Mutton dish is commonly known by name of Mongolian historical figure instead of its original name.

So imagine you’re in Japan and hungry. You’re in luck, because the country’s restaurants offer plenty of filling food options to choose from, like curry rice, tempura, tonkatsu, and Genghis Khan.

What’s that? You’re saying that one of those isn’t a food, but actually the ruler of the Mongolian Empire during the late 12th and early 13th centuries? Well, of course, that’s true too. In Japan, though, “Genghis Khan” does double duty as both the name of the famous military commander and the meaty dish seen below.

Japan’s closest equivalent to the type of cuisine called “Mongolian barbecue” in the U.S., the key ingredient in the dish called Genghis Khan are strips of mutton, grilled on a dome-shaped metal plate and surrounded by bean sprouts and sliced onions. It’s particularly popular on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, but also pretty easy to find across Japan.

However, Haiying Yang, a Mongolian-born humanities professor at Japan’s Shizuoka University, takes issue with the dish’s name. “Mongolian people feel the same way about Genghis Khan as Japanese people feel about the emperor of Japan,” Yang told the Japanese-language division of Newsweek. “He is a sacred figure whose name should not be used for a kind of food.”

Yang likened the naming convention to American media personality Kim Kardashian’s recent plan to create a new bodywear line to be called “Kimono Solutionwear.” “When a foreign lingerie maker, or a clothing company or something, was going to use the word ‘kimono,’ it struck a nerve with people in Japan and caused a large reaction,” Yang said in discussing the dish called Genghis Khan. He also claims that the issue has been a sore spot with Mongolian residents, especially in the late 1980s and 1990s.

But how did Genghis Khan’s name become associated with the dish in the first place? According to Japanese food historian Keiichi Takaishi, it all goes back to Yoshiji Washizawa, a Japanese journalist born in 1883 who spent part of his life living and working in Beijing. While there, he and a Japanese coworker ate a mutton dish at a restaurant, and recalled also eating it in Mongolia. They began referring to the dish as “Genghis Khan” when talking with each other, and eventually, Takaishi says, the term caught on among other Japanese people living in China, and eventually spread back to Japan.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that the Japanese-language pronunciation and way of writing for the two “Genghis Khans” is slightly different:
● ジンギスカン / jingisukan = food
● チンギスハン / chingisuhan = historical figure

So what’s the Chinese name for the dish Washizawa and his friend ate? Kaoyangrou, and it actually seems to be more associated with Xian than Mongolia.

▼ Kaoyangrou

Yang’s assertion that Genghis Khan occupies the same place in Mongolian people’s hearts and minds as the emperor of Japan does for Japanese people isn’t the most air-tight analogy, as at any given moment Japan has a current emperor, and attaching the name of someone who’s currently alive and walking around to something you’re about to eat would be surreal in a different way. Still, considering that you don’t go into a restaurant in Japan and order a “Julius Caesar” or “George Washington” when you want a pizza or hamburger, it’s a little odd that “Genghis Khan” calls up as many images of meat as it does history in Japan.

Source: Abema Times via Hachima Kiko, Things Asian, Crawford Creations
Top image: Wikipedia/HuangdiOfSongChina, Wikipedia/Jrballe (edited by SoraNews24)
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