Theodore Bestor wrote an article entitled “How Sushi Went Global,” in 2000, and after reading it I felt it exemplified some ideals of technology that we have been discussing. Sushi has been at the top of Japanese cuisine for over a thousand years. It originally arose as a way of preserving food. Fish were placed in rice and allowed to ferment, which permitted individuals to keep fish edible for some time. Until the 1960’s there was little mention of Japanese food in the United States media, and when mentioned recipes included cooked shrimp on caraway rye bread rather than the customary raw fish on rice. As technology and innovation were developing post WWII, globalization gave Americans a new appreciation for traditional Japanese cuisine.
In 1972 the New York Times did a story on the opening of a sushi bar in the elite sanctum of New York’s Harvard Club. Sushi became an American fad partly because of the emergence of Japan on the global economic scene in the 70’s, partly because American’s were rejecting hearty red meat in favor of healthy cuisine like fish and vegetables, and partly because technology made the food more accessible to the American people. The rapid growth of the industry made American businessmen’s mouths water, they were dying to get their hands on a piece of the profits that came from buying and selling fish.
Japan’s demand for sushi boomed in the 1980’s and created new markets for tuna in other countries. “Total Japanese imports of bluefin tuna worldwide increased from 957 metric tons (531 from the United States) in 1984 to 5,235 metric tons (857 from the United States) in 1993. The average wholesale price peaked in 1990 at 4,900 yen per kilogram, bones and all, which trimmed out to approximately U.S. $33 wholesale per edible pound.” The most influential piece of technology that enabled the sushi market to spread so far and rapidly was the Boeing 747.
The jumbo jet allows tuna buyers to bid on bluefin tuna, in Maine, early Tuesday morning and turn around and sell them in Tokyo on Wednesday. The ability to use a jet to transport fish nearly eliminates the gap between the two countries. The market for Tuna has brought together individuals and communities in unexpected relationships. Japan has set up joint ventures with large-scale Spanish fishing companies off the coast of Cartagena, Spain. These ventures are a prime example of cultures meshing in order to utilize their individual technologies together in order to be most efficient. The tuna farms rely on French fisherman to capture the fish and tow them to the pens, financing comes mostly from the Japanese trading companies, Australians developed the aquacultural techniques, the vitamin supplements come from European pharmaceutical giants and are packed in herring from Holland, and finally, the computer models used for feeding schedules and tracking weight gains comes from Japan. This high-tech system used to develop the ideal tuna has enabled the business to go global.
Although other countries have increasingly become more involved in the sushi culture of Japan, the Japanese are still the puppet masters of the business. The best tuna from New England may eventually land in restaurants in New York or L.A., but it must first be stamped with a sign of approval in Japan. I would like to conclude by loosely linking the invention of the 747 to the matured American palate for sushi.