Japanese curry (or kare) is different from Indian curry – it’s much smoother in taste, almost like brown gravy that is a little bit spicy. It is usually made by making roux, and adding some curry powder and maybe vegetables or meat pieces. Due to its popularity, there are many options of pre-made curry roux blocks so that you can make the meal quickly. The question is, how did curry powder get to Japan?
English embassadors introduced curry to Japan during the Meiji era, which began in 1868. What were the English embassadors doing in Japan in the 19th century? During the Meiji era, Japan actively communicated with foreign countries, especially from the Western hemisphere, after Sakoku policy ended with the birth of the Meiji era.
Sakoku (“Closed country”) policy prohibited Japan from interacting with the world outside of Japan. There were a few Sakoku policies, and the one that sparked the birth of kare would be the third one in Japanese history, which happens to be the longest one as well. This Sakoku policy started in 1635 and lasted until 1866. Japan decreed Sakoku Policy because they were worried that outside influence would weaken the empire. So the emperor decided to seclude the country from the rest of the world. I especially find it ineresting that one of the key points to Sakoku was a strict ban on Catholicism. Sakoku policy lasted for almost 200 years until it was forcibly ended by the United States of America in 1866.
Once Japan opened its gates to foreign countries, the empire quickly realized that Japan was no longer a safe island that was protected by the sea. Japan decideded that in order to avoid colonization by other countries (at that time, imperialism was quite a popular idea in the West), they must learn about imperialism as much as they could. This was so important that when the Meiji government defined their top five goals, learning about imperialism appeared as one of them.
At the time, England was occupying India. Japan took notice and invited the English over to share their knowledge. The English ambassadors brought curry powder with them, and that’s how Japan first got to taste curry, and eventually created kare.