Food Delivery: from Edo to present in Japan
When you are busy or too lazy to cook, we can easily order fastfood and restaurant delivery online, anytime, anywhere we are. However, this system is not something that has recently begun. Rather, it was already established as far back as the Edo period and food delivery was a really important means of acquiring food among ordinary people during that time.
Food delivery seen in Rakugo
Katsura Kaishi, a rakugo storyteller
Rakugo, a traditional Japanese comedy that features a lone storyteller sitting on a stage who tells complex play filled with wordplay in seiza (正座), a formal way of sitting down with knees together, back straight and buttocks resting on ankles. It is known that Rakugo began in the 1500’s somewhere between the end of Muromachi to Azuchi Momoyama period. And the first rakugo storyteller was said to be born in the Edo period. Take a moment to read part of a “Time Noodle”, one of the comedies from Rakugo in the following.
Noodle Seller 1: Sixteen mon please
Smooth Talker: Let me see, sorry, but I only have a small change. Do you mind if I count the money into your hand, so there will be no mistake?
Noodle Seller 1: Go ahead
Smooth Talker: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...by the way, what time is it?
Noodle Seller 1: It’s Nine
Smooth Talker: ...Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Bye now!
Noodle Seller1: Thank you sir, have a good evening!
A simple man has been watching and thinking about what he saw
Simple man: What a strange man! He only said nice things about the soba guy. And he talked with his mouth full the whole time. And when he was counting out the money, he got as far as eight and then asked the time. Why? (Thinking long and hard) Of course! He got the soba man to say nine and counted from ten. That way, he only paid fifteen mon instead of sixteen mon. I’m going to try that myself.
(Yukio Nakamura, Time Noodles and Other Rakugo Tales, p5-p7, 2008)
This story was first told in the Edo period and it is about a man who sneakingly tried to fake the price of a soba noodle. A bit of a history to know, is that during the Edo period in Japan there were soba carts that were known as two-eights. They were known as two-eights because one bowl of soba cost (2 times 8) 16 mon (mon was the unit of currency that was used during the Edo era). What this indicates is that as far as the Edo period, the food delivery system already existed.
First food delivery system in Japan back in Edo period
According to the books about the mundane Edo period, food delivery was written to begin after the mid Edo period. During that time, udon and soba noodles were sold on shoulder pole carts which were called Kendonya literally translated as restaurant with cheap but good food.※Ken(慳) in Japanese means stingy and don (貪) means to devour. Similarly, in Rakugo, there are other Japanese dishes such as sushi and tofu which appear in many forms of moving stalls. Because the food preservation technologies weren't as developed as now, food was preferred to be sold fresh by going directly to sell to the customers instead of waiting at a physical store.
Kendonya from 1890 in the Meiji period. Probably in Edo, the similar style was used. There is a carrying pole in the middle to be placed on the shoulder when taking the whole stall to a different placeIn courtesy of the book “百年前の日本” by Edward Morse
In addition, the use of daihachi (大八車large two wheeled cart) was restricted in some areas within Edo city, so it was much common to use a carrying pole to sell food. Considering Edo as the largest populated city under Tokugawa reign, the use of carrying poles was much more efficient than the wheeled cart.
Illustrations of “food delivery” on carrying poles seen in Edo period
Food delivery landscape in Japan
As the market has grown over the years, so has the delivery method changed from carrying poles to bicycles, motorcycles and even drones in some areas.
Fishmonger in Meiji Period (1870’s)
Soba noodle delivery using bicycle in 1955, Showa periodIn courtesy of Koitaro(鯉太郎)’s family, especially to his grandfather
Retro style noodle delivery using bicycle (it's very rare to see this type in Japan now)
Food delivery using motorcycle by one of the popular food delivery service, Demae-can
Currently, there are a variety of foods introduced into the food delivery service market. Before companies like Demae-can, fineDine and Uber Eats entered the market, most orders were placed by phone call or through the restaurant’s website instead of through an app, allowing users to pay once the food was delivered to their house. Now, from ready-to-eat food to pre-cooked microwavable dinners and fresh vegetables, there are many types of food delivery services available in Japan allowing users to choose different methods of payments.
Food Delivery Service in Japan
1. Ready-to-eat food delivery
Currently only available in some parts of Japan
※ Uber Eats charge delivery fees. To waive the fee to save your budget, best to check each restaurant's webpage prior to order on Uber. It may be cheaper to order directly from each restaurant's webpage as they may waive delivery fees depending on the price
CURRY HOUSE CoCo ICHIBANYA
Kakuyasu Only drinks
2. Raw and fresh food delivery
Only available in Japanese and resident in Japan
Aeon net super