7000 Wonders

7000 Wonders

ArticleKey #7: Food

Edward Porper

Edward Porper

3 min read

The “less is more” principle applies to many aspects of Japanese life, some of them quite unexpected - none more so than food.

Most people eat to sustain themselves and survive, some (foodies, also known as “gourmet”) - to actually enjoy their food as much as possible. They go to great length to cook their own meals exactly the way they like them, and that often means honing their cooking skills so as to almost match those of professional chefs. However, even for such people, food - a hobby bordering on a passion as it might be - is essentially still…well, food. As opposed, in Japanese culture, food seems to be a kind of artform.

The above picture provides a partial insight into Japanese perception of food. It features what could be considered a “typical” Japanese breakfast - bits and pieces of a variety of edibles neatly arranged on a plate - but for the fact that it's a “touristy” version of it. Poor hungry tourists (or children) can be forgiven if they indulge in such “huge” pieces but mature Japanese adults would cut each item in about half (still keeping the variety). One might say that Japanese people don't bite their food, they nibble it! While centrally located restaurants serving both locals and tourists might feature menus like that


what's on offer in a regular shinkansen dining car is strikingly different



Famous ekiben/boxed meals one might buy at a train station (usually before boarding a train) are of about the same size, and both cost more or less as much as a main dish in a regular restaurant. Likewise, a collection of chocolate bites, or a circle of cheese consisting of six tiny triangles cost as much in a Japanese supermarket as a full size chocolate bar or cheese package would elsewhere in the world. One might even be tempted to suspect unethical business practices - but for an intuitive conviction that, when it comes to Japan, it's aesthetics rather than greed that shape ekiben boxes and supermarket shelves. The reason for such conviction is that everything food-related in Japan looks like a designer item. For instance, every cheese triangle is individually wrapped in high quality coloured and ornamented paper. Even standard menus remind of a still life painting 


Last but not least, Japanese food's taste goes hand in hand with its looks: almost literally, everything edible one might find in Japan - be it in a restaurant, a supermarket, on a train or even on a street foodstall - melts in the mouse. In other words, food can be considered as an edible and delicious branch of Japanese art!