Breakfast

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Chieko Mukasa

    Main Guest

    Food journalist, essayist and researcher of food culture Mukasa was born in Tokyo, and is a leading authority on the true taste of Japan, and traditional methods of cooking. She has spent more than 30 years delving into the appeal of a traditional Japanese breakfast from a variety of angles.

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May 16, 2017

Breakfast

*You will leave the NHK website.

In December 2013, washoku -- Japan’s traditional cuisine -- was added to UNESCO’s register of the world’s intangible cultural heritage, a list aimed at preserving treasured social customs handed down from generation to generation. 

Among the defining characteristics put forward by the Japanese government in its application for this recognition were: diversity and freshness of ingredients and respect for their inherent flavors; an exceptionally well-balanced and healthy diet; and an expression of natural beauty and the changing seasons.

All of these traits are reflected in the traditional Japanese breakfast, which combines the national staple dish of steamed glutinous rice with miso soup and a wide variety of seasonal and pre-prepared ingredients. 

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An awful lot of preparation goes into a traditional Japanese breakfast, and some of the most elaborate examples of all can be found at ryokan (inns).

The preparation of such a carefully put-together morning meal would typically begin the night before, or even further in advance when you consider the miso, natto, pickles, and other protein-rich fermented foods that are a mainstay of washoku. A great place for a visitor to sample the results might be a ryokan (a traditional inn) or perhaps one of Japan's growing number of farmhouse inns called “noka minshuku.”  

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Peter Barakan and Chieko Mukasa tuck into the hearty breakfast prepared by Satomi Hagiwara using ingredients from her own farm.
 

As Peter discovered when he visited the Hagiwara family, a farmhouse breakfast will often feature dishes prepared from vegetables grown on-site as well as a hearty bowl or two of local rice. The Hagiwara household actually grows its own rice. 

Away from farming and fishing communities, as Japan has moved towards a service-based economy and physical work has become less common, fewer and fewer Japanese have found the time to prepare or savor such a breakfast. 

Particularly during the period of remarkable economic growth that stretched from the end of World War II until the burst of the asset price bubble in 1991, Japan’s workers went all-out to contribute to the nation’s development, often having to leave home extra early for the long commute to their offices and factories. 

Around stations and in inner-city commercial centers, a new breakfast industry developed to accommodate those who chose to beat the morning rush by leaving the house on an empty stomach and grabbing a quick bite closer to their place of employment. With bread gradually becoming part of the national diet, coffee shops began to offer the now-iconic “morning service,” usually featuring coffee and a thick doorstep of fluffy white toast, often with a salad and a hard-boiled egg. 

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At many soba noodle shops, patrons place their order using tickets from a vending machine by the entrance (left).

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The much-loved toast-and-coffee “morning set” originated in the 1960s. 

One dish now gathering a following among those seeking a comforting, nutritious meal is tamago-kake-gohan (raw egg served over steamed rice), sometimes abbreviated to “TKG” by time-pressed aficionados. As Matt Alt finds out, while some visitors from overseas might have a resistance to eating raw egg, strict guidelines are in place in Japan to eliminate the risk of salmonella poisoning, making TKG an “egg”-cellent way to start your day.

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Matt tries some tamago-kake-gohan.

Also appearing

Daiki Ikeda

Manager of a Tokyo restaurant that specializes in presenting the various ways to enjoy tamago-kake-gohan (raw egg served over steamed rice).

Satomi Hagiwara

Hagiwara’s family has grown rice and vegetables on the ancestral farmstead for centuries. The fare that she makes epitomizes traditional Japanese dining.

*You will leave the NHK website.