Portuguese missionaries brought bread to Japan in 1543, and today it’s more popular than rice

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Certain foods seem inextricably linked to their countries of origin: think pasta in Italy, curry in India, teff in Ethiopia, baguettes in France, rice in China. Say Japan, and you probably conjure sushi, sashimi, yakitori. But bread? Not so much.

Brace yourself. Bread consumption in Japan has risen faster than a yeast-laden loaf. In 2011, the Japanese spent more on bread than they did on the more tradition-seeming staple rice.

It wasn’t always so. Bread first landed on Japanese soil along with the first Europeans, Portuguese traders, in 1543. Subsequent ships came bearing missionaries, weaponry, and unusual food, namely bread and wheat. The Portuguese, who looked, smelled, and sounded so different, were called “Southern barbarians.” But the Japanese, in the midst of a civil war, tolerated the outsiders for a time because they were keen to purchase Portuguese firearms.

That tolerance ended, and the last of the Portuguese missionaries were banished from the island in 1639, but before they left, they traveled inland trying to convert more Japanese to Catholicism. (The missionaries were remarkably successful, which is what got them banned. Historians estimate there were 500,000 converted Catholics in Japan.) They carried with them their unusual foodstuff, that is, bread. Interestingly, the Portuguese Catholics also introduced to Japan the concept of batter-frying food coated in wheat. Today tempura seems as synonymous with Japanese cuisine as sushi.

With the Sakoku edict of 1635, Japan famously closed its borders to outsiders, becoming an insular and isolated country. For more than two centuries, trade was severely restricted and nearly all foreigners were prohibited from entering the country.

Most Japanese lived on rice, millet, and barley, supplemented with vegetables and the occasional bit of fish.

Bread fell off the Japanese table until the Opium War in 1840, when it was mass-produced as a convenient field ration to feed hungry soldiers, under the recommendation of a military science researcher, according to LiveJapan.com.

Even among the military, bread was not universally admired. When the Japanese Navy tried to introduce Western-style bread and a dry wheat cracker called kanpan in 1890, the servicemen went on strike, according to Slate magazine.

With its borders opened to the rest of the world by the late 1800s, bread and other wheat products came back to Japanese menus, though in limited quantities. Working-class laborers ate wheat udon noodles; aspiring middle-class salarymen went to Western-style cafes, where they sampled unusual treats like pastries, cakes, and anpan, a sweet cake filled with black bean fudge.

During World War II, rice was reserved for soldiers. Civilians subsisted on rations of crude bread, dumplings, kanpan, and udon noodles. The situation got worse after the war, and Japan was on the brink of starvation when the U.S. sent in emergency rations of wheat and lard. As they already were in the U.S., sandwiches became a staple in subsidized school lunches in urban areas, a practice that lasted until the 1970s and that normalized sandwiches as a part of daily lives.

“In demographic terms, the reason the Japanese diet has shifted so markedly toward bread consumption in recent years is that those who have grown up with bread as part of their everyday diet now constitute a majority of the population,” as Iwamura Nobuko recounted on Nippon.com.

The Japanese government encouraged a Western diet of bread, meat, and dairy products in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Nobuko, as a way to build strong bodies, and set up policies to encourage wheat farming. Bread soon became emblematic of a trendy Western lifestyle.

Today in Japan, as in other parts of the industrial world, contemporary busy families are dependent on quick, portable, individual meals with easy cleanup. Rice traditionally requires the preparation of at least three side dishes; a bread sandwich is easier to prepare and to customize for various family members’ tastes.

Between slices of bread, however, you’ll find something more indigenous than ham and cheese. Popular Japanese sandwiches include Yakisoba Pan, with fried soba noodles and pickled ginger; a Toyko favorite called Katsu Sando, deep-fried pork, with pickled cabbage and barbecue sauce; and Kurama, a fruit and cream filled dessert sandwich. Yum! What’s for lunch?

