Japanese kitchen

Japanese kitchen

Daidokoro (台所;lit. "kitchen") is the place where food is prepared in a Japanese house. Until the Meiji era, a kitchen was also called "kamado" (かまど; lit. stove) and there are many sayings in the Japanese language that involve kamado as it was considered the symbol of a house and the term could even be used to mean "family" or "household". When separating a family, it was called "Kamado wo wakeru", which literally means "divide the stove". "Kamado wo yaburu" (lit. "break the stove") means that the family was broke.

Early history

In the Jōmon period ( 10,000 BC to 300 BC), people gathered to form villages, where they lived in shallow pit dwellings. These simple huts were measured between 10 to 30 square meters and had a hearth in the center. Early stoves were nothing more than a shallow pit ("jikaro" 地床炉), but they were soon surrounded by stones to catch the fire sparks. A clay vase with its bottom cracked soon replaced the stones as these became hot quickly and occupants had to be careful around a stove. This type of stove is called "Umigamero" (埋甕炉; lit. "buried vase stove"). As the stove became safer, it was moved from the bum the center of house to the side, and finally, by the late Kofun period (6th century), almost all houses had a stove at one end of the house. Some rich families in the Kofun period built a separate house where cooking was done. In these houses, food was stored in sacks and pots in a hole dug on the floor. Houses were constructed near a river or a spring for easy access to water.

In the Yayoi period (300 BC to AD 250) the cultivation of rice became widespread, and villages would be constructed near a marsh and a lowland. The water was muddy and "Asaido" (浅井戸) were constructed. An asaido was filled with sand and pebbles through which the water flowed to filter out mud and larger organisms. Some villages stored food outside a house in a large storehouse.

By the Nara period in the 8th century, the kitchen had reached a certain level of perfection and basically remained unchanged for over 600 years until the Muromachi period (1336–1573). Kitchens were furnished with the following items:

*"Ashikanahe" or "Ashimarokanahe" (足釜) - A three- or four-legged iron pot.
*"Kakekanahe" or "Kakemarokanahe" (懸釜) - An iron pot that was fitted over a stove. It had a "fringe" that let it hang on the stove and was used to boil cook rice into kayu.
*"Yukikamado" (行竈) - A pot with a stove attached that could be carried around
*"Koshiki" (橧 or 甑) - A wooden basket placed on top of a pot to steam cook rice.
*"Nabe" (堝 or 鍋) - existed both made of clay and of metal. Primarily used to make stews and a sidedish as well as to boil water.
*"Sashinabe" (佐志奈閇) - A small pot with a long handle used to warm sake in a bottle.
*"Hiraka" or "Hotogi" (瓫) - A large clay pot larger than a nabe used to boil water.
*"Kamado" - Also called "Mushikamado": the stove itself, constructed with stones, tiles, and clay.
*"Karakamado" (韓竈) - A set of koshiki, "kanahe" (釜), and kamado that can be carried around.
*"Takigi" (薪) - In the Nara period, "薪" was read as "takigi" and not as "maki". Dried wood was used as fuel.
*"Oke" (麻筒) - A tub or a pail in three sizes; large, medium, and small. A flat bottomed and shallow tub was also used.
*"Shaku" (杓) - Also read as "Hisago". A wooden ladle used to scoop cold and hot water from an "oke".
*"Katana" (刀子) - A cooking knife and not a katana.
*"Kiritsukue" or "Sekki" (切机) - A "Manaita" (俎) or a cutting board.
*"Fune" (船) - A large wooden tub used for washing.
*"Shitami" (籮) - A coarse hemp cloth used to squeeze water out or to dry foods by spreading over it.
*"Kame" (甕) - A large vase where foods were stored.

In the Heian period (794–1185), the first usage of the word which became "Daidokoro" was recorded. The imperial palace of Heian had four rooms dedicated to preparing foods, "Oni no ma" (鬼の間), "Daibandokoro" (台盤所), "Asagarei no ma" (朝餉の間), and "Ōidono" (大炊殿). "Oni no ma" was the room used for checking for poison and tasting before serving. "Asagarei no ma" was the room for eating breakfast. "Ōidono" was the room to cook foods and was placed to the north and as far away as possible from living quarters. "Daibandokoro" was the room used to serve foods onto an individual "Daiban" (台盤), a lacquered wooden table. Maid servants also ate and waited to serve meals in the Daibandokoro. The original meaning of "Daidokoro" was not a kitchen but a pantry.

