1. What is Washoku?
What exactly is Washoku?
The word "Washoku" is comprised of two components "Wa" and "Shoku". "Wa" means Japan and "Shoku" means to eat. Washoku, or Japanese cuisine, is widely recognized for its ingredients that developed out of Japan's geographical, climatic and regional features. In December 2013, Washoku was registered as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage for being "Traditional Dietary Cultures of the Japanese". At that time, Washoku was defined as having four features.
(1) A Rich Variety of Fresh Ingredients and Respect for Inherent Flavors
Because Japan is a country that extends over a long area from north to south, there is bountiful nature such as oceans and mountains as well as countryside. These factors mean that each region uses its own rich variety of local produce. Furthermore, developments in cooking techniques and knowledge as well as cooking utensils have all helped to bring out the full flavor of these foods, leading to the creation of outstanding local dishes.。
(2) Nutritional Balance that Supports a Healthy Diet
The standard Washoku meal is traditionally comprised of rice and soup served alongside one main meat or fish dish, and one or two vegetable side dishes including those from the mountains and sea, like vegetables, mushroom and seaweed. This standard is known as "one soup three dishes" - (ichiju-sansai), and it is said that this Japanese way of eating provides ideal nutritional balance. Moreover, an emphasis on using "Umami" over animal fats has led to health benefits for Japanese people, such as longer life expectancy and low obesity rates.
(3) Expressions of the Beauty of Nature and Changing Seasons
Another distinguishing feature of Washoku, is how the cuisine expresses the beauty of nature and the changing of the seasons. Together with seasonal ingredients, the dishes are decorated with elements like seasonal flowers and leaves, as an expression to the person eating the dish. Furthermore, pictures and utensils that match the seasons help to bring about a further sense of enjoyment.
(4) An Intimate Relationship with Annual Celebrations such as New Year
Japanese food culture is formed around its close ties to seasonal events such as the New Year and other annual events. During festivals, we give thanks and offerings to the gods for the seasonal blessings from nature that we can enjoy with our families and communities, that in turn bring people together, deepening bonds.