Here in Japan, the chicken itself is called niwatori. Once it has been dispatched into the next life, the remaining fowl meat is described as toriniku, or, in common parlance, tori. Tori is also the generic word for bird, any bird. It’s the tori in yakitori, for example.
Long accepted by pragmatic, not so hard line Buddhists working on the somewhat Orwellian ‘two legs good, four legs bad’ principle, chicken – it most definitely isn’t vegetarian, guys – was already being eaten during the Nara Period (710 AD to 794 AD).
The first birds were probably arrivals from China, examples of the kashiwa yellow chicken. Chicken still goes by that name in Kansai, whereas in Kanto it was, until recently, commonly called shamo. These days that word has become somewhat gentrified. If you happen upon a place offering shamonabe, you know it’s a rather high-class chicken nabe establishment. Prices to match.
Chicken makes up 30% of Japan’s meat consumption, of which more than two-thirds is, unfortunately, battery farmed. Jidori, meaning ‘locally produced chicken’ is more likely to have been reared in decent, humane conditions, but the naming is no guarantee of that.
The best Japanese chefs spare no expense in using every part of the bird: momo thigh, muneniku breast, tebasaki wingsticks, the torigimo giblets and the kawa skin. The bones are used in making torigara stock, not least for for ramen and soups.
Chicken may be cooked marugoto roasted whole. Check out the Japanese- Brazilian examples in Nagoya’s Osu Kannon district. It is steamed as mushidori, fried as kara’age and minced into toridango chicken balls. It is a staple in the shokudo canteen favorite oyakodon, literally ‘mother and child’ rice dish, named so because it features both chicken and egg..
It can also be served raw as tori sashimi, with a ponzu dipping sauce of dashi, shoyu, vinegar and yuzu citrus. Most commonly, it’s just yakitori skewered (middle left), grilled and served with tare or shio salt.
Aichi’s Nagoya cochin, Akita’s Hinai dori and Kagoshima’s Satsuma jidori are nationally famous prized breeds, but every prefecture – with the seeming exception of Tokyo – has its own local speciality.