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80115-0014 - Japanese Vegetable Store, 1890s

Vegetable Store

Artist Unknown
Publisher Unknown
Medium Albumen Print
Period Meiji
Location Outside
Image No. 80115-0014
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The owner of a vegetable store is holding a very large kabu (蕪, turnip). He appears to specialize in apples though, considering the large number that are displayed.

Burdock, radishes, mustard leaf and onions can be seen in front of him. Panels on the eaves are cleverly used to protect the produce from the sunlight.

The Japanese diet during the Meiji Period consisted of rice, small quantities of vegetables, especially pickled, fish and beans. In the country, people often ate barley, millet, or another cheap grain instead of the more expensive rice.

Beef, pork and bread were introduced during the Meiji Period and did at first experience some popularity. Basil Hall Chamberlain mentions in his writings that in 1890, yatai (food stalls) were loaded with piles of bread for “jinrikisha-men and other coolies.”

But this popularity didn’t last very long. During the start of the 20th century, many people returned to a more traditional Japanese diet. It would take many years before these Western imports were finally accepted.

Although meat officially was not a part of the Japanese diet due to centuries of buddhist influence, venison was available in the countryside as yama-kujira (mountain whale). Fish was after all allowed, and whale were seen as fish. So by calling venison whale meat, consumption was safe.

Although Japanese cuisine is now extremely popular all over the world, many Western visitors during the Meiji Period were not very impressed1:

Japanese dishes fail to satisfy European cravings. Imagine a diet without meat, without milk, without bread, without butter, without jam, without coffee, without salad or any sufficient quantity of nicely cooked vegetables, without puddings of any sort, without stewed fruit and with comparatively little fresh fruit, the European vegetarian will find almost as much difficulty in making anything out of it as the ordinary meat-eater. If Dr. Johnson had ever partaken of such a dinner, he would surely have described the result as a feeling of satiety without satisfaction, and of repletion without sustenance. The food is clean, admirably free from grease, often pretty to look at. But try to live on it—no!


1 Chamberlain, Basil Hall (1905). Things Japanese Being Notes on Various Subjects Connected with Japan for the Use of Travellers and Others. J. Murray: 180.


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Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: Vegetable Store, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on March 22, 2023 (GMT) from

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They display their produce in much the same manner today at outdoor stores.