In the Kamakura period (1185–1333), as the Shoinzukuri style of housing became common, the kitchen was gradually absorbed into a house. Until then, a kitchen was built as a separate house whenever possible to avoid smells and smokes as well as fire from burning down the house where they lived. A kitchen of the Kamakura period was under the same roof as other rooms of a house. Yet, one would not see an essential kitchen furnishing, a sink or even a well in a kitchen.


Fire and water


The earliest dwellings in Japan used an open fire hearth for cooking. The first stove was recorded in the Kofun period (3rd to 6th century). These stoves, called "kamado" were typically made of clay and sand; they were fired through a hole in the front and had a hole in the top, into which a pot could be hung by its rim. This type of stove remained in use for centuries to come, with only minor modifications. In the 14th century in the Muromachi period, stoves with two holes was recorded in drawings, and by the early 17th century, the beginning of the Edo period, large stoves with several cooking holes were common in the kitchens of the upper class house as well as in a large restaurant. It is believed these multiple hole types appeared earlier than recorded but was omitted from previous drawings because a single hole stove was enough to show that food was cooked there. The stove was generally not very high, cooks had to squat in order to cook. In the larger kitchens, especially those of palaces and temples, raised "kamado" that could be operated while standing up were developed in the Edo period (1603–1867).

"Irori" (囲炉裏) appeared in Kofun period and it served as a secondary stove. A section of a floor was removed of its wooden panels and a lacquered square wooden frame was fitted in the place. Then it was filled with sand and an iron hook was lowered from the ceiling. Foods were reheated or cooked over a fire in an iron pot hang from the hook and it served as a heat source. This type of stove became common in many homes by early Nara period and a smaller irori is the center piece of a tea house.

A third type of stove, a "hibachi" (火鉢) lit. "fire pot", appeared as late as early Heian period and it is most likely to have been used earlier. A hibachi is a deep small pot half filled with sand and ash and a small fire was started in the pot. It was used to as a heating equipment with a maximum safety. It could be used to cook small morsels of food.


Fire was a part of a kitchen from the start but water was late in becoming a part of a kitchen.

In the Yayoi period (300BC to A.D.250) the cultivation of rice became widespread, and villages would be constructed near a marsh and a lowland. The water was muddy and "Asaido" (浅井戸) lit.) shallow wells, were constructed. An asaido was filled with sand and pebbles through which the water flowed to filter out mud and larger organisms. A deeper well was also dug and sometimes a log with its innard chipped away was used to prevent a collapse. A pot was used to scoop water.

It was not long before people started improving on these primitive wells. The area around a well was tiled with stones, then "Fune" (水船) was invented. Wooden or bamboo shafts were used to carry water from nearby wells and springs to a "fune" or manually filled by women. Water was caried from these "fune" to a water vase from where it was used. Sometimes "fune" was made inside a house but it did not have the function of a sink. It was used to collect and store water and nothing more. "Fune" later became a part of a Japanese garden.

The first time that a sink appeared in a drawing was in the "Bokie" (慕帰絵) written in the early Muromachi period. The kitchen of Nanrou temple (南瀧院) had a large "Sunokoyuka" (すのこ床) lit. drainboard floor, next to a stove with a waterfilled "oke" and "Hisyaku" (="syaku") for washing. This sunokoyuka was made with split bamboo and water would drip through gaps. Even though in many places, a sunokoyuka was made over a river and washing was done, to make a part of the kitchen floor into sunokoyuka to use as a drain was a new innovation. While one would wonder whether this did not pose a health problem, scraps from kitchen were meticuously collected and used to make a compost. Few Japanese ate meat due to the Emperor's decree given in 8th century and animals and birds were slaughtered away from a house. Until late Edo period, this type of kitchen was widely used.

hoinzukuri and the kitchen

Shoinzukuri became the standard style of building a house beginning in 13th century and it was revolutionary for combining fire (stove) and water (well and drain) into a single place. It was still few steps short of a kitchen. In the early stage of Shoinzukuri style, instead of the kitchen being a room inside "Omoya" (母屋)or the main building, it was merely connected by a corridor and existed inside one of many sub-buildings. However, it did have a "Kamado", a "Irori", a well, and a "Sunokoyuka" in the same room.

In the Edo period, "Daidokoro" came to be used to mean "Kitchen" and it became an integrated part of the house. It was, however, more common to call it "Katte" (勝手) which is only used to mean the back door today. The pantry room was instead called "Ozenntate" (御膳立). Upper class houses were finely stocked and extremely large by today's standard. The country house of Tokugawa Mitsukuni known as a gourmet of Edo period, had kitchen spaces at least 34 "jyou" or about 53 square metres. This is more than one third of the entire house and this does not include the room for sake storage or the pantry room. Some of well furnished kitchens had a running water by having bamboo shafts fetch the water while others had to fetch the water from a common well. But a separate room for the kitchen had became absolute necessity and except for smallest of the house which only had a single room, there was always a kitchen.

