National Cuisine

I’m taking a Japanese civilizations class that’s all about food. Today we were discussing kaiseki, which had like a ton of rules and etiquette bound to it. Kaiseki is basically often a “main dish” surrounded by smaller dishes and are on trays so it’s eaten off the ground. This was the beginnings of what we now consider Japanese national cuisine. It’s fascinating how it began!

Now why did I find this fascinating? In my approximately six years of studying Japanese culture and history formally, it never occurred to me that Japan as a nation was relatively young. Sure, it’s existed as a country, but a national identity did not exist for a long time. Japan remained splintered until Oda Nobunaga started to unify the provinces. This was then followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu. It wasn’t until the Tokugawa were ruling that Japanese cuisine became more standard.

White rice? Surprisingly not that widely consumed until the late Tokugawa era because it was expensive and only the rich could afford it. It was a method of measuring wealth and power.

So what we consider “Japanese cuisine” now is actually a relatively young concept (really only started in the 1960s, after the world wars) and was previously only available to a select few. Commoners had to make do. It had a lot of rules, some of which still exist today!

It’s amazing how things suddenly fall into context. It gives me this happy feeling.

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