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History of Tofu

Searching for the Origins of Tofu

Did tofu originate in China?

Tofu, which is now eaten worldwide, is said to have originated in China.
It is said that tofu originated over two thousand years ago in the Early Han dynasty, when the grandson of the first emperor, Prince Liu An, instructed his attendants to make tofu.

This theory is based on a piece of 16th century Chinese literature which states that gTofu was first created by Prince Liu Anh. Consequently, there are many other theories.

So, when did the tofu producing techniques arrive in Japan?
During the Nara period (710-784), gKentoushih (Japanese envoys to China) traveled between China and Japan. It is around this time that Buddhism was introduced to Japan, and one theory suggests that tofu was introduced at around the same time as food that was to be eaten in temples. However, the first written mention of tofu appears in literature from the late Heian period (794-1185).

Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the Kamakura period (1135-1333). As a part of their ascetic training, monks of Zen Buddhism abstain from eating meat or fish and adhere to a strict vegetarian diet. This diet is known as gShojinh cuisine. Consequently, tofu was highly prized as a means of replenishing proteins that would naturally become deficient through a non meat or fish diet.

By the Edo period (1603-1867) tofu, which had until then been the food of monks and the Bushi caste, began to spread into the general populace.
A comic tanka (short poem) written in the Edo period about the shy and reclusive migratory cuckoo (Hototogisu) says, gLittle cuckoo, to freely hear your voice, we must be at least three li from a fishmonger and two li from a tofu shoph. gLih is an ancient distance equivalent to about two and a half miles. From this poem we can deduce that tofu shops had been established all over the country, even in remote places.

The book gTofu Hyakuchinh (100 Tofu Delicacies), which set out one hundred recipes for tofu dishes, was published in 1782 (the second year of Tenmei), and subsequently became the focus of great public interest. A sequel was published the following year and an addendum edition after that. The number of recipes set out in all three books totals two hundred and forty, which shows just how widely tofu was used on the dining tables of the Edo period.


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