“Sushi is the Japanese counterpart of the European sandwich”: The Introduction and Acceptance of Japanese Cuisine in the United States

Visiting Scholar Talks

Nov 17, 2022 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Takeshi Matsui | Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Administration, Hitotsubashi University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2022-23


Michèle Lamont | Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, Harvard University

Co-sponsored with the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

In-person talk – Seating is limited. Masks are required for all audience members.

This talk explores the history of the de-ethnicization of Japanese cuisine in the US from a sociological perspective. De-ethnicization occurs “when a product we associate with a specific ethnic group detaches itself from its roots and appeals to other groups as well” (Solmon 2013, p. 487). As shown in the examples of Americanized Japanese (ex., California roll and teriyaki sauce) and Americanized Chinese (ex., chop suey and General Tso’s chicken), it is common for foreign cuisine to be de-ethnicized and localized in other cultures. In addition, the foreign food category is blurred in such a de-ethnicization process. For example, many Chinese restaurants in the US serve sushi and sake. It is strange for Japanese (or Chinese) people to serve two rather different cuisines in the same restaurant but combining these two Asian cuisines is natural for Americans. The project aims to answer the following two research questions: first, what kind of marketing efforts have been made to attract American consumers to Japanese cuisine? Second, in history, how have the boundaries between Japanese cuisine and other food cultures been altered and evolved? Based on the more than seventy interviews conducted in New York City and other areas in the US with Japanese restaurants, chefs, a restaurant association, wholesalers/distributors of Japanese food ingredients, Japanese grocery stores, street food event organizers, consultants, an educational institution, food journalists/writers, and so on, and archival data such as old recipe books and local newspapers, this research attempts to answer these questions.