A Short History of Sushi By Team Sushi

There has been a rising demand for sushi dishes across the globe for its taste and aesthetics. Looking at Sushi’s history, Sushi, surprisingly, was not of Japanese Origin. According to some sources, Sushi was traced as far back in China and from there was able to move to Japan. The farthest evidence we have in tracing the roots of Sushi dates back to the 4th century found in the Chinese dictionary (Mouritsen, 15). Sushi was officially found to have been introduced in Japan in the 9th century. However, its origins is questionable whether it is originally made from China and made its way to Japan. The earliest methods of making sushi involved the fish being fermented for as long as three year before it is consumed. One of the sushi that exemplifies this method of production is known as the Funa-zushi located in Lake Biwa, Japan. The fish is caught fresh from the lake at the end of the summer, salted, layered in cooked rice, placed inside a wooden box under pressured with a heavy rock to be fermented for at least half a year or longer. When it is served, the layer of rice is discarded except for the fish. The fish is placed on a designed plate for aesthetic purposes and sliced to display the insides of the fermented fish. Portions sizes were bigger as well because the fermentation is made in bulks. Sushi production and how we conceive it now changed over the course of time and this is because of the innovations and events that happened in history that contributed to its evolution. Couple of things that influenced the evolution of sushi are cultural influences shaping its ingredients, aesthetics and taste. , the new methods of producing the condiments needed and their discover, technological advancements such as refrigeration and effective transportation, and lastly immigration on the idea that when people move, they bring their knowledge of the cuisine with them.

This timeline illustrates how sushi evolved, how they looked, and what factors contributed to its evolution:

Cultural Influences

Japanese Food Stand

It wasn’t all easy for sushi to be accepted in Japan. During the 531-580 C.E. When Buddhism spread to Japan, eating meat was restricted which lowered consumption of sushi in Japan. Preference for vegetable became reinforced as a substitute for meat (Ashkenazi and Jacob, 7). However, this changed after the aristocratic system was overthrown.

This event was repeated again in January 1872 during the Meiji period when Emperor Meiji banned consumption of meat in Japan (Cwiertka, 24). The change in the Japanese diet was majorly influenced when the Europeans came into contact with the Japanese. The consumption of meat became a symbol of power, health, and strength which became a growing popular adoption for the Japanese which gave rise in their consumption of meat again including fish. Without these influences, sushi wouldn’t have been part of the Japanese diet and later on part of the world diet. According to Cwiertka, “it will become evident that the multicultural character of contemporary Japanese cuisine is a result of specific circumstances in which Japan itself during the last 150 years, and the changes that have taken place under the impact of industrialization, nation-state formation and imperialist” (Cwiertka, 9). The contact meant the bringing of foreign culture in a new land. This means that there was a hybrid of Japanese-western cuisine that took place (Cwiertka, 21). One example of this instance can be seen with Tojo. Another instance of this Japanese westernized Japanese sushi is called the Nobu Style. Nobu-style means training as a sushi chef in Japan and also possessing knowledge in American cuisine. This creates a hybrid Americanized Japanese food and globalizing Japanese cuisine. Now Japanese restaurants and various other Asian restaurants serve Japanese dishes all around the world.

Looking at cultural influences, in a way, sushi was able to be spread across Japan. Since China brought sushi to Japan, it became one of the cuisine that it identifies with. In addition, it is because of cultural influences that sushi became hybridized. This is because people share knowledge and also adapts to the culture of others. This includes immigration as well since it is one of the reasons why cuisines move because people move.


A decade after the Second World War, there has been an increase of Japanese in America thus bringing in more cultural influence such as sushi. At the same time, so is the sushi evolution. As more Japanese immigration into America, their cultures and identity begins to increase as well. With controversies of eating raw fish in America, Japanese chefs would replace them with Western ingredients creating new sushi rolls. The California Roll is a perfect example of a sushi evolution and cultural diversity as it uses California’s avocados and either cooked crab meat or fake crab meat (blended cooked fish meat). The roll is also known today as an “inside out roll,” as it was created this way so that the seaweed would be hidden. Another fusion sushi created in America would be the Philadelphia Roll. These rolls substitutes raw ingredients with smoke salmon and Philadelphia's famous cream cheese and still a popular item in America. Many of these rolls are influenced less by Tokyo and instead more directly by trends in Los Angeles, New York, and London. Japanese immigration has also allowed chefs to transfer knowledge and skills to one another easier due to the small number of Japanese in Western cities at the time.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is one of the major turning points that changed how sushi is made. With the creation of rice vinegar, it hastened the fermentation period from how it was before which was a year to three years to how it is now where sushi is prepared in a couple of minutes. The production of rice vinegar rapidly increased in Kyoto, modern day Tokyo, during the Edo period (1603-1867) (Mouritsen, 15). The shogunate moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) where the occurrences gave rise to the increase in production of rice vinegar. The creation of rice vinegar allowed for the hastening of the fermentation process of sushi which gives people more sushi available. Various types of sushi were created which happened during the rise of rice vinegar production. These sushi are: nama-zushi, haya-zushi, hako-zushi, and the one we know of now is the nigiri-zushi. Sushi is sought after for its taste and the flavor it gives through the fish and the rice. With the rise of vinegar production, how sushi was made evolved to how we conceive them today all because the method of how it is created was shortened and made easier. This also contributed in a way how sushi is presented, with a small rice ball and raw fish or meat on top. One of the condiments that enriches the flavor is soy sauce.

