AN HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION OF JAPANESE SUSHI
In this section I will introduce and give an overview of the history of sushi. Much of the history regarding sushi is only known in Japan, and I would therefore like to talk a little bit about it here and hopefully share this knowledge with those not born and raised in Japan.
The UKIYOE print shown above here is from the latter part of the Edo era. It was made around the year 1820. If you look at the sign in the picture, you will notice a Japanese character written on it. This is the character for "sushi." This UKIYOE print is actually from a guide about Edo, used to promote the city. This print shows a typical example of one of the first sushi bars. In the late Edo era, around 1820, many stands and shops began to open and serve sushi. This is when sushi began to grow in popularity with the people of Japan.
Birth of SushiIn Japan, historically, the oldest traditional sushi is said to have originated in Saga prefecture. This sushi is called Funa sushi. In early May, Funa (Crucian Carp), are caught along the shore (Gengoro Funa are considered the highest quality) and gutted from the mouth so the egg pouch will not be damaged or ripped in any way. After this, the Funa are washed thoroughly and wiped clean in order to perform the "shio kiri" technique. This technique requires that the fish be stuffed with salt in the mouth, and then pressed with an "omoshi" (a rock weight). After one month, the weight is taken out and the Funa is put on top of rice to be served at room temperature.
This procedure in old Japanese is called "sushi ho" and the "funa sushi" technique is considered to be derived from it. It also resulted in the basic idea of "sushi no saho" (the way sushi is made). Unfortunately it is not certain when this concept of "saho" was first developed. Around the time when this was developed however, it is known that there was a tax placed on sushi, from the end of the Nara jidai (Nara era), and until the beginning of the Heian jidai (Heian era). This was the during the Yoro era. There were a number of regulations put into place at this time, many of them applied to sushi.
In today's sushi restaurants, sushi is not said to be made (tsukuru in Japanese), but marinated (tsukeru). Therefore, the specific area where sushi is made within a particular restaurant is known as the "tsuke-ba" (marinating area).
Sushi-like items were available in other Asian countries a long time ago. About 1,000 years ago in China, there was a royal family who lived away from cities close to the ocean, so in order to get fish, they would have them salted and shipped to their residence. In Southeast Asia, about 800 years ago, there were people who salted fish and let it ferment in rice. This is very similar to "Nare sushi." Numerous facts and myths of this nature still exist today, and many of these are fairly well-known in places throughout Asia.