Japanese Kitchen - Industrialization


An American scientist, Edward S. Morse, recorded many of the kitchens in urban and rural areas in the early Meiji period (1868–1912). These kitchens were not much different from those in the Edo period as home use of gas and electricity had only just begun in America and Europe. Though it was costly to lay down infrastructures, these were dutifully laid down, with heavy subsidization by semi-private and national companies.

The early 1900s brought a change in Japanese cuisine. Foreign cuisines from every part of the world flooded Japanese cookbooks, part of the haikara boom (ハイカラ, literally high collared, taken from high-collared coats popular in Europe). Popular dishes like curried rice, sukiyaki, ramen, and gyudon appeared during the Meiji period as a part of the haikara movement and represented a fusing of traditional Japanese cuisines with other cuisines. Kitchens were completely reorganized to cook these foods; kitchens of the Edo period were used for simple menus of rice, broiled fish, vegetable soup, and pickled vegetables.

The first gas light was installed in Yokohama by 1873, but it would be more than 30 years before advertisements for the gas started appearing in newspapers. These ads were not directed at middle to lower classes. In the 1908 study of how gas was used in Tokyo, 57% was for lighting, 14% was for fuel, 19% was for powering motors, and 3% was for streetlights. This meant that gas was used to light only 1 out of 9 households and only 1 out of 100 households used gas for cooking. Gas companies realized this, and early appliances were directly imported from England which made them too costly for all but the richest citizens.

The Japanese kitchen turned away from American and European kitchens at this point. The first item of the industrialization to be introduced to most houses was the gas-heated rice cooker. A gas stove were introduced much later as the cost of gas was still too high for most homes. A gas oven, often an essential part of the kitchen in many American and European houses, never made it into most Japanese households because dishes requiring cooking in an oven, such as roasted chicken and baked pies, became popular only much later. Instead of an oven, a smaller fish oven was fitted into a gas stove. The gas-heated rice cooker remained in use until the 1970s in many houses and was eventually be replaced by the electric rice cooker.

In 1920s, electricity became more widespread in homes in Japan. In Nihonkatei daihyakkajiten (literally Encyclopedia of Japanese Household) published in 1927, there is already an entry of "katei denka" meaning a completely electric house. It says,

The most important reason to use electricity for all needs of a house, lighting, heat, power is because it will help women to work, increasing their efficiency, make living easier and comfortable, and also make it economical. There must be several electrical outlets in each room to easily use an appliance like electric heater. They also let occupants use electric light at anytime and no one can forget the comfort of using appliances like an electric fan, an electric heater, an electric toaster, a coffee maker, an electric iron, and an electric curling iron.
...Placing various electric appliances (in a kitchen) and cooking with them is essential to making it easier to work in this small space. An electric stove, an electric oven, an electric refrigerator, an electric dishwashers, etc. must be wired properly in appropriate spaces.

This, however, did not mean that a completely electric house had become common. On 1937, J. G. Douglass from General Electric conducted a half-year research on how many electric appliances made into a common household. According to this report:

  • Electric iron - 3,131,000 (approximately 120,000 in Tokyo area)
  • Refrigerator - 12,215 (4,700)
  • Room cooler - 260 (125)
  • Vacuum cleaner - 6,610 (3,100)
  • Washing machine - 3,197 (1,590)

This research project also predicted that four years later, in 1941, electric appliances should be much more widely used. A 490% increase was predicted for the refrigerator, 470% increase for the vacuum cleaner, and 150% increase for iron.

The first public water service began on October 17, 1887 in Yokohama. By the early 1900s, most major cities had water services. However, these water pipes often led to public water taps. In 1892, a survey conducted in Yokohama revealed that less than 1 in 4 households had a private water tap. 18,184 households used public water taps, while only 5,120 household used private water taps. By 1930s, most new houses were constructed with a private water taps, but it would take another 30 years to became available in a village far from a city.

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