Factory Ships

A descendent of whaling vessels, factory ships are large ocean-going vessels on-board facilities for processing and freezing their catch. These ships allowed for fish to be caught and processed immediately after catching. This keeps fish extremely fresh and allows for the freshest fish to make it back to market.

Tojo Restaurant

Through immigration, we see people bring their culture and knowledge of the cuisine to the place that they are migrating into. Often times, these places does not have the ingredients they are familiar with. What happens is that their knowledge of the cuisine became hybridized with the ingredients available to them. In this documentary video by Andrew Zimmern, Hirizaka Tojo was able to introduced sushi to a conservative white populous by incorporating ingredients the local people are familiar with in the cuisine he is more familiar in making which is sushi. He was also able to hide the fishy taste that is usually not appealing to Europeans.

Spider Roll

Spider Roll is another example of a sushi created in the United States.The softshell crabs are battered and deep fried in order to appear as spiders with its legs displayed as spider legs. Served with spicy mayo, Spider Roll are a huge hit in America Japanese cuisines.

Philadelphia Roll

With more Japanese cuisine and chefs coming into America, new Western-Japanese fusion sushi were created. The ingredients were chosen specifically for the these Western people due to the fear of consuming raw fish and for their love of Philadelphia's famous cream cheese.

Dragon Roll

These rolls were also invented with the mindset of a Western-Japanese fusion sushi. The Dragon Roll tends to come with a higher price tag but worth every penny for its ingredients and display of art, if done right.

California Roll

Immigration in California from Japan has been a major influence to trend of Japanese cuisine in California. Japanese immigration has allowed the skills and knowledge of sushi to pass on from one chef to another, creating an army of chef-entrepreneurs such as Matsuhisa Noboyuki, an internationally celebrated Japanese chef who arrived around the 1970s and 80s. (Cwiertka, 183).


Survivors who were named Heike was said to have gathered wasabi in the wild as a seasoning for raw yamame (a kind of trout), and raw venison. The identity of these survivors were said to be noble samurai who were familiar with the life and culture of Kyoto. There are two ways of preparing wasabi. In preparing powdered wasabi, place powder in a container desired and dissolve the wasabi powder in little water or rice vinegar. Mix till you reach a paste like consistency. Let the mixture rest for 5-10 minutes to release the flavours. In preparing fresh wasabi from root you would need to grate the wasabi into a pulp on a grater (oroshi-gane). Wasabi is desired for getting rid of the after taste of the fish and also helps produce saliva that aids with appetite. (Real Wasabi, 2005)

Soy Sauce

Some sources say that its origin was traced back to China. One of the myths behind the history of soy sauce is that it was made when a "worker lay down to rest under a vat where soybeans were being fermented to make miso" where the soy sauce came out of the vat's cracks. The same myth applies to how soy sauce is actually made where it is fermented at a certain temperature and pasteurized resulting to soy sauce. (Soy Sauce Information Center, 2003)

Japanese Sushi in Scarborough and Markham

Today, we find many sushi restaurants here in Scarborough and Markham. However, today most sushi restaurants are not owned by Japanese people but mostly Korean or Chinese selling Japanese cuisine such as sushi. Restaurants like Join Sushi in Kingston Road that sell not only Japanese and Korean cuisine but also include some American dishes such as onion rings and chicken nuggets. This restaurant serves sushi called Kingston Roll which reflects the location of the restaurant and also Join Sushi Roll, reflecting the name of the restaurant. Another example is the Gal Sushi, in Markham, where they serve not only Japanese sushi but also a variety of ethnic cuisines that ranges from Japanese to Korean. The tie between the Korean cuisine and the Japanese cuisine was because of the South Korean desires to make its cuisine part of the most popular ethnic cuisines in the world (Cwiertka, 8). This was made possible by putting Korean cuisine next with other cuisines such as Japanese food. This map illustrated below shows how popular sushi is in places such as Markham and Scarborough. Their menus often depict their own sushi creation that reflects the location or their restaurant name such as Matsuda Maki from Matsuda Japanese Cuisine in Scarborough and Toronto roll served in Osaka Markham Sushi Restaurant.. In connection with the overall research, this was made possible because of cultural influences, technological advancements, and immigration. Ever since there was a rise in sushi demands in our diet, restaurants were established to supply this demands. Since sushi became a huge demand, it spread around the world where even people from different countries travel to Japan just to learn how to make it and to taste it.

