About the Text

by Joshua Badgley

Chapter 2: Isogusa no bu
Image courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum
In this section, we will talk about the text of Ryôri Monogatari, looking at how it is ordered, delving into the language of the original, and providing what context we can to the food of the period. Through these means, we will attempt to give the reader a better understanding of the context surrounding the work itself, and how to utilize it to better understand the food culture of Japan in the early Edo period and earlier.

Ryôri Monogatari was published in Kan’ei 20 (1643) by an unnamed author. This was over four decades into the Edo Period, a generally peaceful era since the Tokugawa Bakufu had cemented their hegemony in 1615. Despite what is commonly written about the Edo period, the country still had trade with outside countries, though it was strictly regulated. Nonetheless, this work contains references to nanban, or European, and Korean dishes, though made using locally available ingredients, not dissimilar to how Chinese food changed when it came over to the US.

Extant versions of the work are woodblock prints of handwritten text, and even modern Japanese authors appear to have different interpretations of what is written, at times. As such, I've done my best and utilized multiple sources to derive the current translation, including inspecting a facsimile copy of the original held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.


The work contains twenty chapters in total. the first 7 are all lists of main ingredients and what they are used in, while the final 13 contain recipes divided up by preparation. Below is a rough table showing the different chapters by title, and a brief description of what they are about. It is interesting to note that there was a Table of Contents in the original text, but it simply provided a list of the various chapters, with no other information of use to the reader. For the most part, the table of contents conforms to the chapter titles, but there are some minor discrepancies between the names of the chapters in the front of the book and the names given at the head of each chapter.

  Chapter Number Chapter Name Description
  Chapter 1 Umi no Uo no Bu (海の魚之部) "Fish of the Sea": this chapter includes information on all animals in the sea, including fish, shellfish, whales, jellyfish sharks, and turtles
  Chapter 2 Isogusa no Bu (磯草の部) "Shore grasses": this chapter includes ocean-growing vegetation such as seaweed, kelp, algae, and more
  Chapter 3 Kawa Uo no Bu (川いをの部) "Fish of the Rivers", or freshwater fish: this includes anything that can be pulled out of the rivers, even fish like salmon that spend most of their lives in the ocean
  Chapter 4 Tori no Bu (鳥の部) "Birds": From game birds to chickens
  Chapter 5 Kedamono no Bu (獣之部) "Animals": Primarily referring to wild land mammals
  Chapter 6 Kinoko no Bu (きのこの部) "Mushrooms": Mushrooms and other types of fungi
  Chapter 7 Aomono no Bu (青物之部) "Greens": Fruits and vegetables
  Chapter 8 Namadare, Dashi, Irizake no Bu (なまだれだしいりざけ之部) "Sauces, stocks, and condiments": This chapter covers the basics of the stocks, sauces, and condiments used in most of the other recipes
  Chapter 9 Shiru no Bu (汁の部) "Broths": Specifically a dark broth, usually tinted with miso or similar, as opposed to the clear "suimono" style broth found in a later chapter
  Chapter 10 Namasu no Bu (なます之部) "Vinegared Foods": Vegetables or fish, covered (and slightly pickled) in vinegar
  Chapter 11 Sashimi Sakabite no Bu (刺身さかびて之部) "Sliced foods and food marinated in sake": Unlike modern sashimi, the sliced fish is at least briefly blanched or even grilled
  Chapter 12 Nimono no Bu (煮物之部) "Simmered dishes": Simmering is a classic Japanese technique, where food is simmered in a broth or marinade, but it is good to note that these are not generally "soups" or "stews"
  Chapter 13 Yakimono no Bu (焼物之部) "Grilled": Food cooked through the application of direct heat
  Chapter 14 Suimono no Bu (吸物之部) "Clear soups": Soups in a mostly clear broth, as opposed to the darker "shiru" broths
  Chapter 15 Ryôrizake no Bu (料理酒之部) "Savory sake": These are all flavored sake, using pre-made sake as a base, rather like sake cocktails
  Chapter 16 Sakana no Bu (さかな之部) "Foods eaten with sake": Various side dishes, pickles, etc. that would be especially good as snacks to go with sake
  Chapter 17 Godan no Bu (後段之部) "Later Food": Savory foods that would be eaten after the main meal with rice, usually indicating pasta or similarly starchy foods
  Chapter 18 Kashi no Bu (菓子之部) "Sweets": Sweets, chiefly mochi style rice cakes, though there are two non-rice based desserts that appear to be based on European imports
  Chapter 19 Cha no Bu (茶之部) "Tea": Three recipes for herbal teas (technically infusions)
  Chapter 20 Yorozu Kikigaki no Bu (萬聞書之部) "Writings on the 10,000 Things": "10,000" is often a metaphor for "everything", and this final chapter contains various recipes for how to prepare or store foods, or else tips that will help in the kitchen, but don’t fall under any particular chapter

