Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Are the Japanese Stealing Kimchi?

Dear Korean,

Is it true that Japan is making a Japanese version of the Korean Kimchi? I heard that the Japanese are calling it Kimuchi and hailing it as part of their own culture.


The Korean previously explained that Korean nationalism drives many Koreans to truly stupid lows, like having a testosterone-fueled rage over women's figure skating or brutally killing pheasants with a hammer. But among the many different instances of nationalism-induced stupidity, this "kimuchi" thing might be the stupidest. Allow the Korean to state this as clearly as possible: this is a non-issue over which only the dumb people are worked up.

Yes, the Japanese are making kimchi. They call it "kimuchi", in an attempt to pronounce "kimchi" in Japanese. And kimuchi tastes different from kimchi, because the Japanese make it in their style. This is what happens the world over -- food travels, changes, and gets a different name.

Unfortunately, one can be a nationalist, or one can be a nationalist and a dumbass. And when the nationalists who are also dumbasses see the Japanese making kimuchi and let their paranoia run wild -- "Oh noes, the Japs are stealing our food! Now I'm going to have to write hateful shitpile on the Internet!" Never mind the fact that there is absolutely none, no indication that the Japanese intended to steal "kimchi" and claim it to be their own.

Recall that the Korean is writing this as an insane Korean food purist. He thinks that 95 percent of "Korean restaurants" in the U.S. do not deserve the descriptor "Korean." He thinks most of Seoul's restaurants serve cattle feed. But not even the Korean is insane enough to think that the Japanese are somehow trying to steal kimchi. The Korean might not recognize the Japanese imitation of spicy pickled vegetables as kimchi, but he is not delusional enough to think that the Japanese are trying to steal something.

(Aside: the Korean did lose his shit when a fancy restaurant near Seattle served "prawn kimchee salad" that had nothing that even remotely connected the dish to being a kimchi -- no salted vegetables, no fermentation, no spice, just prawn and arugula salad with some kind dressing. It was delicious, but it was not kimchi.)

The bad thing about dumbasses is that if there are enough of them, people who should know better cater to them. (See, e.g., extended warranty programs, Michelle Bachmann.) In this instance, the prime culprit is the newspapers that are quite content to manufacture a controversy. So we have articles like this -- in Korea's most-read newspaper, no less -- that try to play the same game with makkeolli (Korean rice wine) one more time by pointing out that Japanese breweries are now producing their own version of makkeolli, named "matkoli." (Again, the Japanese pronunciation of the same word and not renaming.) The article is a bald appeal to stupidity: "The Japs are trying to steal makkeolli by pronouncing it 'matkolli'! Just like they tried to steal kimchi with kimuchi! To arms, Korean people!"

But the more interesting part of the article is the comments, which are overwhelmingly critical of the article for being "narrow-minded", "alarmist", "filled with inferiority and victim complex," etc. Elsewhere in Korean Internet, the reaction is about the same. Dumbass nationalism in Korea may create a lot of sound and fury, but at the end of the day, most Koreans recognize them to be stupid.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Well written. I mean it's like saying Koreans have stolen pizza because they call it 피자 (pronounced pija) and put sweet potatoes on top of it. (as long as I've lived in Korea I will never enjoy that flavor, although I adore Korean food...I'm kind of a purist). It's called globalization, or I guess, to be more precise, glocalization

  2. Nicely written. I suppose people should be happy that their food is so good that others are actually willing to copy them instead of getting upset about it. ^^

    My mom always told me that I should be happy whenever someone is copying food I've made, because it actually means they are complementing me by wanting what I have.

  3. " I heard that the Japanese are calling it Kimuchi and hailing it as part of their own culture."

    Yea, totally agree with AK... What the hell does 'hailing it as part of their own culture' even mean? It's pickled cabbage. Exactly what are the japanese doing with their veggies?

    Sounds like someone's trying to start trouble. Ha. Nice try.

  4. Huh. In the same vein, I'd be interested in your response to this article:

  5. " I heard that the Japanese are calling it Kimuchi and hailing it as part of their own culture."

    ...Lolwut. Japanese folks do realize that kimuchi is derived from Korean kimchi. Enough so that super right wing nationalist assholes in Japan refuse to eat it lest they be tainted by the Koreanness of it :P

    The irony, of course, is that the Japanese nationalist assholes love claiming that Koreans are always claiming parts of Japanese cultures as their own and saying they originated in Korea. Lol. It's almost hilarious how similar their attitudes are!

    In Japan there are Japanese forms of a lot of "outside" foods -- curry, which is very different from Indian curries, pan (bread), hamburger steak, etc. Every other country that has traded with other countries does the same exact thing. Just look at sushi in the US -- a lot of it is very different from "real" Japanese sushi!

  6. Gravel, Japanese shōchū and Korean soju might have both evolved from Chinese shaojiu but they certainly are not the same thing today. Soju and shōchū taste so different I wouldn't characterize them as the same drink.

  7. Digirati,

    Jinro sold in Japan tastes a lot like shōchū. Jinro is one of the most popular shōchū brands in Japan.

    Also, soju/shōchū probably didn't come from the Chinese. It probably came from the Mongols, who in turn got it from the Persians.

    Some Japanese have invented an interesting story that they got shōchū from the Thais. Silly Japanese nationalists so paranoid that they concocted a story that totally bypassed the Korean connection (even as a mere intermediary).

  8. Thanks; I knew shochu was different, but hadn't realized that Jinro in Japan was different than Jinro in Korea (although it makes sense).

