Each year, the number of people visiting Japan has increased and one of the main attractions for many is to try authentic Japanese food. With the inclusions of Washoku on to the UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in December 2013, interest in Washoku has increased all over the world.
UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage is defined as culture that is intangible, but that is intimately connected with the history of a region and its customs, such as performing arts or traditional crafts.
The following is an extract from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries website: What is Washoku, the traditional food culture of the Japanese people that has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage?
“Japan covers an extensive area from north to south and has four distinct seasons. The country has a large variety of natural features. The dietary cultures that emerged here developed in intimate relation with its natural environment. The eating customs that are based on the spirit of the Japanese people, who respect nature in such a way, are termed”.
In this article we will explain the four features of Washoku.
A rich variety of fresh ingredients and respect for their inherent flavors
The country of Japan extends over a long stretch of land from north to south and has a large variety of natural resources, such as the sea, mountains, and countryside. Because of this, each part of the country uses a unique variety of ingredients that have their roots in that particular region. Furthermore, cooking methods and utensils that take advantage of the flavors of these ingredients are also highly developed.
A nutritional balance that supports healthy dietary cultures
The Japanese style of eating, which is based on one soup and three side dishes, is considered to provide an ideal nutritional balance. Also, through the skillful use of the umami flavor, Washoku is able to create a dietary culture that makes minimal use of animal fats, which serves a role in the longevity of the Japanese people and in the prevention of obesity.
Expressing the beauty of nature and seasonal changes
Expressing the beauty of nature and seasonal changes at the dinner table is also one of the characteristics of Washoku. Washoku enjoys seasonality by decorating dishes with seasonal flowers and leaves, along with using implements and plates that match the season.
An intimate relationship with New Year and other annual events
Japan’s dietary culture emerged through an intimate relationship with annual events. They strengthened family and regional bonds by spending mealtimes together and sharing meals, which are a blessing of nature.
Making an appeal to people from other countries by recognizing Washoku as an Intangible Cultural Heritage may have been one reason for its inscription on the UNESCO list. On the other hand, I feel that the move to preserve Washoku as a heritage could also mean that the Japanese people are starting to forget the dietary cultures that comprise Washoku.
Japan has the highest rate of food waste in the world. It is experiencing a decline in food self-sufficiency, a drop in temperature differences between the seasons due to climate change, and the weakening of interest in annual events. Could Washoku have come to be listed due to a sense of crisis that the people of today are discarding the dietary cultures that Japan has cultivated since ancient times?
Now may be a good time for us to reconsider the spirit of the Japanese people, who have lived in intimate connection with the abundance of nature that evolves from the country’s four seasons. While the actual lifestyles that people lead change with the times, we want to stay mindful of and maintain the spirit that lies at the base of Japan’s dietary cultures.