Although written 40 years into the Edo period, this work nonetheless gives us invaluable information on the state of food and cooking in Japan up to that point. The author states that these are mostly from oral traditions, with the implication that these are recipes that have been handed down from one cook to the next. In some instances, such as tamago sômen (egg threads) and namban ryôri (cooking of the Southern Barbarians), we see clear influence from the Portuguese, who had arrived in 1542, though their influence waned in the Edo Period, being replaced by the Dutch in a much more heavily regulated manner. Other recipes are for food mentioned in some of the earliest written accounts of Japanese cooking. Considering the time frame, we can assume that many of these recipes are the same or similar to the recipes you would have seen at least 50 years earlier, in the late Momoyama period.

Historical Context

Ryôri Monogatari was written in 1643, the opening of the Tokugawa shogunate, which was founded in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. For the previous 120 years, the country had been engulfed in civil wars, with various provincial lords vying amongst themselves for power. This Age of Warring States (Sengoku Jidai) saw the first major contact with Europeans through the Portuguese, who landed in 1542, and later saw the invasion of Korea (also known as the Imjin War). They brought with them new ideas, and access to a new world of food, which continues to day in the form of things like tempura and kasutera (castella).

When the country was finally unified—first under Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then under Tokugawa Ieyasu—a peace was established that would last for the next 250 years. The Tokugawa period saw an increased emphasis on scholarship, and many books on the history of Japan were written in this time. In addition, travel journals were becoming popular, indicating various specialties and delicacies in each village and town one might pass during the Sankin Kôtai, or mandatory travel to the capital, along with pilgrimage to the shrine at Ise.

Ryôri Monogatari arises in this atmosphere. In his own words, the author describes his intention to write down the things that he has seen and heard, creating a written tradition from the oral teachings of people around the country. It is unclear whether this was the first work of its kind—what is known is that it is the oldest one that has survived through the ages intact. Previously, works on food were usually included in other, larger treatises. A person might describe a feast in their journal, or a prescribed method for preparing a given banquet might be codified in the laws of the courts. Pictorial evidence is likewise one of our great sources for information on the food of Japan. These are all snapshots, however, and not representative of the full spectrum of Japanese cooking.


Despite the extensive nature of Ryôri Monogatari, it is not all inclusive, and in some ways it may be easier to discuss what it is missing, rather than what is there. To begin with, the lists of ingredients only covers main ingredients, and does not address the myriad ancillary ingredients, seasonings, etc. Furthermore, basic foodstuffs, such as rice, raw fruit, plain tea, or even plain sake are not described except as ingredients for other dishes. We also know that some preparations are missing--for example, tempura and kasutera, mentioned above, are both Portuguese dishes that were imported with the Portuguese in the 16th century.

In addition, proportions are also missing from most recipes, except for things like mochi, where the specific proportions are especially important. However, there is very little information on such things as seasoning-in fact, it usually just says to season "to taste". It likewise says nothing about consistency, and very little about flavor, expecting the reader to know this for themselves. On top of that, the author mentions in several places that "there are oral traditions", without mentioning what those oral traditions are.

Preparations themselves often go unmentioned as well. With just the ingredients being given, it was understood that the reader would know what was being described. As is common in the Japanese language, anyway, that which was considered "obvious" is usually omitted. For example, in dojô jiru the main ingredient (dojô, or loach) isn't actually mentioned anywhere in the recipe itself.

There are many other preparations that may be obscure to an English reader, but would make sense in Japanese. The concept of a "simmer", for instance, appears to be slightly different between English and Japanese. Likewise, the term "oroshi", which can mean to grate, as with daikon, or it can mean to filet, as with fish. There are different words for different types of additional ingredients and seasonings as well. All this will be discussed in the text and the accompanying appendices, though questions are welcome.

This text is a treasure trove for those interested in historical cuisine, and I hope that this translation will truly bring it to light for the English-speaking audience.

  This page was last modified on: 3/3/2016

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