Edo (Tokyo) was made the capital of Japan by the Tokugawa shogunate. When the shogunate set up a fortress city there around 1600 it was a small village. By 1700, it was the largest city on the world, with a population of 1,200,000, compared to 800,000 in London and 500,000 in Paris at that time. Edo society was very urbanized. Urban fashion spread outwards from Edo and people came from the country to seek employment during the slack agricultural season or in difficult times.

Japan became affluent enough in the Edo Period that many Japanese were able to switch from eating two meals to three meals a day. Typical dishes included rice, fish and tofu. People began seasoning their food with sweet sake and soy sauce. Sweet potatoes and pumpkins were introduced from overseas. One cookbook contained more than 100 recipes for tofu that were graded into six levels: mediocre, standard, fine, novel, delicious and supreme. A recipe for boiled tofu went: “Put tofu into an open pot of boiling kudzu starch gruel. Wait until the tofu starts to move slightly and scoop it up just as it is about to float.”

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