Japanese Food Culture

Japanese Food Culture

Japan’s traditional food culture is diverse, daunting and fascinating to say the least. In order to do it justice, we will have to break our own rules and actually post very frequently over the next few weeks, especially since we missed the first part of April due to our photography classes. ūüėČ

In exploring Japanese food culture we uncovered a rich cultural history especially as it relates to its cuisine, which is ¬†largely ¬†based on the ancient principles of fives, which take into account color, taste, the way food is prepared, the diner’s senses as well as the energetic exchange brought about between the cook and the diner. The cooks thoughts and feelings might transfer over to the food and ultimately influence the diner, as well as the diner’s need for gratitude and appreciation for a harmoniously prepared meal. ¬†In my humble opinion, a lot of people could or should take this to heart a lot more often.

According to this, meals are carefully planned and intended to be balanced, pleasing to the senses, energizing, healing and satisfying. The Japanese call these ancient principles  Washoku, wa meaning harmony and shoku meaning food, i.e. the harmony of food.

The first five principles, consist of the five colors, or go shiki,  suggesting that each meal should include the colors red, yellow, green, black and white (often the deep purple, or brown colors are included in the black color spectrum). It is thought that a balanced vitamin and mineral profile is more easily attainable with the inclusion of a vast range of colorful foods. These same ideas are now being rediscovered or embraced by our Western culture as well.

The second set of five principles involve the five tastes, or go mi, the harmonious balance of flavors, or anbai, which include salty, sour, sweet, bitter and spicy. The intent behind this is to keep all flavors balanced and not allowing one to dominate over another.

So far we can recognize similarities in both the Indian Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese health modalities, all of which seek a similar approach to creating harmony and balance in the preparation of food and the resulting effect on one’s well-being.

We were less familiar with the five ways of preparing food, or go ho, which includes diverse methods for preparing the food, a small amount of each should be part of each meal: raw, simmering, broiling, steaming or baking, which  This quite naturally reduces the total caloric intake by limiting the daily intake of salt, oil and sugar.

Japanese Food Culture - Ikebana

The art of Washoku addresses the five senses, or go kan, which encourages the cook to prepare a meal with  not only a focus on taste, but sight, sound, smell and touch, or the texture of the food.

The five outlooks, or go kan mon, are based on Buddhism, which advises the diner to

  • first, respect the efforts of the one preparing the food, ¬†
  • second, to be worthy of receiving the food,
  • third, to sit down at the table free of anger,
  • fourth, to eat food for spiritual well-being, and
  • fifth, to pursue the path of enlightenment.
The five principles of washoku are shared with the Shinto belief of humanity’s oneness with nature.
Japanese Food Culture - Washiucho

All of these teachings have evolved into a completely integrated culinary philosophy, which also takes into consideration the appreciation of seasonal cycles, or kisetsukan in Japanese. Harmony is also sought between foods from the land and the sea.

Upon reading quite a few books on Japanese culture and its cuisine in particular, ¬†washoku’s foundational roots are undeniable. Never having had the opportunity to visit Japan, I am unclear as to how conscious the majority of people in modern day Japan are of these hidden, ancient, intricately woven threads of history, as they prepare or consume their daily meals. Unfortunately, the Western way of eating has encroached on so many cultures in our world, and not necessarily to their benefit.

It appears that washoku principles, as outlined above would lend themselves to be adapted to any food culture on the planet, perhaps with quite a few health benefits to be derived. We will continue to further explore some of these principles with you over the next couple of weeks.

One particular book has been extremely helpful in our research and we recommend that you read it, in order to gain a deeper perspective on this subject matter. ¬†It was written by Elizabeth Andoh and called “Washoku, Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen.” The beautiful photography in it was created by Leigh Beisch. Elizabeth Andoh has been a food writer for over 30 years, and through the vehicle of this very well researched book, manages to successfully engage the reader’s interest, in a very easy to understand language.

In this book, Elizabeth Andoh tells us that a typical Japanese pantry would include the following: beans, dumpling wrappers, flour, panko, fish (dried, semi-dried, processed and fresh), fresh herbs and rhizomes, fruits, konnyaku and shirataki noodles, miso, mushrooms, noodles, pickles, rice, sea vegetables, seeds and nuts, spices and seasonings, sugar and other sweeteners, tea, tofu and a large variety of vegetables.

From our perspective, a gluten free pantry would have to make some adjustments when it comes to condiments such as sauces, noodles, flour products, panko, dumpling wrappers and even miso. All of which can be replaced with gluten free options, mostly in the form of rice, or buckwheat derived alternatives. As we explore some of the recipes over the next several posts, we will attempt to highlight and share with you some of our favorites. Stay tuned.

To be cont’d….

Japanese Food Culture


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