  9. lolz. Dammit, I miss kimchi.

  10. I guess you're not a big fan of SoCal hybrid crap like kimchi pizza, kimchi quesadillas or Kalbi tacos.

    Kimchi is actually quite revolting. It's like injecting garlic juice into your arteries.

  11. This reminds me of the BBQ wars in my area. You have Texas BBQ, Memphis BBQ, St. Louis BBQ and South Carolina BBQ.

    Who cares, eat what you like. Have you tried Taiwanese kimichi? I am glad the U.S. is not the only country to worry about theses silly things.

  12. I read this article today and recalled the story I read recently about the origins of the "Korean" grape that is so popular in the Korean markets. I think the Japanese refer to that grape as the Kyoho grape since it originated in Japan. I don't see the Japanese people freaking out that people sometimes refer to this grape as a "Korean" grape. At the end of the day, why do the Koreans care so much that the Japanese are making their own form of kimchi? Food is food and isn't imitation the best form of flattery?

    On that note, what about the Chinese kimchi that is served at Korean-Chinese restaurants in America? This form of kimchi is distinctively different than its Koren counterpart. Why has no one made a big deal out of that?

    Just dropping my two cents for the day...

  13. no people.. u guys are wrong.
    what japan actually was trying to do is like... they make their own burger and just name it McUdonaldO (that's how japanese people pronounce McDonald), then tell the world that it's not american. it's from JAPAN. get it?

  14. Edward. I don't know you but I love you (i like how you know random things)
    The answer to this, Koreans are paranoid that Japan is stealing their culture (i mean in world war 2, the Japanese government attempted to destroy korean culture by burning books and killing educated men)
    However, this matter is more focused on trading issues and koreans were upset that Japan was copying korean food and selling it to the world market. (same thing japan did with everything else like cars and stuff [americans back then were also went to "truly stupid lows, like having a testosterone-fueled rage over women's figure skating or brutally killing pheasants with a hammer." so i really dislike the rude tone that the author of this blog is writing. the hate is natural and expected when people steal your market.])

  15. Than,all countries in the manufacture and sale of food of other countries to steal?
    Incidentally, I`m Korean, Living in japan.
    Japanese DO NOT THINK kimchi is japanese food.
    Korans sense of victimization is Just.

  16. Ok, it seems like people in this thread seems to think that Korean victim complex is the issue but i have different perspective as a Korean guy. Unlike pizza or bugger, kimchi has not been known to the world until recently. Therefore it is important to introduce kimchi correctly in every aspects which might including the way of making, 'correct' taste, etc. It might seems very fussy but Americans were also very careful when they market their culture around the world during 70s and 80s. The first impression is very important and Koreans certainly do not want the world to misunderstand the taste of kimchi as Japanese kimuchi. Some people might not give shit about it as long as it taste good but Koreans see kimchi as culture rather than food. And the culture and tradition must not be misinformed. Am i being too patriotic?

  17. Firstly, I agree that some of the comments I've seen made by over-nationalist Koreans are overly stupid and over-reactive. But I do not agree with the part where you compared this event with food-travel, mistranslations etc. I, myself, is not a nationalist either. In fact I have to keep my mouth quiet sometimes while working in Korea sometimes. -_-; I work in international relations and to be perfectly honest, this is bad diplomacy, and just generally rude to another culture.
    If this was swapped in the disfavour of the Japanese, or of any other nation that specialises in cuisine as a symbol of culture, it would have been taken badly just as much.

    Firstly, you cannot compare this with western culture: It might not work with many generalized western foods such as pasta, since the western world rarely focuses on cuisine as a representative of culture....(as western cuisine has too ambiguous of origins)- some I can think of is Fish and Chips and Paella- but these countries do not emphasise food as much as the Koreans and the Japanese do.

    Let me put it this way:
    .......... I guess if 10 years ago, Koreans took the word "sushi" and called it "Sooshi", slapped some korean apple cider instead of japanese mirin for the vinegar value in the rice mixture...slapped on a piece of Korean "ho-eh" (raw fish cut that are differently cut to Japanese sashimi) and thennnnnn marketed it so to the world market for the first time as "Sooshi" before "sushi" was even known to the world... I'm pretty sure the Japanese would have reacted very badly as well.

    It doesn't seem so clear anymore does it?

  18. I don't understand the great pride Koreans have in their food when in fact, a lot of it was influenced by either Japan or China anyway. Gimbap or really was a kind of "Sooshi" influenced by the Japanese-- of course Koreans will argue they've eaten Gimbap from the dawn of Korean history, but the truth is their seaweed wrapped foods were not anything like the sushi-like rice encased wraps the the Japanese created. There are countless dishes that Koreans are nationalistic about but truly originate elsewhere. Jajongmen from the Chinese also comes to mind.

  19. Yes japanese don't freaking out because we don't steal their food. They try to steal Kimchi then put the label Made in japan who else not mad about this.

  20. Kimchi is fermented food and kimuchi is not. Kimchi has long story to put the name in Unesco. Until unesco say Kimchi is from korea, japan try many things to make kimchi belong to japan. They were claim in 1988 when korea announced kimchi is a korean food and 1993 when bill clington visit japan they put Kimchi on the dinner table as a japanese food. I thinl normal people call kimchi or kimuchi is not important but japan government very annoying korea and steal the kimchi and culture. we have a culture we make kimchi all togather and share before winter as cabbage doesn't grow in winter season. It is also on the unesco. So if you know the story now you know why korean people upset about this.


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