Kyoto Journal Digital Issue 83


Food pervades every area of our existence. It sustains us. It inspires us. It enslaves us. It educates us. It may kill us. It allows us to communicate with the Gods.


…Your food is not mine, nor mine yours, but we may share it, and in so doing, what joy.

Few remain silent on Food. And why would one? What a natural topic for discussion, discourse, eulogy, outrage, comedy, reflection, prayer, ire, poetry, love.

Food is simultaneously universal and particular, literal and metaphoric. It is edible, incredible fun, a celebration of life itself. And so many of its greatest exponents and proponents live here in Asia.

On the FOOD! menu:

• An exclusive preview of the first volume in a series of books that will be the most significant work on Japanese Cuisine ever to be published, the Japanese Culinary Academy’s Complete Japanese Cuisine. Volume one, the “Introduction to Japanese Cuisine: Nature, History and Culture”, to be published worldwide in English in August 2015, is in itself a seminal tome, with essays on the culture and science of Food, featuring beautifully illustrated recipes from Kyoto-based highly regarded culinary establishments.

• John Ashburne interviews world-class chefs Rene Redzepi(owner/chef of restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, voted “the best restaurant in the world” four times in the San Pellegrino Awards); Murata Yoshihiro,the Doyen of Japanese Cuisine, founder of the Japan Culinary Association and owner/chef at Kyoto’s famed Kikunoikaiseki ryori restaurant; and Michelin award-winning chefs Kenichi Hashimoto and Hajime Yoneda.

• First English translation of Days of Eating Earth 『土を喰う日々―わが精進十二ヵ月』, by Minakami Tsutomu, is a firsthand description of a priest’s long and rigorous dedication to eking out shojin ryori, Buddhist cuisine, from minimal ingredients.

“At the temple, a meal’s menu was determined by consulting with the vegetable field. This was why I realized the essence of Shojin Ryori was eating earth. Eating seasonal food is similar to eating earth. Shojin comes to life when dishes are prepared and served using the very vegetables that transformed soil into nutrition and have become ripe to eat.”

• In “Tibetan Butter Tea and Pink Gin: Life in Old Darjeeling,” author Ann Tashi Slater (The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Huffington Post) weaves a fascinating tale of her Tibetan grandmother, in Raj-era India.

“Food had meant so much to my grandmother. Her story and the story of the era in which she lived can be understood through the food that she desired, prepared, and consumed; that even surfaced in dreams… In many of the tales she told, it made an appearance in one way or another, from Tibetan butter tea and tsampa roasted barley to British scones and finger sandwiches to Anglo-Indian mulligatawny soup and masala chicken curry. This eclecticism reflected her world, a sphere that included East and West, old Tibet and British India; where she could take tea with the 13th Dalai Lama at his summer palace in Lhasa as well as enjoy a pink gin before gliding out onto the dance floor at Firpo’s, a Calcutta Raj-era hotspot.”

• “The Great Wave Has Broken,” by sculptor/printmaker Bill Clements, investigates the astonishing worldwide downturn in the numbers of farmers — the people actually producing the world’s essential staple food stocks. For example, in the USA, there are more prison inmates than full-time farmers…

“Just as the world was waking up to the reality of climate change and its as yet unquantifiable effects on agriculture and food scarcity, writers were turning their attention and ours to the twentieth century, during which 70 million people died from man-made famines. That last famine of 1958-62, in which between 36 and 45 million men, women and children died, is treated by the Chinese government as a natural disaster.”

• “Food from Beyond the Bridge of Dreams” is anthropologist Kaori O’Connor’s deconstruction of Japan’s national cuisine, tracing its historical and cultural roots back into Herian era, and even Japan’s complex mythology.

“Food is both symbol and sustenance, linking body and spirit, self and society, past and present, myth and magic. Cuisines are not just cookery techniques, menus, recipes and ingredients —they are culture, history and memory in edible form. All societies make different choices about food—how it is cooked, eaten and served; which foods are appropriate for which meals, which foods are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and much more. Different foods and ways of eating mark the boundaries between social classes, genders, ethnicities, religions, regions and nations. National cuisines and dishes inspire strong passions, embody national values and identity and are believed to be linked to the nation’s character, health and fortunes.”

• “The Milk of Paradise: Mother, Mantra, and Our First Food,” by James N. Powell, explores our deepest and earliest connections with “nature”—and the divine—through mother’s milk.

“The coherent brain wave patterns of the babbling infant breast-feeding while tenderly cradled by and in full-body skin-to-skin contact with the mother are the same as those of yogis and yoginis in the state of Samadhi while meditating deeply on a mantra. In fact infants spend much of their first few months of life not only in full-body union with mommy, but babbling such sounds as Aaaaaaaaaaaah, while closing and opening their mouths. If you experiment with this yourself, you will discover that doing so produces the sound of Aum, spontaneously.”

• “In Food and the Jain Tradition,”pilgrim, writer and educator Satish Kumar expounds on food in relation to non-violence, mindfulness, restraint, gratitude and fasting.

“There are three words in food: sattvik, rajasik and tamasik. Sattvik food is simple, elegant, authentic, natural, local; for nourishment. Vegetables, salad, simply-prepared food. That’s all good. But rajasik food would be more kind of sweet and spicy and exuberant. Tamasik food would be heavy, and difficult to digest, like meat, or alcohol, so Jains completely forbid tamasik food. Tamasik food, like meat, involves violence to others, and minimizing violence is one of the most important aspects of Jain, or any spiritual tradition. If your food is not grown locally, and food becomes a commodity, and it is traded, it is no longer local, no longer fresh, no longer sattvik, it becomes even tamasik. So genetically engineered food would be tamasik, and commodified food like McDonalds would be tamasik.”

Guest Editor John F. Ashburne, long-time Kyoto resident, has written for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Japan Times, Louis Vuitton City Guide Kyoto Nara 2011 and Wall Street Journal Asia, and authored the Lonely Planet Food Guide Japan. He is an ‘undercover judge’ for a famed global culinary award that must remain unnamed.

Cover Image by Yamaguchi Hiroshi
published July 2015