Chapter 12: The spirit of hospitality (Omotenashi)

The news that Japan’s food culture has been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity caused quite a stir throughout Japan this year. An important component of Japan’s food culture is the concept of omotenashi—hospitality, or the wholehearted entertainment of guests. The original idea of omotenashi has its roots in the hospitality that was offered to the gods. The Japanese offered omotenashi to various gods, be they gods of nature or ancestral spirits, by offering their plentiful catches and harvests and asking for their lives to be protected in return. Produce from the land and the sea that was offered to the gods was later … 記事を読む

Chapter 11: Earthenware

When the cold winter season arrives, we come to see slightly thicker Shigaraki-, Oribe-, and Shino-yaki, more so than fine porcelain tableware. A little closer to home are donabe (clay pots) and tonsui (lit. “drink water”), which could be considered standard winter tableware items. It is said that if you want to avoid having cracks or leaks in a new donabe, you should first fill it with rice bran and water that has been used to wash rice. Bring the mixture to the boil, and your new donabe is ready to use. Hot pot dishes full of ingredients are prepared in different variations in each region of Japan. This is … 記事を読む

Chapter 10: The conventions of Christmas

Once December comes around, the streets fill up with the colors of Christmas. Christmas trees, Santas, and lit-up fairy lights appear all over town, creating a gay and cheerful atmosphere. Essentially, Christmas is a religious event, although its origins lie in the Celts, a people who were native to northern Europe. It is thought that the nature-worship and various associated customs that developed in Celtic life later became connected with the Christian faith. Six conventions are associated with Christmas. The first is objects in the color red. Hats and sash belts worn by the Celts during times of celebration were red. This color later came to be incorporated into Christianity … 記事を読む

Chapter 9: Rice Bowls

In Japan, November 23rd is the day for observing Niiname-sai, otherwise pronounced as Shijo-sai. In post-war times, this day is marked as Labor Thanksgiving Day, although originally it was celebrated as a day to give thanks for the harvest. “Niiname” refers to the fresh harvest of that year’s grain crop. During Niiname-sai (lit. Celebration of First Taste), the gods are thanked for the harvest with offerings of grain, some of which is also eaten. Japanese culture is a culture of rice and water. We can appreciate this fact when we look at the nation’s numerous events and festivals and see that many of these are held in the hope for … 記事を読む

Chapter 8: Sake vessels

When November comes around, we are finally in the season of delicious freshly brewed sake, which we can enjoy drinking in the slightly chillier autumn air. In pre-modern times in Japan, October was known as Kannazuki or Kaminashizuki, both of which originate from the practice of brewing sake from the new rice harvest during this month. This is the time when sugidama*, large balls created from fresh, green sprigs of Japanese cedar are hung under the eaves of sake breweries to let customers know that freshly brewed sake is now available. Tokkuri (sake flasks) and sakazuki (sake cups) serve an important role in the in enjoyment of sake. These days, … 記事を読む

Chapter 7: Bowls that go well with kabocha

From September through November, as the weather starts to cool down then gets steadily more chilly, we come to enjoy eating root vegetables more and more. Beginning around the time of imomeigetsu (lit. “potato harvest moon”) in September, root vegetables with increasingly umami flavors come into season—first sweet potato then lotus root, followed by burdock root, for example. These vegetables appear on Japan’s dinner tables in stewed dishes or are simmered separately then combined with meat, fish, or tofu, takiawase style. In the kind of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurants known as ryotei, takiawase dishes are served in lidded serving dishes used for stewed or simmered foods. These dishes are made … 記事を読む

Chapter 5: Moon-viewing (Nochi-no-tsuki, or Jusanya)

The Japanese custom of Otsukimi (moon viewing) includes jugoya,* which falls in September, and jusanya,* which follows in October. These two moons are also known as Chushu no meigetsu (the harvest moon) and Nochi-no-tsuki (the waxing moon), respectively. In celebrating moon-viewing, the Japanese followed the Mid-Autumn Festival that was introduced from China and started to enjoy moon-viewing parties during the Heian period (794-1185). The September full moon celebrations are also known as Imomeigetsu (potato harvest moon). Offerings of taro and rice dumplings, Japanese pampas grass, and autumn flowers are made at this time. Meanwhile, for October’s Otsukimi, otherwise known as Kuri-meigetsu (chestnut harvest moon) or Mame-meigetsu (beans harvest moon), chestnuts … 記事を読む

Chapter 4: Talking about tea

The original tea plant is believed to be a native of the Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau in China, from where it traveled through various lands and historical eras to become the beverage that we know today. The Cantonese word “cha” took an overland route to the West, where it came to be known as “chai.” This word became established in Persian and then made its way on to Europe. In the East, the word traveled across the seas and became the Japanese word “cha.” Meanwhile, the Hokkien version of the word, “teh,” traveled the sea route and became “thé” in French and “tea” in English. Tea came to be drunk in various … 記事を読む

Chapter 3: Kiku no sekku

Kiku no Sekku—Chrysanthemum Day—is one of Japan’s five ancient sacred festivals (sekku). Alternatively known as Choyo or Chokyu, it is celebrated on September 9th—the 9th day of the 9th month. “Chokyu” refers to this doubling of the number 9, and as it is a homonym for “chokyu” (permanence), it is no surprise that the festival is celebrated in the wish for long life. Chrysanthemum Day is observed by drinking chrysanthemum sake sprinkled with chrysanthemum petals and by eating dishes such as kuri-gohan (chestnut rice) and guri-mochi (chestnuts with glutinous rice). In some regions, soba and amazake are also enjoyed on this day. Generally known as “kiku” in Japan, chrysanthemums are … 記事を読む

Chapter 2: Talking about patterns

Japanese ceramics are decorated with a large variety of patterns. While these include everything from floral and plant motifs, images of fish or dragons, to contemporary geometric patterns, all such patterns have a meaning. The Japanese people were good at incorporating these meanings into their lives in the wish for longevity, the health of their children, or other festive things. For example, mesh patterns are said to sift out bad things or prevent us from catching the plague(!) and often appear on rice bowls and small dinner plates. Snowflakes became hugely fashionable as patterns appearing on kimono and ceramics during the latter half of the Edo period when microscopes were … 記事を読む