. Just a few minutes longer or shorter than the perfect salting time completely changes the taste of the final dish.

Skilled chefs adjust the time on a daily basis according to the weather and the quality of the fish. Shops that can provide precisely the same spotted shad taste every day of the year are truly the best of the best.


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Revision date: May 29, 2017

Surprisingly, there are sushi restaurants established from over 100 years ago in Tokyo.

 

About 200 years ago (around 1810-1830), Yohei Hanaya opened up the oldest nigiri sushi restaurant in Japan. It is said that this was the beginning of edomaesushi. As expected, none of the restaurants remain to this day, no matter how popular they were in those days. However, if relating to those lasting more than a century, as many as 10 still exist in Tokyo. It is such a surprise and many respect that they’ve managed to survive, still keeping their business running now. We will introduce those old restaurants in the order of its establishment.


KUDANSHITA SUSHIMASA

First started as a stall in 1861 at Nihonbashi area, relocated to Kudanbashi and then opened the restaurant in 1923. The beauty of wooden architect managed to survive the war and it has a 100-year history. They carefully prepare sushi ingredients with appropriate amount of vinegar and salt. Take Kohada for instance, they adjust the amount of salt depending on the thickness of fish fillet, fat content, temperature and humidity of the air. Check the glossiness of the vinegared kohada fish, and decide the best timing to serve. Enjoy superb sushi prepared with the traditional recipe passed on for generations.


JANOMEZUSHI HONTEN Established in 1865


BENTENMIYAKOZUSHI Established in 1866


YAHATAZUSHI Established in 1868

During the end of Edo period, many of samurai lords who had served for Tokugawa government lost their jobs. Many of them disguised themselves as dango rice dumpling seller. The first owner of Yahata-zushi was one of them, started the business as dango rice dumpling stall and then the second generation owner began serving sushi. The fourth and fifth chef now run the kitchen behind the counter. The fourth chef has a 62-year experience and he is the respected patriarch chef in Tokyo and serves traditional Edomae-style sushi with careful preparation. The fifth chef adheres to basic principle of sushi making while embarking on new-style. He uses sun-dried salt produced in the French Basque Country for well-matured akami red fish such as tuna, and sea urchin from Hokkaido. Other must-eat ingredients are, the highest quality tuna from long-time partner vendor at Tsukiji market and rare tuna caught at the sea near Miyakejima island and matured for good five days.


OTUNASUSHI Established in 1875


YOSHINOSUSHI HONTEN

Opened in 1879, Yoshino sushi has served excellent Edomae-style sushi. Now the fifth-generation owner runs the restaurant. The second-generation owner first started using Toro, fatty tuna meat while most of the chef discarded it. That was because food freezing was not in widespread use at that time and fatty content of fish went bad quickly. Soon Toro was quickly raved by their regular customers as delicious treat. First it was called “abu” as it came from “abura” meaning fat in Japanese, but it didn’t sound as good as it tastes, so they changed it to “toro” meaning mild and tasty. They will feed you interesting stories to go along with sushi dish. One of them is that they had never considered Gunkan roll of ikura and uni sea urchin as sushi since Gunkan never requires hand rolling techniques as other hand roll sushi does. They use only salt and vinegar to make sushi rice not a slight use of sugar and mirin. And then they carefully prepare fish ingredients to go with vinegared rice. Enjoy delicious sushi dish however you like in a casual atmosphere.


JANOICHI HONTEN Established in 1889


ASAKUSA SUSHISEI Established in 1891


KIBUNZUSHI Established in 1903


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Revision date: April 11, 2017