KOKORO – His Majesty Akihito’s diet

Japan has the last Emperor in the world. No other head of state has a right to the title, which makes Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan, a very special man.

Food being a very important part of the culture in Japan, and with so many traditional dishes to choose from, what does Emperor Akihito eat? Exquisitely prepared delicacies, rare dishes served in an opulent setting, a luxurious banquet of sweet and savoury traditional food all topped with a copious amount of sake is what we imagine each meal of the Japanese head of state to be like. And yet, all of these predictions could not be farthest from the truth.

His Majesty, according to Japan Today and Flash, seems to favour somewhat “bland food.” Former education minister Yoshinobu Shimamura, a close friend of the emperor, is quoted as saying, “I’ve been invited to meals any number of times at Togu Palace. They were more frugal than I anticipated they would be, and a bit on the bland side when it came to taste.”

No luxury, no opulence, no extraordinary meals. If anything, this sounds a bit like Emperor Akihito could be part of the “commoners,” at least when it comes to his meals.

But before imagining his Majesty hitting a supermarket for rice cakes, it is important to note that, “meat, vegetables, dairy products and others are produced by the imperial farm in Tochigi Prefecture.” All this foodstuff is also as natural as it can be, with a spokesperson for the Imperial Household Agency saying that the “use of chemical fertilizer and agricultural pesticides is held to the lowest level possible.”

The Emperor of Japan is therefore served organic, locally sourced food, and no, he does not prepare it himself. There is a Daizen department, which employs 43 staff who takes care of it all. A sample midday meal is reported to look like this: “rice/barley mixture; miso soup; grilled “sawara” (a type of mackerel); glazed ginger and chestnuts.”

It’s not all simple fare though, as there is also mention of meals of “full courses French cuisine” when foreign guests are entertained. Maybe that’s when the banquet-style opulence comes out.

Whilst we might think His Majesty and his family eat only what they are allowed to, they have, in fact, almost no restrictions. The only forbidden food is Fugu (blowfish). For personal safety, and even though some Fugu is now “poison-free,” Akihito is forbidden by law to consume the delicacy.

Frugal and bland might be what is being reported coming out of the Palace’s kitchens, but Emperor Akihito still enjoys some interesting dishes. One eccentricity is Tsukudani (seaweed condiment) on buttered toast. As a youth, he and his brother snacked on “steamed buns with pork and sweet bean fillings,” which could become our own go-to snack too, if it tastes as good as it sounds.

Whatever we might think we understand about the Imperial diet, we will never know for certain what Emperor Akihito really eats on a daily basis, as the Imperial Household Agency is rather tight-lipped when it comes to sharing private information.

However, we can still satisfy some of our curiosity, thanks to journalist Akira Hashimoto, a close confident of the Emperor who told Flash that the head of state has a sweet tooth and “has long favored Colombin brand apple pie.” Making western-style desserts, Colombin is a manufacturer of all things sweet and yummy, established in 1924.

Apple pie might not have been in our predictions of what Emperor Akihito liked eating, but it does make us feel better about the “rice/ barley mixture” that was reported. Everything we could find out about the diet of the Emperor of Japan seems incredibly simple, which means eating like this special man might not be as difficult as we anticipated.

To recap, an Imperial diet requires: local, organic food, simple meals except on special occasions, when French cuisine is “de rigueur,” and some apple pie. Eating like an Emperor has never been easier.

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