Storage in kitchens was provided by "Mizuya tansu". These are Japanese style chests, often with a mix of sliding doors to compartments and drawers of varying sizes. These are still available today as antiques, or altered reproductions tailored to a more modern/western style of kitchen.


An American scientist, Edward S. Morse recorded many of the kitchens in urban and rural areas in early Meiji period. These kitchens were not much different from those in the Edo period as gas and electricity have only began to be used even in America and Europe. Though it was costly to lay down infrastructures, these were dutifully laid down under a heavy subsidization by semi-private and national companies.

A large change occurred in the early 1900s in Japanese cuisine. Foreign cuisines from every part of the world flooded Japanese cookbooks and these were a part of boom called "Haikara" (ハイカラ), literally high collared, taken from high collared coats popular in Europe. Popular dishes like Curried rice, Sukiyaki, Ramen, Gyudon appeared in Meiji period as a part of the Haikara movement and fusing of traditional Japanese cuisines with other cuisines. T Kitchens were completely reorganized to cook these foods; Kitchens of Edo period were used for simple menus of rice, broiled fish, vegetable soup, and pickled vegetables.

The first gas light was installed in Yokohama by 1873 but it would be more than 30 years before commercials for the gas started appearing in newspapers. But it was not for middle to lower classes that these commercials were directed. In the 1908 study of how the gas was used in Tokyo city, 57% was for lighting, 14% was for fuel, 19% was for powering motors, and 3% was for streetlights. This meant that gas was used to light only 1 out of 9 household and only 1 out of 100 household used gas for cooking. Gas companies knew and early appliances were directly imported from England which made them too costly for richest citizens.

The Japanese kitchen would take a turn away from American and European kitchens from this point. The first item of the industrialization to be introduced to most houses was the "gas heated rice cooker". A gas stove were introduced much later as the cost of gas was still too high for most homes. A gas oven, often essential part of the kitchen in many American and European houses never made it into a common household because dishes like roasted chicken and a baked pie became popular much later. Instead of an oven, smaller fish oven was fitted into a gas stove. The gas heated rice cooker remained in use until 1970s in many houses and would be replaced by the electric rice cooker.

In 1920s, electricity began entering a common household. In "Nihonkatei daihyakkajiten", lit. Encyclopedia of Japanese Household, published in 1927, There is already an entry of "Katei denka" meaning completely electric housing. It says,

:The most important reason to use electricity for all needs of a house, lighting, heat, power is because it will help women to work, increasing their efficiency, make living easier and comfortable, and also make it economical. There must be several electrical outlets in each room to easily use an appliance like electric heater. They also let occupants use electric light at anytime and no one can forget the comfort of using appliances like an electric fan, an electric heater, an electric toaster, a coffee maker, an electric iron, and an electric curling iron.

:...Placing various electric appliances (in a kitchen) and cooking with them is essential to making it easier to work in this small space. An electric stove, an electric oven, an electric refrigerator, an electric dishwashers, etc. must be wired properly in appropriate spaces.

This, however did not mean that a completely electric house had become common. On 1937, J. G. Douglass from General Electric conducted a half-year research on how much electric appliances made into a common household. According to this report;

* Electric Iron - 3,131,000 (approximately 120,000 in Tokyo area)
* Refrigerator - 12,215 (4,700)
* Room Cooler - 260 (125)
* Vacuum Cleaner - 6,610 (3,100)
* Washing Machine - 3,197 (1,590)

It also predicted that 4 years later, in 1941, electric appliances should be much widely used. A 490% increase is predicted for the refrigerator, 470% increase for the vacuum cleaner, and 150% increase for iron.

The first public water service began in October 17, 1887 in Yokohama. By the early 1900s, most major cities had water services. However, these water pipes often led to public water taps. In 1892, a survey conducted in Yokohama revealed that less than 1 in 4 household had a private water tap. Eighteen thousand one hundred eighty-four households used public water taps while only 5,120 household used private water taps. By 1930s, most new houses were constructed with a private water taps but it would take another 30 years to became available in a village far from a city.

The "Average person's dream kitchen"

In 1912, a progressive woman's magazine "Hujin no tomo" (婦人之友) ran a contest for a "Heiminteki risouno daidokoro" (平民的理想の台所), or "average person's dream kitchen." "Heimin," literally "average person," was a popular phrase in the 1910s and 1920s, and it implied a well-educated and progressive person. Fifty-two contest entries were sent by readers, and two were awarded grand prizes. These two winners were entitled "the city kitchen" and "the village kitchen".

