Here at Foodies Go Local we've seen more than our share of books purporting to explain Japanese Food Culture in great, authentic detail, and the results have been 'mixed'. Several great works stand out, and this latest addition to our collection, 'Soul of Japanese Cuisine', published in 2010, by Hiroo Chikaraishi and Izumi Okabe is amongst the brightest and best.
Japan's high-context culture is not one to be mastered overnight, and its subtleties and complexities, arcane rituals and ancient seasonal rites need to be understood in their entirety. Take away one piece of the great cultural jigsaw puzzle, and the whole picture becomes fragmented, confused. This is as true in matters of Food as in all Japan's cultural endeavors.
Where 'Soul of Japanese Cuisine' succeeds in particular, is in painting the larger cultural picture before focusing - also brilliantly, concisely, & accurately - on the details. Thus we are introduced to Aesthetic principles such as Kachou-Fugetsu (The Wonders of Nature), Yugen (The Subtle and Profound), Wabi (Straightforward Sense of Modesty and the Simple), the Four Seasons, the Five Senses, Shitsurae (detailed preparation), Mitate (using something in a way other than originally intended), courtesy and respect, and more.
Detailed essays on Rice (The Root and Soul of Japanese Spirit), Kaiseki cuisine, Ryotei restaurants, Shinsen spiritual offerings, and 'staples' such as Nigiri-zushi sushi, Soba, Udon, Kushiage, Eel & Yakitori, Tempura, Sukiyaki & Shabu-shabu, as well as clear explanations of Miso, Soy, Kashi sweets, Yuzu citrus and Tools and Knives make this a real treasure trove of Japanese food wisdom.
The 85-page paperbound A4 is lavishly photographed, in co-operation with some of the country's most respected chefs and restaurants, and even Fukui's Eiheiji zen temple. It is also completely bilingual, English-Japanese, making it the perfect tool (or gift) for those wishing to understand Japanese Food Culture regardless of their nationality. That also includes the Japanese themselves, who - quite understandably - sometimes have a hard time explaining their deep food culture to we foreign types in English.
'Soul of Japanese Cuisine' is published by the Soul of Japan Foundation, 6th Floor Akasaka T.O Building, 4-9-19 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052, Japan. 2500 yen plus postage. It may be ordered by fax at: (+81) 3-3403-9351. Soul of Japan may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you liked the above you might like these examinations of Japanese food culture through its history:
A Brief History of Japanese Cuisine: Edo, An Introduction
A Brief History of Japanese Cuisine: Edo And Food, Overview
An Edo-Tokyo Culinary Timeline 1 (1603 to 1756): Soba From The Start
An Edo-Tokyo Culinary Timeline 2 (1757 to 1836): Edo Goes Foodie