Nigiri Sushi

The rising merchant class also meant the rising sushi business during this time where there was a rising fish demand and also a fruitful resources for fish (Ashkenazi and Jacob, 10). Ever since the second World War, the serving size became smaller as there was a scarcity of food available to feed everyone. The transformation came from how it was made where it used to be a big ball of rice with at least three pieces of sushi on top. This was known as the Tokyo style sushi made during the Edo Period. This type of Sushi were sold on street stands and eaten in public after the customer has bought it. It transformed to a small ball of rice with a piece of fish on top which is, as stated, nigiri-sushi. The small serving of sushi today became the standard size of serving sushi.


Production of rice vinegar grew rapidly in Japan at the start of the Edo period (1603-1867). The shogunate moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) where the occurrences gave rise to the increase in production of rice vinegar. By adding rice vinegar to the cooked rice it was possible to shorten the fermentation period. The process of making sushi still relates to how sushi was made before which is by fermenting them in a wooden box under pressure by heavy stones (NHK World, 2014).


The process of making this involves Cooking the rice, then placing the rice in layers with the fish desired to ferment inside the wooden box. The next process is placing heavy stones on top of the wooden box to compress the fish and ferment them. Lastly, the fish is ready to be consumed in 2 months or in a year if preferred. It is ready to be consumed by then (Sushi History, 2003).


Sushi, as it was before, it started as the fermentation and preservation of fish guts called Ki/Shi. here has been a rising demand for sushi dishes across the globe for its taste and aesthetics. Looking at sushi’s history, sushi, surprisingly, was not of Japanese Origin. According to some sources, Sushi was traced as far back in China and from there was able to move to Japan. The farthest evidence we have in tracing the roots of Sushi dates back to the 4th century found in the Chinese dictionary (Mouritsen, 15).


In Matsumoto Yoshiichi’s studies, he discovered that rice vinegar tenderized the fish and at the same time give the rice this distinct taste (Mouritsen, 16). To prepare it, you have to cook the rice, add rice vinegar to the cooked rice to shorten fermentation period, and place the rice and the fish in layers to ferment it in the course of 24 hours. Consume it immediately after it is served.


In order to make it, you must place rice wine vinegar on the cooked rice, fillet fish desired to make into sushi, place both together ( the rice and the fish) in a small wooden box and compress the box by applying pressure to it with your hands. Lastly, take the block of fish and rice out of the box and slice it into blocks. Then serve the blocks of sushi to everyone on a plate.


"A Taste of Tokyo." Manawatu Standard, Nov 09, 2013. http://search.proquest.com/docview/1449491322?accountid=14771.

Issenberg, Sasha. The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy. New York, N.Y.: Gotham Books, 2007.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna Joanna. Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity. London: Reaktion, 2006.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna Joanna. Cuisine, Colonialism and Cold War: Food in Twentieth-century Korea. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

Lowry, Dave. The Connoisseur's Guide to Sushi: Everything You Need to Know about Sushi Varieties and Accompaniments, Etiquette and Dining Tips, and More. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Common Press, 2005.

Sushi Encyclopedism "Sushi History." Sushi History. June 5, 2003. http://homepage3.nifty.com/maryy/eng/sushi_history.htm

"The History of Soy Sauce | Soy Sauce Information Center." The History of Soy Sauce | Soy Sauce Information Center. January 1, 2003. https://www.soysauce.or.jp/en/history/index.html

"Real Wasabi." Real Wasabi. January 1, 2005. http://www.realwasabi.com/History/index.asp

"Sushi History." Sushi Session Sushi History Comments. February 5, 2009. https://sushisession.wordpress.com/sushi-knowledge/sushi-history/

"Sushi." Japanology Plus . NHK World . 11 Dec. 2014. Television.

Sushi, the Global Catch. Lorber Films, 2013. DVD.

Mariani, John. ” California Roll.” Food Timeline. 1999. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodasian.html#californiarolls

Ashkenazi, Michael, and Jeanne Jacob. Food Culture in Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Counihan, Carole. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna Joanna. Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity. London: Reaktion, 2006.

Duncan, Alasdair. Sushi Central. St Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press ;, 2003.

Hochman, Karen, Rowann Gilman, and Ruth Katz. "History Of Sushi." History Of Sushi. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/fish/seafood/history-of-sushi.asp

“California Roll.” Type of Sushi Roll. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/fish/seafood/sushi-glossary2.asp

Imai, Shoko. 2010. Nobu and After: Westernized Japanese Food and Globalization. In Food and Social Identities in the Asia Pacific Region, ed. James Farrer. Tokyo: Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture. http://icc.fla.sophia.ac.jp/global%20food%20papers/html/imai.html

Masayoshi Maehata. "The Use of Lake Biwa and People’s Lifestyle." In Lake Biwa Interactions between Nature and People by Kawanabe, Hiroya, Machiko Nishino, and Masayoshi Maehata. Dordrecht: Springer, 2012.

Lowry, Dave. The Connoisseur's Guide to Sushi: Everything You Need to Know about Sushi Varieties and Accompaniments, Etiquette and Dining Tips, and More. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Common Press, 2005.

Mouritsen, Ole G. Sushi Food for the Eye, the Body & the Soul. New York: Springer, 2009.

Payne, Rob. Sushi Daze. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2004.

"Vancouver." Zimmern, Andrew. Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Andrew Zimmern. 31 Mar. 2014. Television.