Edo, Japan—Samurai Dining and Zen Aesthetics

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 24

Hello, Great Courses fans. This audio-podcast has been cooked, removed from the oven, and is being lovingly delivered to a new audio-platform. In its absence, please enjoy the video series that it was based off, streaming now Wondrium. Click here to watch it now.

The following episode transcript and images will remain for posterity. Enjoy!

In today’s podcast, we’re traveling all the way to the islands of Japan, where we will contemplate how traditional Japanese reverence for nature is reflected in their respect for the natural flavors of food. Along the way, we’re going to study the elements of Japan’s refined and elegant cuisine, we’ll look at the origins of that most Japanese of meals—sushi, and we’re going to appreciate the aesthetics of ritualized manners, decoration, and presentation in “surprise, surprise”—the world’s first restaurant-based food culture.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Tasting Experiment

A traditional Edo-era restaurant was designed to stimulate all of the senses, evoke memories, and capture the essence of certain seasons. It essentially treated the gastronomic experience like poetry. The next time you order Japanese food to bring home—or, better yet, make yourself—think carefully about the entire setting. That is, choose traditional music that fits the cuisine (perhaps shakuhachi flute music or the shamisen). Put up images that are evocative, and carefully arrange plants or fragrant flowers. Use tableware that will demand careful consideration, such as bowls you can sip from and Japanese chopsticks. If you have reed mats, eat sitting on the floor with the food on a low table.

Think about how the setting changed your awareness of the food. Did you eat more slowly? Did you taste flavors and notice textures that normally would have been lost? Consider what would happen gastronomically if we paid this much attention to the setting in all of our meals. Would we become more mindful of food in general?

Suggested Reading:

Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity.

Ishige, History and Culture of Japanese Food.

Rath, Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of Japan: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Japanese tea bowls: By Raku IX (Ryōnyū) (Japan, 1756-1838) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Tempura: Thinkstock
• Soy sauce: Thinkstock
• Ainu Peoples: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Ainu Man: Baron Raimund von Stillfried [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• sticky rice: Thinkstock
• Mashing mochi: By U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Forming Mochi: By Lance Cpl. Aaron Henson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Finished mochi: Thinkstock
• Sake: Thinkstock
• Rice Noodles: Thinkstock
• Udon noodles: Thinkstock
• Soba Noodles ; Thinkstock
• Whale Sashimi: By Bapak Alex (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
• Sansho: Thinkstock
• Japanese Fish Market: By Humanoid one (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Sashimi: Thinkstock
• Sushi: Thinkstock
• Nare Zushi: By おむこさん志望 (Taken by おむこさん志望), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Making Sushi: Courtesy of The Teaching Company
• Hijiki: Thinkstock
• Daikon: Thinkstock
• Edamame: Thinkstock
• Tofu: Thinkstock
• Miso paste: By wilbanks from Shop of boiled beans, side dishes and miso, Adzumaya Food Shop in Nishiki Ichiba, Kyoto (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Shoyu: Thinkstock
• Shitake: Thinkstock
• Soup Bowl: Thinkstock
• Chopsticks: Thinkstock
• Japanese dinner table: Thinkstock
• Tea Ceremony: Thinkstock
• Raku tea bowl: Shutterstock
• Bento Box: Shutterstock