 E.L. Hamilton

The baffling Piri Reis Map of 1513: It showed Antarctica centuries before discovery, but without its ice cap

 Late in 1929, Gustav Deissmann, a German theologian, was working in Istanbul at the Topkapi Palace Library. While cataloging antique items he found a gazelle-skin parchment in a stack of discarded items. This parchment had a map drawn on it, and Deissmann was amazed to see that it appeared to show the outline of South America. He rescued the parchment, which is now known as the Piri Reis Map.

The map he studied had been drawn and signed in 1513 by Turkish cartographer Hagii Ahmed Muhiddin Piri, also known as Piri Reis. In addition to being a cartographer, Piri Reis served in the Turkish navy, for which he held the rank of admiral. He stated that he had used 20 different maps and charts as his source documents. Eight of them were Ptolemaic maps (maps of the known world according to the 2nd century Hellenistic or Greek society), four were Portuguese maps, one was an Arabic map, and one was drawn by Christopher Columbus.

Fragment of the Piri Reis map.

 

 

World map of Cosa (1500). Cuba already appears as an island.

This simple piece of preserved gazelle skin has been the basis of intense controversy in the world of cartography. For one thing, the map appears to show Antarctica almost 300 years before it was discovered. Not only does it show Antarctica, but the continent is drawn as a land mass as it would have appeared before it was covered with its ice cap over 6,000 years ago.

Another hypothesis, less accepted, which attempts to correlate the American outline map of Piri Reis with coastal Venezuela and Brazil.

This controversy was precipitated when Professor Charles Hapgood published, in 1965, his theory about Antarctica in the book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. Professor Hapgood, based at the University of New Hampshire, had studied the Piri Reis Map with his students and found several things that they could not explain. Not only was there the issue of Antarctica without its ice cap, but they noticed that the map was drawn using the Mercator Projection, a methodology not used by European cartographers until the late 16th century.

Hypothesis that attempts to correlate the lower boundary of the Piri Reis map of the coast of Argentine Patagonia and the Falkland Islands.

Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator devised the cylindrical map projection in 1569. The Greeks had the ability to create cylindrical maps utilizing their knowledge of the Earth as a sphere, along with the astrological and geometric skills to calculate latitude and longitude. The accuracy of the Mercator Projection was not absolute until the chronometer was invented in 1760.

The use of Mercator Projection on the Piri Reis Map could possibly be explained by his use of Greek maps in the creation of his drawing, but there was no explanation for the inclusion of Antarctica without the ice cap.  Professor Hapgood and his students theorized that the Piri Reis map had to have been based on information older than 4,000 BCE. This is long before any known sophisticated civilizations or any well-defined languages; the map introduces the theory of an ancient civilization that had the skills to navigate the world’s oceans, and accurately chart the lands they visited.

Professor Hapgood went on to state that the topographical representation of the area inland from the coast was so accurate that this ancient super-civilization had to have aerial capabilities in addition to their nautical and cartographic abilities. This naturally led to a theory of an alien civilization or one based on the lost city of Atlantis.

Cristóbal Colom landed on Hispaniola.

Those skeptical of the Piri Reis theories point out that the map is a fair representation of the coastline of South America, with modern features of the coast and interior shown. If this is not simply the coast of South America, that would mean South America and Antarctica were joined at Uruguay and that Argentina is a recent addition to the land mass. This argument infers that what is thought to be Antarctica on the Piri Reis Map is the lower portion of the South American continent.

Professor Hapgood then theorized that the Earth underwent a shift in its axis around 9,500 BC, which displaced Antarctica and moved it thousands of miles to the south, where it became covered in ice. Evidence shows that this phenomenon would have been impossible and did not happen.

The jury is still out on the question of whether the Piri Reis Map shows Antarctica or not. If you subscribe to the idea that this portion of the map is Antarctica without its ice cap (which has appeared on other maps), then you must believe that an ancient civilization that had advanced navigational skills existed and produced accurate maps of the globe. If you believe that this depiction is of the lower coast of South America, then you will probably scoff at the idea of an ancient advanced civilization. Until there is absolute proof to support one or the other theory, the arguments will continue.

By Ian Harvey