Japanese gastronomy relies upon seasonality and centuries-old Zen Buddhist principles in methods of cooking, types of ingredients, and colors of food on the plate. But its practitioners and proponents have also mythologized its high-end cuisine. At the same time as Japan was undergoing the most rapid industrialization in history, fantasies about nature, and its role in cooking, developed. These fantasies exist within Japan as well as when its gastronomy is discussed with outsiders to the culture. Long ago, the fantasies served Japan's expansionist goals, and nowadays they contribute to the creation of a global brand—the idea that Japanese food has a native superiority. In addition, the fantasies distract consumers from environmental insult; the talk of Japanese love and respect of nature is at odds with the reality of its industrialization and urban sprawl. When Japanese chefs discuss the ideas behind the food they cook, they can resort to fables, and the psychology of what the food is said to be about has little to do with the pragmatic demands of what goes on in the kitchen. In fact, Japanese gastronomy, as is true of any other national cuisine, has examples of food that represent the nation, but are not rooted in myth. Such food has more to do with cooking than myth.
Hashiri, Sakari, Nagori: Toward Understanding the Psychology, Ideology, and Branding of Seasonality in Japanese Gastronomy
Scott Haas is the author of Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant and the upcoming “Ladies and Gentlemen, Presenting Family of the Year.” Haas has written extensively about Japan, starting with his doctoral thesis on the psychology of the nuclear threat. He won a James Beard award for his on-air public radio reporting. He is a writer and clinical psychologist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Scott Haas; Hashiri, Sakari, Nagori: Toward Understanding the Psychology, Ideology, and Branding of Seasonality in Japanese Gastronomy. Gastronomica 1 May 2015; 15 (2): 3–9. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2015.15.2.3
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