The Japanese Table / ’64 Olympics heralded diversification of diets

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Workers sort black soybeans by hand at Odagaki Shoten wholesaler in Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. For this installment, we will explore the relationship between the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Japanese food.

Improvements to the transportation network ahead of the 1964 Games included the opening of the nation’s first intercity expressway the year before, a section of the Meishin Expressway between Ritto, Shiga Prefecture, and Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. In the year of the Tokyo Olympics, the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train and Tokyo Monorail started their services, while the Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo was expanded.

These improvements, along with developments in the distribution industry, helped change the nation’s diet.

While kuromame black soybeans produced in the Tanba region of Hyogo Prefecture are today an essential part of the osechi traditional meals eaten during New Year’s celebrations, the beans were not well known around the time of the Olympics.

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  • Courtesy of Hiyoko Co.

    Chick-shaped Hiyoko sweets

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Salmon meuniere

“Development of the transport network around the time of the Olympics enabled more people to travel between eastern and western Japan,” said Takayuki Usami, 58, who runs Shioda Shoten, a bean shop in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo. “A lot of bean sellers started talking about Tanba’s big black beans.”

Kiyoji Kitagawa, 84, has grown black soybeans for decades in Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture, a major production center for the bean. He described the beans having “a springy texture with an indescribable flavor.”

“Probably around the time of the Olympics, I went to Tokyo with an official from the prefectural government in a bid to expand sales channels for our black soybeans, which local farmers had been cultivating in small amounts,” he recalled.

At the time, beans grown in Hokkaido and other northern areas were most common. On the other hand, Tanba black soybeans, which were more expensive than other types, were unpopular at first, but gained in recognition little by little.

In the 1970s, policies aimed at reducing the amount of land devoted to growing rice led to more cultivation for black soybeans and sales also expanded.

“During the period of high economic growth, people wanted delicious things, even if they were expensive,” said Kenzo Odagaki, 71, who runs Odagaki Shoten, a long-running wholesaler for black beans in Sasayama.

Improvements to distribution networks and expanded sales of processed food products such as simmered beans have also given Tanba black soybeans the unshakable position they hold today.

Around the 1964 Olympics, transportation for food products began shifting from railways to trucks.

Moriyuki Kato, 77, who has been involved in salmon wholesaling at Tsukuji fish market for more than half a century, knows of the heyday of freight train transportation.

“It took three days for salted salmon to be delivered from Hokkaido to Tsukiji,” he recalled. “The fish was packed in wooden boxes with ice, which would have melted around the time they arrived here.”

Now, salmon is usually frozen quickly with smaller amounts of salt used.

“Back then, salmon was more delicious because it would age during transportation,” Kato said.

Chicks migrate to Tokyo

Hiyoko sweets shaped in the simple abstract form of a chick also grew into a nationwide phenomenon thanks to the 1964 Games.

“I was told that it was my grandfather’s dream to sell Hiyoko treats in Tokyo, the center of Japan,” said Hiroshi Ishizaka, 68, chairman of Fukuoka-based sweets maker Hiyoko Co. “My father took over my grandfather’s dream and took advantage of a business opportunity as the Olympics created enthusiasm and more opportunities for people to travel.”

Hiyoko treats were first created in 1912 in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture. They became popular among workers at local coal mines and grew into one of Kyushu’s best-known sweets as local companies gave them as gifts when visiting their business partners in areas such as Tokyo and the Kansai region.

In 1964, the Hiyoko manufacturer took advantage of improvements in the transportation network to build a plant in Soka, Saitama Prefecture, its first factory outside Fukuoka Prefecture. It also opened its first store in Tokyo at Shinjuku Station.

As the sweets were promoted on TV, Hiyoko became popular for their cute shape and pleasing flavor. When the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train opened, travelers from the region started considering Hiyoko “a souvenir of Tokyo.”

Today, Hiyoko sweets are sold from bases in Fukuoka and Tokyo. Limited-edition products are made for each area.

“Building expressways and Shinkansen superexpress trains spurred food distribution, in addition to exchanges among people,” said Hiroko Tanaka, a professor who specializes in food distribution theory at Ritsumeikan University’s College of Gastronomy Management. “These changes made it possible for food items that had previously been eaten only in areas surrounding their place of production to become available more widely — a major turning point that changed Japanese people’s diet.”

Western-style Japanese soul food: Salmon meuniere

Cooking expert Naomi Kijima is introducing dishes served at home around the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

“Meuniere was one of the few seafood dishes of Western origin, excepting deep-fried horse mackerel or shrimp,” she said. “This dish is usually served with parsley and boiled potatoes that are lightly stir-fried.”

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 fillets raw salmon

Adequate amount of flour

10 grams butter

For the tartar sauce, mix the following:

½ boiled egg chopped

1 tbsp chopped onion

3 tbsp mayonnaise

⅓ tsp salt

Pinch of pepper


1. Rinse the fillets and wipe away moisture. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Coat them with an abundant amount of flour and shake off excess.

2. Heat ½ tablespoon of cooking oil in a pan and melt butter before placing the fillets in the pan.

3. When the pan-side of the fillets turns brown, flip them.

4. Turn the heat to low and cook the salmon for an additional 3-4 minutes. Place the fillets on a serving plate and garnish with the tartar sauce.

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