“Washoku, traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese” inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The eighth session of the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO convened in Baku (Republic of Azerbaijan) from 2 to 7 December 2013 and decided to inscribe Japan’s nomination “Washoku, traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese, notably for the celebration of New Year” on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Humanity”.

According to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, ICH means intangible culture that communities, groups or individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. It includes things such as performing arts, social practices and traditional craftsmanship.

Washoku is a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food. It is associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources.

This is reflected in the emphasis placed on embracing seasonal ingredients, such as bamboo shoots in spring and chestnuts in autumn, as well as the use of inedible tree leaves, branches and flowers as decoration. Tables are decorated with objects associated with the season, and utensils made from natural materials are used. The intricate preparation and presentation of Washoku involves a style of eating steeped in centuries of tradition.

Each region in Japan incorporates different specialities in their Washoku according to their climate and topography, with the natural, geographical and seasonal influences visible in the ingredients used and the style of presentation. The ingredients used in Washoku are fresh and diverse, and usually require minimal cooking and processing.


Whilst many world cuisines rely on animal oils and fats, Washoku promotes the nutritional balance provided by rice in combination with different fermented foods, such as miso and soy sauce. The long life expectancy and low obesity rates of the Japanese are often attributed to the benefits of Washoku as the main part of their diet.

Washoku also serves important social functions of reaffirming identity and reestablishing community. It has deep connections to annual events, and is especially visible in New Year’s celebrations, when Japanese people immerse themselves in the traditions passed down from generation to generation such as mochi-tsuki (rice pounding) and the preparation of beautifully decorated dishes called Osechi, Zoni and Toso. Family bonds are strengthened through people's shared appreciation of natural ingredients. There is an increasing desire to preserve the traditions of Washoku for future generations, so international endorsement of Washoku by UNESCO is widely appreciated.


The Embassy of Japan in the UK