Food is vital for our nutrition, but you can also pick up a lot about different cultures by exploring different cuisines. Every dish has a story. This is especially true when considering Japanese cuisine as a reflection of their culture. To understand how Japan’s cuisine is correlated to their culture we must explore their geography, seasons, beliefs, traditions, and customs.
The types of food produced in Japan have a lot to do with its geographical situation.
Japan has long been categorized as a land of minimal resources.
As a result, the Japanese menu has a very limited selection of food. According to Cook, “Rice is the most produced food commodity in Japan followed by milk, and sugar beets.” The typical Japanese meal includes of a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, vegetables, and fish or meat (“Exploring the Traditional Japanese Diet” 12).
Putting food on a plate in Japan requires great devotion to detail, color and balance. The way food is presented in Japan is all about minimalism, symmetry, beauty and uniqueness.
The colors used in their dishes represents the country’s seasons. Each of the seasons is represented by a color. Yellow and orange colored food represent autumn, white represents winter, and red colored food represents summer (Ashkenazi and Jacob 23). So next time you are eating sushi, pay attention to the various details used to make your roll. Those colors, shapes, and textures used in sushi dishes help create a unique and colorful style.
Another factor to consider is how religion influences diet.
In Japan a wonderful mixture of Buddhism and Shinto are practiced and sustained. Both religions share beliefs of naturalism, purity, and elaborate offerings of food. Due to this idea, Japan has created many dishes based on freshness and balance (Ashkenazi and Jeanne 38-40). According to Osaka Japanese Bistro, “Eating lots of different foods is a natural way to get the benefits of a balanced diet. For example, a typical Japanese meal is comprised of 1 soup, 3 side dishes, and a main dish. Japanese often practices the rule to eat until you are 80% full, and then stop” (“Osaka Japanese Bistro”).
Another factor regarding the religion of Buddhism are the restrictions of consuming meat. Buddhists classify animals as sacred beings with souls just like them. As a result, they refuse to kill animals. The Japanese viewed fish as another method because they were not permitted to harm other animals due to their religious affiliation. Not only did fish become the staple of Japanese identity, so did rice. Looking deeper, Zen Buddhism was a main influence on the ritual tea drinking in Japan today. The Zen way of life aims at the ultimate perfection of personhood. This is perfectly demonstrated through the tea ceremony practiced in Japan, also called the Way of Tea. It is a cultural Japanese ceremony that embraces a very calculated preparation, and presentation of powdered green tea, which is popularly known as Matcha (Yasuka).
Chopsticks play an important role in Japanese dining, they are to be considered an important part of the Japans cuisine and culture. Having a bowl of rice in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other is a common style used in Japans dining experience.
Chopsticks play an important role in Japanese cuisine because most of the dishes in Japan are made so that you can hold food with them (“The ABCs of Japanese Cooking #6 Chopsticks Part 1”). They are used throughout East and Southeast Asia for everything from high-end dining, and to simple meals. According to Takiguchi “In Japan, chopsticks are called “hashi” and are used for cooking and eating all kinds of dishes including rice, raw fish, vegetables, noodles, soup and desserts. At some restaurants, you’ll even catch locals using their chopsticks to eat French fries.” Without a doubt, chopsticks represent and express so much of the Japanese dining etiquette, culture, and people.
Sake has, over its history, developed a special cultural meaning in Japan along with many of the country’s traditions and customs. Sake is recognized for being Japan’s traditional alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. In the Japanese language, the word “sake” can refer to any alcoholic drink (Takeo). According to Afshar “It is the country’s national beverage and is commonly served during formal ceremonies, special events, and national holidays.”
In conclusion, food in Japan is not only a meal meant to be eaten, but an important aspect of their culture, therefore it is important to review some key points. Japanese cuisine is a direct representation of Japans geography and will always be comprised of fish, rice, and vegetables. While the colors used in a Japanese dish help contribute to the presentation of a Japanese dish, those colors have a particular purpose along with the symmetry used to be truly unique and beautiful. Due to the religious principles practiced in Japan based on purity, naturalness, and simplicity, a Japanese dish will always be comprised of fresh nutritious ingredients that will aid a balanced diet. Overall, Japanese food has a great deal of importance in Japanese culture and without Japans geography, customs, traditions, and religious beliefs, the Japanese cuisine we eat today would not be the same.