Hello. I'm Rachel Hobson. And I'm Ruby Jones. Welcome to Spotlight. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
“My wife and I decided to go out to eat Japanese food. But I was not satisfied. The cook used too much oil on the first part of our meal. And then the fish was not fresh!”
These are the words of a man in the United States. He ate some Japanese food in an eating place - a restaurant. But he was very unhappy with the food. He felt that it was not truly Japanese. Many Japanese people would agree with him. Food is extremely important in Japan. Some Japanese consider food preparation to be an art. So the quality of food served in restaurants in Japan is very high. But there are many reports that Japanese food made outside of Japan is not good. The Japanese government is worried about this. It believes that bad food does not represent Japan well.
In November 2006, the Japanese Agriculture Minister had an idea. He wanted to increase the amount of Japanese food exported to other countries. And he wanted to improve the quality of Japanese food outside of Japan. He suggested that Japanese food experts should visit Japanese restaurants all around the world. They could then test the food in these restaurants. They would say if the food was authentic - really Japanese. They would give any good restaurant an official sign that showed it cooked authentic Japanese food. Everyone would know the food there was truly Japanese.
In Japan, the Ministry of Agriculture is a government department. It reports that there are over twenty thousand [20,000] Japanese restaurants outside of Japan. Japanese food is quickly growing in popularity. Many people find that it tastes good. It is healthful. And it is easy for the stomach to digest.
One popular kind of Japanese food is sushi. Sushi is small balls of cold rice. The rice tastes sweet. And it is usually served with uncooked seafood like tuna, eel, and squid. There are many ways to make sushi. One way is to roll the rice and fish with some vegetables in seaweed - plants that grow in the sea. Many people enjoy this kind of sushi. They like to eat it with soy sauce - a salty, dark liquid. And they also like it with wasabi - a hot tasting vegetable root made into a paste.
Although sushi is made in different ways, the fish must always be fresh. Uncooked seafood can be unsafe to eat. Japanese sushi is cooked by sushi chefs. They are trained to cook sushi very carefully. They know how to recognise when fish is not safe to eat. Hideki Oyashiki is a writer for Yomiuri Weekly, a newspaper in Japan. He agrees that it is very important for sushi chefs to be well trained. He tells of a bad experience he had eating sushi.
“In one country, I got a bad case of diarrhoea after I ate some sushi.”
But getting sick is not the only problem. Many Japanese people are also surprised by what some cooks put into the sushi. Masaki Hashimoto manages a top Japanese restaurant in Canada.
“In Toronto, about one hundred  places that claim to be Japanese food restaurants open every year. Among them are restaurants that serve sushi with Tabasco sauce.”
Tabasco sauce is a hot tasting liquid used on food. But it comes from the USA. People would never eat it with sushi in Japan. Hashimoto and other managers of Japanese restaurants are worried. They think that people may not understand the true nature of Japanese cooking. They believe that food experts will work hard to protect the good name of Japanese food.
However, other restaurant owners feel anger about these food experts. They accused the Japanese government of food nationalism - of believing that its food is the best. Some newspaper writers even started describing these food experts as “the sushi police”. Jerry Kim is one sushi chef who is angry about the situation. He believes his sushi is fine the way it is.
“I am not worried. I feel good about the way we make sushi here in California. I make a Korean kind of sushi. So what can the Japanese government say about that?”
Some restaurant owners believe that the idea of sending food experts is just not reasonable. These restaurants serve food that is a mix of Japanese food and other countries' food - fusion food. They say fusion food is popular. People in each country like to have some food they are used to.
Marie-Ang Ly is from Laos. She owns a Japanese restaurant in Paris, France. But she does not care about the restaurant-testing debate. Most visitors to her restaurant are not Japanese. The main thing they want is food that tastes good.
Marie-Ang Ly does not think it is important to have a Japanese chef. Her chef is from Cambodia. He cooks Japanese food well. But he changes it to fit the tastes of the local people.
“The cooking methods come from Japan. But they are not exactly like in Japan. You change. That is normal - we are in France.”
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture was surprised by the words of protest against the restaurant-testing idea. It did not want people to think of the food experts as ‘sushi police'. So in March 2007, the ministry made some changes. The food experts would examine only restaurants that requested them to visit. And the signs they issue would not say the food is real Japanese food. Instead they would say that the food is good.
The Ministry of Agriculture decided that the restaurant-testing experts will not be from the ministry. The experts will be from private businesses. And they will test the restaurants on three main elements - what is in the food, how it is cooked, and what it looks like. The restaurant-testing groups will start this project in March 2008.
The Japanese ministry says it wants to help train chefs who work outside of Japan. These foreign chefs would come to Japan. They would work in the best restaurants. Japanese chefs would teach them the exact methods of Japanese cooking. There would be new books about Japanese food and food preparation. The ministry believes that these ideas can improve the quality of Japanese restaurants around the world.
The writer and producer of today's programme was Rachel Hobson. All quotes were adapted for radio for this programme. The voices you heard were from South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. Computer users can find our programmes on our website at www . radio . english . net. This programme is called ‘The Sushi Police'. Thank you for joining us today. Until next time, goodbye.