A UNESCO committee announced the decision Wednesday at a meeting in Azerbaijan.
Previously only French cooking had been distinguished as a national culinary tradition. UNESCO has also recognized specific dishes from Mexico and Turkey, and added the Mediterranean diet — the tradition of sharing food and eating together — at this week's meeting.
Known as "washoku," Japan's traditional cooking embraces seasonal ingredients, a unique taste and a style of eating steeped in centuries of tradition.
Japan hopes that UNESCO recognition will both send a global message and boost efforts to save washoku at home.
Purists fear that Japanese are turning away from the often time-consuming traditional cooking, as fast food and western cuisine become more popular and people lead busier lives.
Masanori Aoyagi, the commissioner of Japan's Cultural Affairs Agency, told the UNESCO committee that washoku gives Japanese a feeling of social cohesion. He said that it's low-calorie and healthy, but quipped that it doesn't work in his case, because "I take always double portions."