The history and culture of japanese food
Despite the popularity of Japanese food in the West today, remarkably little is known about the history of a unique cuisine. This irresistible feast of a book, the first of its kind, is a detailed investigation of the food and dietary practices of the Japanese from earliest times to the present day. By focusing this most central of subjects, the analysis throws new light on Japanese history and on society as a whole. Dividing the history of Japanese dietary life into six periods, the author traces its development from the paleolithic and neolithic eras before rice was cultivated in Japan to the formative period between the sixth and fifteenth centuries, when a stable indigenous cuisine began to evolve. Typical dishes and beverages, ingredients, methods of preparation, origins, etiquette, the aesthetics of presentation, eating implements and cooking utensils are presented in the wider social, political and economic contexts. Breaches of chopstick etiquette, the design of Japanese knife blades, the underlying philosophy of Japanese haute cuisine presentation as « gardens on a plate, » and the historical origins of sushi are among the many subjects covered in this rich and compelling work that presents a full portrait of all aspects of Japanese food for the first time, introducing the reader to home cookery and regional schools of cuisine that are virtually unknown outside Japan.
Naomichi Ishige is director of the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan.