The Art of Japanese Food

About this essay

A Hindu saying goes “a man is what he eats. Not only is his bodily substance created out of food, but so is his moral disposition” (Ohnuki-Tierney 3). Indeed, food has no longer been considered as a means to acquire energy and fuel for the body. Many anthropologists, sociologists and historians have begun to view food as a reflection of one’s culture. This is because the preparation, cooking, presentation and even the manner how the food is eaten is embedded in culture.

This is nowhere more evident that in Japanese cuisine.

If you would compare an exquisitely prepared entree of Japanese food to a flower arrangement handcrafted by a Japanese florist, there are so many similarities that you would be able to decipher between these two seemingly unrelated objects. In order to understand why Japanese food is considered both as a work of art and an exemplification of the culture of the cook that had prepared the dish, one must first understand a little bit about Japan’s culture and Japan in general.

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Firstly, the country is one that has been known to be a land of minimal resources.

As such, the Japanese have become very limited to their selection of dishes. The geography has been considered to be one of lush valleys, misty mountains and open sea. It is for this reason that authentic Japanese food would always be comprised of fish, rice and vegetables. As such each of these dishes represent a little bit of the entire geography of Japan (Ashkenazi and Jacob 2-4; Allison 197), with each bite allowing you to commune with the treasures the land of the country has to offer.

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Another thing that is noticeable with Japanese food, particularly with the various sushi dishes is it being extremely colorful.

While the colors contribute to the overall presentation of the dish, the colors of the various elements of the dish have been placed there for a purpose. To Japanese culture, apart from representing the geography of their country, Japanese also represent the various seasons experienced in the country. Each of the seasons is represented by a particular color. Summer is represented by red colored food. Autumn is represented by the colors yellow or orange. Winter is represented by the color white while spring is represented by the color green (Ashkenazi and Jacob 21; Graham 83).

A perfect example of this is seen in the humble bite-sized California rolls. The rosy colored prawn represents summer. The cucumber, seaweed and wasabi paste represent spring. Steamed rice represents the season of winter and the flying fish roe used for garnish is for autumn. The representation of Japanese food does not end with just merely representing a little bit about the country’s seasons, landscape or the kinds of produce available to the Japanese people. It is a representation of the religion and the way of life practiced by the Japanese based on their beliefs of Shinto and Buddhism.

Popular knowledge has considered as a religious belief practice by the Japanese which focused on the communion with nature. Looking deeper, Shinto has become the way of life practiced by Japanese since during the ancient times so much so that it was become the basis of the code of Bushido. One of the practices that the religion of Shinto mandated was simplicity. This is clearly defined in everything and anything that has been associated with the Japanese, particularly when it came to food. Unlike other Asian cuisines which utilize various spices in their cooking, Japanese cuisine hardly uses any spices in its cooking.

It is for this reason that as compared to other Asian cuisine, Japanese food may often taste slightly bland and extremely light. This is to ensure that when one consumes a meal, it would be a chance to experience the flavors of the various foods being consumed down to its basics (Ashkenazi and Jacob 18-19). Chan Buddhism, also known as Zen Buddhism, on the other hand, is based on the belief and philosophy that in order for an individual to experience enlightenment, one would have to go through a number of layers in order for that individual not to follow worldly ways (Graham 85).

It is for this reason that unlike other cuisines and dining practices that is practiced anywhere else in the world, a person that experiences a traditional Japanese meal would be served one meal at a time, allowing you to savor and enjoy the meal before the next one is brought out. Not only does it symbolize the teachings of Zen Buddhism with regards to the different layers that one must undergo in order to reach enlightenment but to also provide the individual to slowly make his or her way through the various combinations of unadulterated flavors exhibited by each dish ( Graham 80)

Another teaching of Zen Buddhism has its roots as well in Confucianism. This teaching requires the presence of discipline in all of the Japanese individual’s activities. The ultimate goal is to strive for perfection. In order to do so, the philosophy of Zen required long hours of training in order to master a particular art, whether the art is in the preparation of food or practicing the way of the sword, as in the case for the samurai. This is perfectly exemplified through the simple yet elegant tea ceremony practiced in Japan.

Unlike tea ceremonies that are practiced in other parts of Asia, the Japanese tea ceremony requires the tea person performing the act to prepare the tea in a very calculated manner down to the very last detail while still appearing to be graceful and fluid (Graham 90-93). All in all, the tradition and culture of the Japanese is simple at the same time complex. It is composed of a number of separate and various elements, which on its own is a piece of art in itself.

When brought together, these various heterogeneous aspects of Japanese culture would create a whole new masterpiece creating a whole separate work of art on its own (Graham 79). It is no surprise then as to why Japanese have been able to hold on to their traditions, cultures and beliefs despite the massive onslaught of Western cultures that have slowly made its way to the Land of the Rising Sun. Through their art, architecture, flower arrangements and in their food, they proudly impart not just their craft, but a part of themselves.