The city kitchen, for example, was about 15.5 square metres in size and was intended to be used by a wife and her mother-in-law. The kitchen had doors leading to the dining room, the bath, and the laundry area. It had a wooden floor, roughly one-fourth of which included underfloor storage lined with concrete to better store foods. Two kamado (stoves) were at one end, and a separate portable stove using charcoal was set up in the middle of the room. Next to the kamado was a stone water sink without a water tap. Next to this sink were storage shelves with pots and pans on top, washed dishes in the middle, and vegetables and miso on the bottom. Next to the portable stove was a large food preparation table, with several drawers to store cooking utensils. Staples such as rice, sugar, and flour were kept in pots beneath this table. Additional shelves at the other end of the room could be accessed from both the kitchen and the dining room. Next to these shelves was another preparation table where foods were served onto individual dishes and then carried to the dining room. Kitchen windows and shoji were installed with glass panes to make the kitchen brighter, and electric lights were hung from the ceiling. This "dream kitchen" was spacious by today's standards, yet it lacked most modern post-industrial conveniences, although many smaller improvements had been made.

Also around this time, many families started to use a low table called "chabudai". It was placed on the tatami, and everyone sat around it, rather than using individual "daiban". Until the 1960s, sitting on chairs and eating around a dining table was considered "Haikara".

The kitchen in the Taishō period

In the Taishō period (1912–1926), a popular movement called "Taishō Democracy" began. Its main focus was on universal suffrage for males, but this movement also extended into other fields, serving as a modernization effort like the Meiji Restoration. The kitchen was also affected.

The kitchen before the Taishō period was constructed so that most tasks could be done while sitting, crouching, or kneeling. This did make some sense due to long preparation and cooking times, and helped keep the stove low to prevent the spread of fire. As gas stoves and European-style clothes became popular, kitchens were redesigned so they could be used even while standing. A second innovation was that instead of placing the stove and water sink in a sunken, dirt-floored section of the kitchen, the stove was constructed on the same level as the rest of the kitchen, eliminating the need for stepping into footwear to attend it.

In 1922, Suzuki Shougyou began marketing a customizable kitchen set that came to be called the "System Kitchen." Many of its parts were prefabricated, and it could be made to fit in a space anywhere from 1.8 to 2.7 metres, the length of one to one-and-one-half tatami mats. The System Kitchen had a water sink, a cutting board, two or more gas stoves (not included), and cabinets for storage. This Suzuki kitchen was expensive, costing 120 yen at a time when a first-year bank worker earned only 50 yen per month. Today the same worker earns over 240,000 yen or over 2,000 dollars in a month.

By the end of Taishō period, it was becoming increasingly difficult to have a maid to help around the house. This means that the kitchen had to be smaller for a housewife working alone. Whereas a European Frankfurt kitchen measured 1.9m by 3.4m, or 6.46 square metres, Japanese pushed for an even smaller size, 1 Tsubo or 3.3 square metres, the area of two tatami mats. Three sides of these kitchens were filled with cupboards, stoves, storage areas, and a water sink.

The post-war kitchen

Many Japanese houses were destroyed in World War II, but rebuilding allowed architects to freely redesign houses as well as kitchens. The influence of Edo-period lifestyles was now nearly gone. Electricity and gas were built into kitchens, and designs reflected this change. An electric refrigerator, a luxury item prior to the war, became a standard item in the 1950s, along with an electric washing machine and a black-and-white television. However, early post-war housing projects were often poorly designed. Sometimes architects simply copied plans for American or European housing projects, with only minor modifications to better suit Japanese families. Kitchens were small and soon became cluttered with new electric appliances.

The "System Kitchen" approach to design was intended to make the kitchen easier for the average housewife to use. Since most families cook many different types of cuisine in their kitchens, a streamlined cooking process was studied, focusing on how the kitchen was actually used. In a system kitchen, the refrigerator and other electrical appliances were placed in predesigned locations, and storage spaces were subdivided to house various pots, pans and kitchen utensils.

ee also

*Housing in Japan

External links

* [http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/d/daidokoro.htm Entry for "daidokoro"] at JAANUS (Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System).
* [http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/k/kamado.htm JAANUS entry for "kamado" (stove)] , with a good image.
* [http://www.barbecue-smoker-recipes.com/kamado-barbecue-grills.html Kamado Barbecues]

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