“Samurai”, “Ninja”, and “Karaoke” are a few words that are most loved by foreigners as synonymous to Japanese culture. On the other hand, its food culture has “Sushi” and “Sake” as the favorites. Today, let’s look at what “Japanese Food” culture is like from the perspective of a born and bred Japanese.
When you mention sake, needless to say that it is the most known alcoholic beverage in Japan. The history of the this traditional drink dates back to the “Edo Period” when a samurai would have a “Chonmage” hair style and carry swords around their waist. Outside of Japan, it is commonly loved simply as “Sake”, but in Japan it is typically called “Nihonshu” which means sake.
Various kinds of Japanese alcoholic drinks come in different types and flavors, but the transparency of “Sake” in particular has a similar appearance to vodka and white wine. Sake also branches out into various types such as Nihonshu, which is pure rice wine, Shochu which is distilled alcohol or liquor, and beer. These are some of the types of alcoholic beverages that are generally referred to as “Osake” in Japanese to mean the word alcohol. But also take note that whiskey and cocktails are also categorised as Osake, so it might be easier to think of the word “Osake” to mean “Alcohol”. In actual, beverages that contain alcohol in them are generally categorised as “Osake”.
However, ordering “Osake” at the local Izakaya may be understood as Japanese sake or Nihonshu. In terms of its definition, “Osake” refers to an alcoholic beverage, while “Nihonshu” is one type of alcoholic beverage.
Sushi is one of the traditional Japanese dishes that come from the Edo period, and it means fresh seafood put on top of rice, and dipped in soy sauce. It is a common word used to describe Japanese food, but it is also typically enjoyed in the everyday lives of Japanese people. In recent years, with the rapid popularity of “Kaiten Sushi” also known as conveyer belt sushi, it has become even more affordable.
It is a dish that can be enjoyed and loved by not only Japanese locals, but also as the go-to-dish for foreign tourists. “Shari” is the bite size rice, and the seafood that goes on top of it is what is called a “Neta”. Shari is rice mixed with vinegar, giving it a sour and clean taste. The Neta that goes on top of the Shari is typically fresh seafood also called the “Fruits of the sea” in Japanese. Sushi can usually be eaten in one bite, and with its gentle flavor, it is very easy to eat while enjoying many kinds of seafood. The appearance is also well thought out with the seafood being sliced in a way that gives it a beautiful appearance.
The Relationship of Sake and Sushi
In Japan, Osake is often associated with “Something to drink on the way home from work” or “enjoyed during a celebration or at a banquet”, and it holds the meaning of hospitality. Osake is present in many situations; in building better relationships, during important conversations, and it is also used to understand each other better, or during celebrations. In this sense, osake is often used in many scenes throughout everyday life, whereas sushi is often present at special events or celebrations.
Though modern technology has made sushi more accessible, back in the day, sushi was something that required much time and effort that it couldn’t be eaten very often. When the number of sushi restaurants increased, every part of preparing the sushi from preparing the rice to cutting up the neta, everything was by human labor.
On top of this, the restaurant’s environment had to be in the condition to always be stocked with fresh seafood that would accommodate the customer’s orders. Naturally, the prices were also aligned to the efforts in creating a dish of sushi, unlike the cheap prices you see today, it was present at celebrations and parties as a colorful decorative dish.
As “Sushi” was originally food that leaned more towards luxury dining, it was food usually served at posh and luxurious restaurants. These restaurants are often considered to be places to have important talks of business with executives, VIP guests, or someone to be considered as important, and it is also considered the place to go to for celebrations, which leaves an impression that the food prepared at this places are reserved for special occasions. This setup and environment started from the “hospitality for others”, and it also expresses the sign of respect for others.
Japanese Food Culture.
Japanese has a very unique food culture, and there are unspoken manners and etiquette while enjoying drinks or even eating sushi. This is not something that you learn at school, but something that is learned and felt after being part of Japanese culture for a long time.
One example is during a drink of sake. You must always pour a glass to those considered to be older or are superior to you first before moving on to pouring into your own glass. This is an etiquette that reflects the Japanese culture of putting importance in hierarchical relationships. Another example of an unspoken etiquette is during a dine at a sushi restaurant. Knowing the proper way to eat sushi when using your hands. It isn’t something that would benefit anyone, but it is also reflective of the Japanese culture of never forgetting to show respect and gratitude to the person who prepared food.
Behind this food culture that let’s you enjoy all five senses, also considers this kind of “little acts of thoughtfulness”.