How The Allied Occupation Helped Promote The Popularity Of Tokyo Style Nigiri Sushi


When the Allied forces arrived in Japan in 1945 for what was to be the seven year military occupation, there was little doubt that the country would be changed forever. However, some traditions were retained in an effort to maintain Japanese culture.  One of these traditions was sushi.

The earliest form of sushi in Japan was called narezushi (salted fish).  Fish was stored in fermented rice for long periods of time without spoiling and provided an important source of protein in the Japanese diet. The sushi we are familiar with today is called nigiri sushi.  It had its origins in Edo (Tokyo). A restaurant owner named Hanaya Yohei is credited with having invented this type of sushi during the 19th century.  The Edo people were known for their busy lifestyle and lack of patience, therefore many fast food businesses began cropping up. Nigiri sushi, which was known as Edomaezushi at the time, was a type of fast food, conveniently shaped to be eaten by hand and no longer reliant on the fermentation process utilized by narezushi.


While nigiri quickly became the most popular style of sushi in Edo, it did not immediately dominate the sushi landscape as it does today. There were two events which aided the popularity of nigiri sushi outside of Tokyo: one was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the other was the military occupation of Japan in 1945.  The earthquake caused many people to leave Tokyo and return to their hometowns.  Among these were the various sushi chefs who opened restaurants upon returning home and served Edomaezushi to their clientele. In post-war Japan, many sushi shops were forced to close due to the rice rationing at the time and not allowed to reopen.

Eventually it was impressed upon the American Forces General Headquarters that the sushi restaurants should be allowed to reopen as sushi was an important part of Japanese culture.  When the restaurants reopened however, they had to adhere to one strict rule.  That rule was that the patrons were to bring in their own rice rations for the sushi.  One cup of rice was to be used to make ten pieces of sushi hence the nigiri sushi shrunk in size.  In pre-war Japan, nigiri sushi was three times larger.

Eventually the same system was implemented throughout Japan and Tokyo style nigiri became Japan’s predominant form of sushi.




WASHINGTON DC : National Cherry Blossom Festival

Japan’s cherry blossom trees are coveted worldwide and many tourists flock to the country to witness these magnificent blooms first hand. But for those that are unable to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season you need only travel as far as Washington D.C. to enjoy the same sakura trees found in Japan.

In March of 1912, 3,020 cherry trees arrived in Washington D.C. from Tokyo. These trees were replacements for the 2,000 cherry trees that were sent to Washington in January of 1910 which had fallen victim to disease during the journey. The original trees were a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki as a gesture to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan. The first two trees from the 3,020 were planted along the Potomac River in a formal ceremony with first lady, Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador. The remainder of the trees were planted along the river basin, in East Potomac Park and on the grounds of the White House.

Yukio Ozaki and wife

Yukio Ozaki and wife










300-year old stone lantern to commemorate the signing of the 1854 Japan-US Treaty of Amity and Friendship by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. For a number of years, the lighting of this lantern formally opened the Festival.

300-year old stone lantern to commemorate the signing of the 1854 Japan-US Treaty of Amity and Friendship by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. For a number of years, the lighting of this lantern formally opened the Festival.



The trees became so popular with visitors to Washington that a three-day celebration was held in 1934 which eventually grew into the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival (全米桜祭り Zenbei Sakura Matsuri). After the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, the festival was suspended and remained suspended for the duration of World War II. It was resumed in 1947 and today attracts more than 700,000 visitors to Washington each year during late March. In 1994, the festival was expanded to two weeks to accommodate the many activities in the area that correspond to the blooming of the cherry trees.

The two week festival begins on the last Saturday in March with a Family Day and an official opening ceremony in the National Building Museum. Other activities include The Blossom Kite Festival, a sushi and sake celebration, a parade, art exhibits, cultural performances, rakugo (a 400-year-old tradition of comic storytelling in Japan), kimono fashion shows, martial arts demonstrations and various merchant-sponsored events. A fireworks show on the nearby Washington Channel marks the end of the festival.











It is interesting to note that after World War II, cuttings from Washington’s cherry trees were sent back to Japan to restore the Tokyo collection that was decimated by American bombing attacks during the war.

National Cherry Blossom Festival
Web page:

HEADQUARTERS: 50 Massachusetts Avenue, NE