Japan from the inside out

A feast fit for a shogun

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 8, 2012

RECORDS exist of a banquet Henry VIII of England gave on 25 February 1528 at Windsor Great Park. Here were some of the dainty dishes fit for a king:

The account includes beef, veal, bacon, oxen, calves, hens, kid goats and lambs and “conies” – an old word for rabbits. In addition to this, some unusual birds were ordered for the table, including 12 plovers, 48 pipers and no less than 96 larks. Two herons were also ordered. It was often the custom to roast birds whole, in some cases arranging the feathers back onto the bird after cooking to create a visual centrepiece for the table to amuse and impress the guests… the letter accounts for a total of 750 eggs, 90 dishes of butter and 5 gallons of cream. Along with these vast quantities of meat, this may help to explain Henry’s expanding waistline and later decline in health.

By expanding waistline, they refer to a suit of armor made for Henry in 1540 that measured 52 inches around the waist. The later decline in health is thought to have resulted from his dietary habits, and some people now think he had diabetes. Also, an ordinary person at the time consumed a gallon of ale daily, and historians assume Henry must have downed more — it’s good to be king, right? So some of that must have been a beer belly.

Records also exist of a meal eaten by the eighth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, at Shakujo-ji, a Buddhist temple in what is now Kawaguchi, Saitama. Rather than a feast, it was a meal eaten while on the road for a 1728 visit to Nikko Tosho-gu, a Shinto shrine in Nikko, Tochigi. (Both of those institutions still exist. The temple was more than 250 years old when the Shogun ate lunch there, and the shrine more than 100 years old. The links will take you to photographs on Japanese-language websites.)

Looking for some PR, the city of Kawaguchi recreated the meal and served it for lunch last week to the man who would have been the 18th Tokugawa shogun, 72-year-old Tokugawa Tsunenari.

The temple records indicate only the foods that were served and not how they were prepared. Prof. Shimazaki Tomiko of the Kagawa Education Institute of Nutrition consulted some cookbooks from the Edo period and supervised the cooking at Ebiya Mikakumon, a local Japanese restaurant.

The meal they served the shogun is shown in the photo at the top. In addition to rice and miso soup, it included roasted tofu and steamed abalone. The desserts at Henry’s feast included a lot of sugar, but that was still a rarity in Japan at the time, so the food was lightly seasoned in soy sauce and (for the abalone) sake. Said Mr. Tokugawa:

“Lately, there’s a lot of food that’s much too sweet, but this was lightly seasoned and quite delicious.”

The Tokugawas don’t wear armor anymore, but he doesn’t need a suit with a 52-inch waist, either:

Modern epicures seldom have the opportunity to eat the plover, heron, or lark dishes favored by Henry and his wives, but if they’re in Kawaguchi in a party of five, they’ll be able to feast like a shogun for JPY 4,000 each at the same restaurant. The meal is called the Yoshimune Lunch on the menu. Would that be the red lacquer special?

Those who read Japanese and are interested in recreating Edo-period dishes themselves might try this cookbook . It was just reprinted as an affordable paperback.


I read two newspaper accounts of this meal in Japanese. One said there were 12 separate dishes in the meal, and the other said there were 14. Journalists!

One Response to “A feast fit for a shogun”

  1. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Looks like Osechi in Shogatsu. I love it with sake at room temparature. Lots of small yummies going perfect with sake! I miss it coming new year! January 1 to 3 is the period when I can have sake from the morning without hesitation. I would in stead have chopp (draft beers) and caipirinha (spirits with lime juice) and some wines from Argentine and Chile.

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