Miso is a healthy food that represents Japanese cuisine. This fermented food has been eaten by Japanese people for a long time, and it’s recognized to have high nutritional value.
Author: Kohsuke Uchino
Japanese food has been a long time for a famous cuisine in the world. Why is that? What’s special compared with other cuisines? It brings healthy meals with an excellent nutritional balance for the Japanese people who have long-life expectancies in the world. This also supports the strength connecting among homes and local communities by sharing food that is a blessing of nature. After an extended period, the cuisine’s value was recognized to the world as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is a victory for Japanese culture. Especially, sushi became international food, and it’s been changing in different food cultures. Honestly, some of the sushi introduced outside of Japan are not very authentic for Japanese people, but it carries some new perspectives simultaneously. Overall Japanese food is now attracting all over the world.
Still, unfortunately, Japanese home meals are diminishing, and the current situation is that Japanese food culture is not entirely inherited. Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate is now below 40%, so the local people rely on production outside of the country. It’s a pity because it is Japanese food without the local ingredients. Besides, people are no longer eating meals at home than before, and local dishes and event dishes are disappearing.
Geographically Japan is located at the east end of Asia. It’s long from north to south, surrounded by the sea, and mountains occupy 75% of the country. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, the distance between these two places is around 2000km. Different food customs have emerged in each area. There are four clear seasons due to the monsoon climate, so against the background of such an environment, it brings various ingredients for making the cuisine more attractive. Japanese people respect the nature that cultivates such blessings and lives together. While the belief in the unique religions and culture, the particular food culture has thrived.
It’s believed that Japanese food culture has lots of influences from neighboring countries such as China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. After the Meiji Restoration, the local people tried to accept Western food and take their ideas into the local cuisine. As a result, delicious and healthy “Japanese food” that should be proud of in the world has developed.
The basic Japanese food menu is considered “Ichiju Sansai,” meaning of one soup with three dishes. It’s not like a single plate meal with the same flavor, but it makes each dish more delicious but straightforward. The vital point of Japanese food is Dashi. Sometimes it is taken from seaweed or dried bonito, depending on the meals. There is also a cooking method in which the ingredients are boiled and extracted. Japanese people think that Umami has a very tied relationship with Dashi.
The main ingredients for Japanese food are grains, mainly rice, vegetables, mushrooms, fish, shellfish, seaweed, and meat. Japanese people prefer eating beef, chicken, and pork. Lamb meat is consumed in some areas, but the amount of consumption with lamb meat is lesser than the other three kinds. The range of vegetables from ancient varieties to western that have entered the Meiji era and abundant fish. There are about 4,200 species of fish that live in the waters near Japan. The cuisine starts with choosing ingredients and cooks while considering nutrition.
It’s a dish that does not use meat or fish (animal protein). The word Shojin(精進) originally means masculinity, courage, and power, and it was used in Buddhism to indicate practicing hard. This background story has come to the meaning of effort(努力すること) that is now commonly used. One of the most essential practices in Buddhism is keeping the commandments. There are strict rules in the discipline, such as non-killing creatures, and monks must regulate their daily life instead of having unclean habits.
For this reason, the word Shojin developed into meanings such as “not eating meat” and “cleansing the body and mind.” In this way, vegetarian cuisine was devised in temples. Even now, I still eat vegetarian meals at funerals and other traditional occasions in Japan because people think that we need to devote ourselves to such days. It is said that vegetarian dishes are generally low in calories and high in protein and are suitable for dieting. But nothing is overconfident because some of the dishes are fried with lots of oils, making it relatively high in calories. Therefore, even people who only eat vegetarian food can live everyday lives with sufficient energy. No matter how much the food is cooked, please be careful about overeating.
About eating meat
Nowadays, even monks eat meat or fish, and nobody claims about them eating it. Still, in the old days in Japan, monks’ carnivorous eating was prohibited, so once a monk ate a slice of meat, he would be called a stinky monk. However, after the Meiji Restoration, permission for monks getting married and meat-eating was issued. When this religion started, it was not forbidden to eat meat. In fact, Buddha seems to have eaten meat as well. At the time, the Buddhist practitioners did not make money or get any profit by businesses, so they couldn’t live like this. Therefore, they used to walk around the houses every day and live by offering food and daily necessities. And, as a general rule, they had to eat everything when they got delivered. It seems that they ate meat when they got it, and they also ate rotten food. But it didn’t mean to eat any kind of meat. There was no rule with “don’t eat meat,” but there was a rule with “don’t kill creatures.” Eating meat means killing creatures. Those who ate it were indirectly involved in the killing, even if they don’t kill themselves.
For that reason,
- Meat that they didn’t see killed to eat.
- Meat that they didn’t hear got killed to eat.
- Meat that had no doubt been killed to eat.
They were allowed to eat only three kinds of meat treated as above. Other meats were considered to violate the deadly command and not allowed to eat. By the way, Buddhist monks in Southern Buddhism, such as Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, still live their lives according to such an old tradition. It may seem ridiculous to us as modern people that we don’t eat meat. Yet, on the other hand, taboos related to food developed in various directions, because they have developed vegetarian cuisine with these regulations and background. In other religions, practitioners may not eat certain ingredients for discipline, so it is not surprising that such rules exist. For example, even in Japan today, at Zen Buddhist temples, it is forbidden to eat meat, but many Buddhists eat meat. In a sense, this may bring the situation back to the early Buddhist teachings.
Other things that should not be eaten
In fact, some vegetables shouldn’t eat in Shojin Ryori. For instance, spicy or smelly vegetables, such as leeks, luck, leek, garlic, ginger, and ginger, were taboo. Even if these are vegetables, these are not included in the vegetation process and are classified as similar to meat. The reason is that it was thought that it would disturb other people because it smells and disturbs the Buddhist practice because it stimulates libido. These were also vegetables that are said to have “energy.” If they are not healthy, they will not withstand severe training. Still, it will be troublesome if they have a strong desire to eat because they have eaten ingredients stimulating their desires.