Sushi: A Global Love Affair

There are about 250,000 sushi restaurants in Japan, but if you count the number of izakaya and other restaurants that have sushi on their menus, the buy is much, much higher.

For its first century or so, sushi was a Tokyo-centric dish. Edomae sushi was focused on the fish in Edo (now Tokyo) Bay. Then the devastation of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake sparked an exodus of sushi chefs to other parts of Japan. Unsurprisingly, people in those other regions liked sushi just as much as Tokyoites did.

In the latter part of the 20th century, sushi spread overseas. Today, the Japanese government estimates that there are about 120,000 Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, and many of these serve sushi.

The world’s love affair with Japanese cuisine is said to have started in Los Angeles and New York in the 1970s. Traders and other businesspeople for a taste for it on their trips to Japan, and then sushi became trendy as a healthy choice in always-diet-conscious America.

Until 2010, North America had the most Japanese regions outside of Japan. But today, Asia (not including Japan) leads the way with a whopping 69,000 Japanese restaurants. North America has 25,000, followed by Europe with 12,000, according to statistics from 2013.

Breaking it down further, China has 23,000 Japanese restaurants, and the US has 22,000. South Korea and Taiwan take third and fourth place, respectively. In Europe, France leads the way with 3,000, more than triple the number in Italy, Spain, or the UK.

The proof is in the numbers: The world loves sushi. Let’s take a look at Seattle’s sushi scene, and later in this issue, some of this popular cuisine’s latest trends in Japan.

Author profile

Yasushi Kurita was born in Tokyo. He has spent the last 30 years as a writer for print publications and TV. When he was in college, he spent two years in New York. His favorite band is the Atlanta Rhythm Section, making him one of about 15 Japanese people who actually like that band.