Sustainability Inherent in Japanese Culture

Washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine) was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2013. I’m embarrassed to tell you, but even many Japanese people seem to misunderstand the gist of the event, bragging like “Sushi gets popular throughout the world!” UNESCO is not the Michelin Guide. 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.

We Japanese say “Itadakimasu” before meal with our hands clasped. 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.” When kids leave even one grain of rice in the bowl, mothers scold them, saying “You’ll lose your sight!” My mother, of course, always did but never explained why…

Fortunately, the land of Japan is rich in nature, so rich in food resources that it took as much as 500 years for rice growing to expand (because people didn’t feel the need to). 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 piece as shown in the above image. 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.

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