Was trying to answer this question for a school age child writing an essay about Japan. Short of Wikipedia's "hundreds of years ago, you arranged for fresher fish by transporting it live" nothing meaningful popped up in my searches - and that doesn't offer explanation because of course you can cook fish after you transport it live.

So, is there some reason why eating raw fish became so popular/prevalent in Japan's seaward areas specifically (compared to other sea-adjacent areas of other nations)? Was it some specific quality of fish native to Japanese sea waters? Or just an accident of culture?

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    Japan is more than just sea-adjacent, much of its population lives near the coast. Most of the inland is mountainous so almost all of Japan's major cities are on the coast. Compare that to Great Britain where most of its urban areas are inland.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 2:41
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    @dvk, "Everywhere" is a function of modern food distribution systems, now. Mountain people in Japan didn't historically eat raw fish (river fish were/are rarely consumed raw, access to ocean fish was limited prior to refrigerated transport).
    – JasonTrue
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 2:59
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    @Dvk, May want to question that assumption as well. There are plenty of cultures that consume raw fish (though I'm less up to speed on the historical context for most of those). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_raw_fish_dishes
    – JasonTrue
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 3:01
  • @RossRidge - Ah. River port. I thought they were port cities on the sea? (not UK citizen). You can replace with SouthHampton and Portsmouth, which Google Maps tells me ARE coastal 100%
    – DVK
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 3:02
  • @JasonTrue - I am unsure of their popularity (most certainly, tuna tartare in USA is a foreign influence. Carpaccio is clearly native but I doubt it's as prevalent in Italy compared to cooked fish as Sashimi was in Japan.
    – DVK
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 3:06

3 Answers 3


I did a little bit of digging on the topic and found this TapTrip blog post: A brief history of Sushi: why do japanese eat raw fish?

It also references a Cultura Bunka article in Portuguese called Uma breve história do sushi.

To quote:

During Muromachi Period (1336-1573), japaneses [sic] used to transport the raw fish inside of baked rice to keep it conserved during long trips. Then, they started to eat this meal which was called sushi.


But, making sushi was hard because took a long time and was a little expensive. Only during Edo Period (1603-1868) japaneses started to eat the raw fish freshly caught from the ocean with rice thanks to a sushiman called Hanaya Yohei.

So it appears the short answer is indeed "just an accident of culture" (or history) so-to-speak.

I will also quote from a short article Japanese Food Culture of Eating Raw Fish *

Raw fish dishses have been eaten since the Nara-era. At first, people ate raw fish pickled with vinegar as "Namasu". Then, from the Muromachi-era, people started to eat "Sashimi".

And a bonus small bit on careful preparation of Sashimi:

Sashimi is the main dish in the Japanese cuisine, and the cooks consider carefully the best way of cutting the fish, arranging the fish, shellfish and squid, give importance to the proper use of condiments, and the best combination of fish species when serving. The thickness of sashimi is determined according to the collagen (main protein in the connective tissue) content of the fish used.

* [Foods Food Ingredients J. Jpn., Vol. 212, No.8, 20]
Keiko Hatae
Wayo Women's University
2-3-1, Kohnodai, Ichikawa-shi, Chiba 272-8533, Japan


Because they like it that way.

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    I guess this is basically the same as saying that it's the last option from the question, "just an accident of culture", but perhaps you could provide some evidence or elaborate a bit?
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 16:10

Japanese do not eat "a lot" of raw fish. Sushi and sashimi are a delicacy. Neither is eaten more than once in few weeks or even months. Good fish is more expensive than meat. Many Japanese eat raw fish only few times a year, many even don't like raw fish. Eating raw fish is quite recent, from last century, when fish boats got fridges. Before to get fish fresh enough for eating raw it had to be kept alive and that was very expensive, so usual people could not eat if they were not involved in fishing.

TapTrip blog is wrong, or better to say full of nonsense. Fish kept in rice was not raw, it was fermented. Yohei did not serve raw fish, edozushi he made was using marinated fish.

Fish pickled with vinegar is obviously not raw, it's pickled.

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    I think you're reading way too much into "a lot". Other cultures don't really eat raw fish, while in Japanese cuisine (delicacy or not) it's a significant thing.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 1:49
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    @Jefromi I just compare it with some americans came to Japan and got surprised that they eat sushi more often than Japanese
    – Rambalac
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 6:25

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