Japanese Culture and Traditions: What Is Japanese Food Culture?


Respect for nature, the core spirit of Japanese food

UNESCO listed washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine) as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. I think many Japanese people seem to misunderstand the key point of the event. They may be bragging and saying “Sushi gets popular throughout the world!” but UNESCO is not the Michelin Guide. That’s totally different. Washoku was registered because “it is associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources.” I think this comment of UNESCO well expresses the Japanese culture as well.

A woman just starting to eat a noodle dish with her hands clasped.
Source: https://voyapon.com/table-manenrs-itadakimasu-gochisousama/

Itadakimasu, showing respect for nature and natural resources

We Japanese say “Itadakimasu” before meal with our hands clasped as shown in the above image. The word is often translated as “Let’s eat,” but the true meaning is completely different. That means I’m sorry for taking your life and appreciate your sacrifice. The core spirit of the small pre-meal ritual is to show respect for nature and natural resources. When kids leave even one grain of rice in the bowl, mothers scold them “You’ll lose your sight!” My mother, of course, always did, though she never explained why that was.

Our craftsperson is shaping and joining wood pieces to make wood boards.

Fortunately, the land of Japan is rich in nature and also food resources. People didn’t feel the need to start agriculture. Consequently, it took as much as 500 years for rice growing to expand. Nature is always regarded as an object of worship and respect, and so are natural resources like wood. In our factory, we use wood up to the last small pieces as shown in the above image. One of our craftspeople is shaping and joining wood pieces to make wood boards. To tell the truth, it’s more efficient cost-wise just to throw away such pieces, but we don’t intend to change this because we believe even such small wood pieces are still a part of our precious nature.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.