So, the next time that you and your friends are heading out for a night on the town and you happen to decide to grab a bite to eat at the Japanese restaurant around the corner, do not just order your food and gulp it down hurriedly. Take your time to observe and savor this wonderful edible work of art presented to you and your friends for it is not just a meal that you are taking in your body. Rather, it is a short moment for you to commune with the Japanese chef’s country, its seasons, their philosophies and their beliefs, which have made their culture and traditions uniquely their very own.

Works Cited Allison, Anne. “Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological Apparatus. ” Anthropological Quarterly. 64. 4 (October 1991): 195-208. Askenazi, Michael and Jeanne Jacob. Food Culture in Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003. Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. Parks, Graham. “Ways of Japanese Thinking. ” Japanese Aesthetics and Culture. Ed. Nancy G. Hume. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995. 77-108.

Japanese Culture

Japan is known for its very good and very beautiful entertainers called geisha. Geisha in Japanese means “artist. The history of geisha began during the 11th century when two women created a new kind of dance to entertain warriors. They wore white dresses to represent the court dresses of warriors. They also wore hats, long white gown and sword. The dance attracted many people and the dress was change to black hat and red skirt. The sword disappeared. From then on, many people have a belief that the two women are the early predecessors of geisha.

But there are hearsays that geisha were previously men who entertained in a place called “water world”. But eventually the male entertainers were replaced with female ones. Geisha are professional and their main work is to entertain guests through many different performing arts in an O-chaya. They basically took hard trainings in ancient dancing, singing, playing instruments, wearing kimono, tea ceremonial, serving alcoholic drinks, conversing, writing calligraphy and many other things needed to become a real geisha. These trainings last for many years until they perfected those crafts and skills.

A geisha is said to be successful if she already shown her endless beauty and charm, grace, creative talents, good manners and refinement. Guests who have long time affiliation with the tea house are permitted to take a geisha and mainly tea houses do not allow any new clients without prior notice and formal introduction. Geisha’s business is generally an expensive business and in fact a single geisha party costs thousands of US dollars. During the 1920’s, there were about 80,000 geishas all over Japan however, this big number dropped to 10000 because of the western influence to Japanese culture.

One good thing about Geisha is that it serves as a mirror of how wonderful Japanese culture is. They show how hospitable Japanese are and from the intensive trainings of geisha, we can see the dedication from them which prove that Japanese are really disciplined people. They play an important role in the Japanese society. Geisha women are good role models and they usually went on international tours to strengthen affairs with other nation. With their charming moves and pretty face, they can bring happiness and fulfillment to anyone. They exhibit a strong relationship with men.

For some they are called prostitutes but actually they are not. They just entertain. Geisha have the will to have a patron, also known as Danna in which they may affect emotionally, economically and sexually. To stay beautiful and attractive they wear their hair in a bun styled with a comb and two pins. One of their main training is to dress with elegant kimonos and apply white make-up. Every time they got an entertainment show in banquets and parties, considerable money was given to them. After any party, the things discuss in the occasion was kept secret confidential.

It is nice that morality has been patronized by geisha. It is fact that geisha never perform indecent actions such as one night stand. Moreover, they do not prepare or even serve food. Before anything else, to become a certified geisha, you should be a daughter of former geisha or if not; an O-chaya can give you the consent of being one. Usually girls from an orphan or poor families were sold to an O-chaya to become one of the thousand geisha. The O-chaya would invest a big bunch of money to train the recruited girls. They would be dressed with colorful kimonos and taught them the appropriate skills.

Doing various chores while watching other geisha were also their job. When they reached the age of 15-20 years old, they now become the so called “Maikos” which are labeled apprentice. The apprentice assisted the geisha to all her appointments for the purpose of learning to become a true geisha. Also at age 20, a Maiko made decisions whether she will pursue to become a geisha. A rule governs the geisha system. She must quit if she decided to get married. There is an initiation ceremony called “erigae” in which the collar of the Maiko was change from red to white.

Also this is the time in which the girl underwent a mizu-age, a ceremony in which the highest bidder takes the virginity of the Maiko but this does not occur. One thing I observe from the recruitment process is that it involves poor children sold by her relatives. It is really unfair for the children to work as a slave especially if it’s not the will of the involved children. We should not deprive the children’s right to choose her own life and we should not permit that poverty overpowered this little right. Geisha recruitment seems to be a business wherein the indigenous people were the victims.

Unfortunately this is the reality of life; one suffers while the other prospers. Another important contribution of Geisha is the preservation and performance of many Japanese dances. Dances like Mivako Odori and cherry dances which are based on Japan’s cultural value were the most common dances performed by Geisha. The red costume of the Geisha had a great significance in the Japanese culture and society. The use of red in their dress and makeup signifies beauty and happiness. The red underclothing was believed to ease the menstrual pain and maintain the good and healthy functioning of female reproductive system.

