Corn in Japan


The Portuguese brought corn to Japan in the sixteenth century. Corn was not grown on a large scale until the Meiji era (1868-1912) when Japan began a campaign to modernize the nation. The Hokkaido Development Commission introduced American corn to Hokkaido to be grown as a modern staple grain.

As frequent cold spells rendered rice farming impossible, rice was something to be bought and not grown, and making the purchased rice last as long as possible by adding other grains, called kate, to the rice: naked barley, barley, and proso millet, as well as potato, pinto beans, and red kidney beans, so of course corn was a welcome addition.

The corn introduced at this time was eight-rowed corn; it was flint corn or grain corn. The Sapporo hachigyo and Longfellow, both of which are North American flint corns having eight rows of kernels, were particularly suited to the Hokkaido climate and soil.

People in their eighties fondly remember that corn harvested in the fall would be hung from the eaves to dry, then stone ground into powder and cooked with rice to make corn gruel. Today grain corn, including the eight-rowed varieties, is no longer the staple food of Hokkaidoites.

During the Showa era (1925-1989), consumer demand shifted to sweet corn, which has high sugar content and stays fresh longer. The production of sweet corn surged, and today it accounts for almost all of the fresh corn grown in Japan. There are very few farms growing the old-style corn today, and that is mostly marketed to older people who remember the comfortable tastes from childhood, and those who are interested in historic foods.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Japan imports practically all of the corn it consumes, or over 16 million tons annually of which over 90 percent comes from the United States and the rest from Argentina and other countries.

Corn is used for livestock feed, as ingredients such as cornstarch, glucose, and mizuame (a thick sweetener similar to corn syrup), and fermentation stock for such products as distilled liquor and beer.

Sweet corn is popular on ramen, as corn ice cream, corn kit kats and other snacks, or part of a Mc Donald’s Happy Meal. Corn is sprinkled on almost any Western-influenced dish, especially Italian foods: spaghetti and pizza. At bakeries and convenience stores, you can buy corn korokke, or corn buns which cradle a generous bed of mayonnaise studded with corn.  And don’t forget corn cream, a childhood comfort food.


11 thoughts on “Corn in Japan

  1. At Japanese cookouts and festivals, tomorokoshi is grilled over charcoal while being basted with shoyu. A wonderful treat.

    • Hi Mike!
      Yum, I am almost smelling corn on the grill…
      We usually put the corn on the hibachi in husks; love when it turns just golden brown and caramelized. I’ll have to try it bare and basted with shoyu sometime.
      Guess I am hungry now and should just have some breakfast. ;-)

  2. Just mix shoyu and mirin 50/50 and reduce it down a bit so it adheres to the corn. You will love the salty/sweetness of the mixture.


  3. I used to be a chef for 4 years. Japenese food is something I’ve never tried, or attempted to cook. Looking at the extensive amount of recipes you have, I think it might be time to try!

    Regards, Mike

    • Hi Mike,
      If you like to cook, and you like Japanese food, then you will be interested in my blog. This is home cooking, so for the most part, it is not fussy. I like to think that this is food real people eat. Most of the recipes I’ve made, especially in the beginning are from Hiroko Shimbo’s book The Japanese Kitchen—an excellent book. In my opinion.

      • Well as I was a chef, naturally I not longer like to cook. :D

        I will have a try at one of your recipes, and let you know the outcome.

        All the best, Mike

        • Oh yes, I think I started this project because I don’t really like to cook.

          It’s become a focus for learning about other cultures, learning about blogging, html, poetry, photography, color, music, talking to new people…

          And then, there is the food. If you give it a go, let me know what you try.

          • As for me too. Though I was searching for blogs of a similar take to mine, I’ve found that more have captured my interest in completely different niches.

            I certainly will. (unless it goes horribly horribly wrong!)

  4. Hey Tess,
    I LOVE corn grilled the way bkhuna grills it! There was a little street cart vendor up the street from where I lived that used to baste it with a “tare” sauce, and serve it on a stick! I also remember sweet potatoes being sliced vertically, slathered with the same tare, and served on a long skewer. I associate both dishes with late summer festivals, but my timing is probably off.

    • I don’t know about sweet potatoes, but corn is available fresh at our local Farmers’ Market! (SE Michigan)

      Where I grew up in the UP, corn wasn’t ready until late summer, but the growing season is short up north.

      You guys are making me hungry with this talk of grilled corn! I’m on my own tonight, so I won’t be lighting the grill for corn but am planning some other corny recipe…

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