Photo/IllutrationThis document shows article names and unit prices of food materials the Imperial Japanese Navy procured during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) including beef, fish and vegetables. (Provided by Rikinobu Funasugi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MAIZURU, Kyoto Prefecture--Delicacies at an Imperial Japanese Navy station here, such as rice with curry sauce and stewed beef, were made with foodstuffs from a wide range of communities along the Sea of Japan.

Areas from Akita Prefecture in the north to Yamaguchi Prefecture in the west provided ingredients for dishes served to sailors at the Maizuru naval station during the Taisho Era (1912-1926), a newly found document reveals.

Names and prices of items procured, as well as who supplied them, appear in a record for fiscal 1917 kept by the Maizuru naval accounting department.

“It shows very clearly how the navy’s dishes were being supported by production centers in provincial areas,” said historical geographer Rikinobu Funasugi, an associate professor with the Shimane University Faculty of Law and Literature.

Funasugi discovered the document in November at the residence of an old-established family on Nishinoshima, one of the Oki islands in Shimane Prefecture. The family did business with the Maizuru naval station.

Running more than 100 pages, the record shows the navy was buying beef, chicken eggs and vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, potatoes and onions, from different locations.

The fresh fish the navy procured include tuna from Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture; mackerel from Obama, also in Fukui Prefecture; yellowtail from Niigata; black porgy from Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture; and flying fish from Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.

It turns out curry powder, likely used in part to make rice with curry sauce, came from Maizuru, which hosted the station, and bread was being purchased in Tsuruga, Niigata and Akita.

The Imperial Japanese Navy modeled itself on the British Royal Navy starting in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and took aggressive measures to incorporate Western dishes into its onboard meals, according to Yoshiro Saito, 46, a curator with the Nagasaki prefectural government’s culture promotion division.

Saito said technologies for refrigerating and freezing food ingredients at sea began to be introduced toward the late Meiji Era, but how to preserve food materials over a long term remained a challenge until the Showa Era (1926-1989).

“There was a need to secure access to supply centers across broad areas so provisions could be frequently replenished,” said Saito, an expert on the navy’s history who previously served as a curator for the Kure Maritime Museum, also known as the Yamato Museum, in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture.

“The latest find will serve as a valuable material for elucidating ties of the time between regional economies and the navy.”

Beef and chicken eggs were bought from Nishinoshima island. About 900 head of cattle are being pastured today on the island, from which beef is being shipped to communities across Japan, Nishinoshima town government officials said.

“The transactions with the navy must have had a major impact on our island’s economy,” said Itta Uehara, 34, an official at the town government’s general affairs division. “I'd be happy if Oki’s cattle, which were being raised in the bosom of the abundant nature here, were receiving high marks.”