Red is an erotic symbol for men. In fact they wear red lining under their own kimonos and apply red lipsticks made from petals of red flowers. In early times, the costumes of Geisha girls have warrior motifs which include hats and swords. But as time passes by and culture progresses, Geisha’s dress became feminine. Geisha is a culture which permits Japanese women to become independent and economically stable. It is believed that this is the only profession in which they are above men. It is one of the most important role of Geisha in society; keeping women at the height of men. Being intimate with men are part of the being a Geisha.

Nearly all marriages in Japan were arranged by families of both parties. These marriages main goal is to preserve the present rank in the society rather than to seek peace and happiness. In this kind of situation, the man would normally have two women in his entire life. It was a common practice that wealthy and powerful men have a relationship with geisha. On other culture and religion this set up do not conform to morality. The Christianity sector would surely say that this is immoral. Unfaithfulness to your wife is considered a sin but still other may see it as something normal.

Geisha is mysterious but beautiful creatures that represent the very old traditions of the Japanese. Now, modern geisha still reside in what they call okiya in flower towns especially during mentoring era. Most old and experienced geisha decide to live independently. They are often hired in parties or exclusive events at the tea houses and also to high-class restaurants in Japan. An incense stick serves as their clock for determining the spent time of each geisha in entertaining guest and visitors. Confusion still remains on what is really the nature geisha profession.

An awful view about Geisha is that they serve as prostitutes. In western perspective, Geisha are known as expensive prostitutes. Geisha are entertainers and they are expected to entertain their customers in many ways such as reciting verse, playing musical instruments or simply by giving a good conversation but not to serve as sexual workers. Geisha’s arrangement also includes flirting with the customers and to do some playful and fancy innuendos but nothing more can be expected. Geisha strongly do not engage with sex with the customers even with money offerings.

What they believed is that geisha are entertainer particularly sexual entertainers. This common notion about geisha made this decent and simple tradition to be a tradition full of immorality and sins. To attract costumers, prostitutes dressed and posed as a true geisha. Actually, a true geisha do not engaged with sexual relationship with her costumers. What they usually do is just entertainment. In fact, they were first and foremost entertainers. Geisha were invited to gatherings to keep thing in harmony and lively. They dance together with the guest, sing with them and played drinking games.

Clearly, geisha are there for mere entertainment. The success of parties and celebrations are determined by the presence of geisha. Having several geisha in a party meant that the party host was wealthy and powerful. Geisha and the traditional high-class courtesans also know as oiran have similarities which lead to confusion. Like geisha, oiran also have their elaborate hairstyles and wear white make-up. Geisha are truly different with orian in a simple manner. Oiran tie their obi in the front and serve as prostitutes while Geisha in contrast usually tie their obi in the back.

Prostitution was legalized during the Edo period. Prostitutes like orian were given license by the government. On the other hand, geisha were strictly prohibited to hold such kind of license and eventually forbidden to have sexual engagement with their customers. Any geisha holding the prostitution license is referred to be promiscuous. During the Japanese occupation, several Japanese prostitutes sold themselves to American to become sexual slaves. These prostitutes are termed geisha girls which lead to the conception of geisha as prostitutes.

Also, those geisha working in onsen towns give a bad reputation to geisha because of the prevalence of prostitution. They used the name and character of a geisha in order to have a good market. Geisha indeed are not prostitutes. They are just victims of wrong conception. But sadly, although the nature of geisha is really good many are still doubt the nature of geisha’s profession. We can now infer that being a geisha is tough job. A geisha needs to be beautiful all the time and must undergo hard trainings to perfect the geisha’s required talents skills. We can see the good and bad accounts of being a geisha. It is a good tradition of Japan.

It reflects all the prosperous cultures and traditions of Japan; from dancing, singing, conversing to the various arts. Also geisha’s dedication to work really manifest that Japanese are disciplined person. Generally, geisha plays an important role in Japanese culture. Geisha are entertainers not prostitutes. Although most people considered them as sexual workers, we cannot take away the fact that they bring happiness and pleasure to people. Although the nature of geisha’s work is closely similar to prostitutes we must not immediately pre-judge it. Geisha is a wonderful culture which is full of creative stuffs.

From the dress, hairstyles, and other attributes of geisha we can see how diverse the Japanese culture is. Those bad accounts to geisha will be polished by its amazing structure. Eventually and hopefully people would fully accept the truth that geisha are made for merely entertainment. Instead of looking at it that way, looks at it other perspective or maybe people can even look deeper to the inner core of it in order to see its real purpose. References: History of Geisha. Retrived November 14, 2007, from http://marian. creighton. edu/~marian-w/academics/english/japan/geisha/history. html.

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The Art of Japanese Food. (2016, Aug 26). Retrieved from

The Art of Japanese Food
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