If weekly magazines do not dwell a great deal on Japan's monarch and his extended family, one reason must be that the Imperial Household Agency is rather circumspect about what it deigns to share with the media. But what could be more innocuous than responding to questions about what his majesty typically eats in the course of his busy day? What are his favorites? What does he intensely dislike? Has he ever sampled American-style fast food, or dialed out for a Domino's pizza to be delivered to the palace gate?
Well, some things are probably better left unsaid. But Flash (Feb 28) must be credited for having put together a three-page, reader-friendly essay on the emperor's diet -- no, not THAT Diet, the one he eats -- that is, if not mouth-watering, at least quite informative.
Take this for example: midday repast: Rice/barley mixture; miso soup; grilled "sawara" (a type of mackerel); glazed ginger and chestnuts.
The above, gleaned from menus consumed by the present emperor's father, Emperor Showa, is accompanied by a color photo representing a reproduction (not the actual meal), as it was served, on a tray with elegantly lacquered soup bowl and wooden chopsticks.
How did it taste? 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."
Flash reports that regular fare at the palace is the responsibility of the so-called Daizen department, which employs a total of 43 staff (as of the end of 2016). Food preparation duties are divided into five sections, whose tasks, respectively, involve 1) Japanese style food; 2) Western style food; 3) desserts; 4) bread and other baked items; and 5) meals for the crown prince and family. The meat, vegetables, dairy products and others are produced by the imperial farm in Tochigi Prefecture.
"The farm grows tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and so on, some 20 vegetables in all," says a spokesperson for the Imperial Household Agency. "Use of chemical fertilizer and agricultural pesticides is held to the lowest level possible. At the beginning of 2017, the farm had 32 head of cattle, 729 chickens, 58 pigs and 355 ewes. The livestock are raised in a manner so as to cause them minimal stress. The farm also produces dairy items, such as milk, yogurt, etc, eggs, chicken and mutton, ham, sausage and so on."
Now that's something you could even set to music: Like, Akihito had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.
When it comes to entertaining foreign guests, the menu is invariably a full course repast of French cuisine -- a policy in force since the days of Emperor Taisho, when legendary imperial chef Tokuzo Akiyama (1888-1974) managed the palace kitchen with an iron hand. U.S. President Barack Obama was said to have been highly impressed by the French meal during his state visit in 2014.
In the latter part of the article, journalist Akira Hashimoto, a close confident of the emperor since their schooldays together at Gakushuin, shares some revelations. For one, his majesty enjoys smearing seaweed "tsukudani" (a condiment typically eaten with rice) atop buttered toast. There's a story that when rooming together with his younger brother Prince Hitachi in a dormitory, the siblings would enjoy snacking on steamed buns with pork and sweet bean fillings; and that he has a pronounced sweet tooth and has long favored Colombin brand apple pie. Hashimoto adds that both the Emperor and Empress Michiko also enjoy imbibing whiskey, Japanese sake and other alcoholic beverages.© Japan Today