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Japanese Cuisine / Ancient era-Heian Period History

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JAPANESE TREND / Japanese Cooking (3) / Japanese Cooking (5)

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Refer to the history in relation to "Japanese Cuisine".
"Jaoanese Cuisine in Ancient era and Heian Period" is as follows.
Following the
Jōmon period, Japanese society shifted from semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural society.

This was the period in which rice cultivation began, having been introduced by China. Short-grain rice has been the only type of rice grown in Japan, which contrasts with the long-grain rice grown in other Asian regions.

(Rice / Image)

Rice was commonly boiled plain and called gohan or meshi, and, as cooked rice has since always been the preferred staple of the meal, the terms are used as synonyms for the word "meal." Peasants often mixed millet with rice, especially in mountainous regions where rice did not proliferate.


During the Kofun period, Chinese culture was introduced into Japan from the Korean Peninsula. As such, Buddhism became a large influence on Japanese culture.
After the 6th century, Japan directly pursued the imitation of Chinese culture under the Tang dynasty. It was this influence that marked the taboos on the consumption of meat in Japan. In 675 A.D., Emperor Temmu decreed a prohibition on the consumption of cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys, and chickens during the 4th-9th months of the year; to break the law would mean a death sentence.
Monkey was eaten prior to this time, but was eaten more in a ritualistic style for medicinal purposes. Chickens were often domesticated as pets, while cattle and horses were rare and treated as such. A cow or horse would be ritually sacrificed on the first day of rice paddy cultivation, a ritual introduced from China. Emperor Temmu's decree, however, did not ban the consumption of deer or wild boar, which were important to the Japanese diet at that time.

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The 8th century saw many additional decrees made by emperors and empresses on the ban of killing of any animals. In 752 A.D., Empress Kōken decreed a ban even on fishing, but made a promise that adequate rice would be given to fishermen whose livelihood would have otherwise been destroyed. In 927 A.D., regulations were enacted that stated that any government official or member of nobility that ate meat was deemed unclean for three days and could not participate in Shinto observances at the imperial court.

It was also the influence of Chinese and Korean cultures that brought the chopsticks to Japan early in this period. Chopsticks at this time were used by nobility at banquets; they were not used as everyday utensils however, as hands were still commonly used with which to eat. Metal spoons were also used during the 8th-9th century, but only by the nobility.

(Chopsticks on a chopstick rest)

Dining tables were also introduced to Japan at this time. Commoners used a legless table called a oshiki, while nobility used a lacquered table with legs called a zen. Each person used his own table. Lavish banquets for the nobility would have multiple tables for each individual based upon the number of dishes presented.

Upon the decline of the Tang dynasty in the 9th century, Japan made a move toward its individuality in culture and cuisine. The abandonment of the spoon as a dining utensil is one of the marked differences, and commoners were now eating with chopsticks as well. Trade continued with China and Korea, but influence en mass from outside of Japan would not be seen again until the 19th century. The 10th and 11th centuries marked a level of refinement of cooking and etiquette found in the culture of the Heian nobility. Court chefs would prepare many of the vegetables sent as tax from the countryside. Court banquets were common and lavish; garb for nobility during these events remained in the Chinese style which differentiated them from the plain clothes of commoners.

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The dishes consumed post 9th century included grilled fish and meat (yakimono), simmered food (nimono), steamed foods (mushimono), soups made from chopped vegetables, fish or meat (atsumono), jellied fish (nikogori) simmered with seasonings, sliced raw fish served in a vinegar sauce (namasu), vegetables, seaweed or fish in a strong dressing (aemono), and pickled vegetables (tsukemono) that were cured in salt to cause lactic fermentation. Oil and fat were avoided almost universally in cooking. Sesame oil was used, but rarely, as it was of great expense to produce.

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Documents from the Heian nobility note that fish and wild fowl were common on the table along with vegetables. Their banquet settings consisted of a bowl of rice and soup, along with chopsticks, a spoon, and three seasonings which were salt, vinegar and hishio, which was a fermentation of soybeans, rice, wheat, sake and salt. A fourth plate was present for mixing the seasonings to desired flavor for dipping the food. The four types of food present at a banquet consisted of dried foods (himono), fresh foods (namamono), fermented or dressed food (kubotsuki), and desserts (kashi). Dried fish and fowl were thinly sliced (e.g. salted salmon, pheasant, steamed and dried abalone, dried and grilled octopus), while fresh fish, shellfish and fowl were sliced raw in vinegar sauce or grilled (e.g. carp, sea bream, salmon, trout, pheasant). Kubotsuki consisted of small balls of fermented sea squirt, fish or giblets along with jellyfish and aemono.

File:Sake barrels.jpg
(Japanese Sake)

Desserts would have included Chinese cakes, and a variety of fruits and nuts including pine nuts, dried chestnuts, acorns, jujube, pomegranate, peach, apricot, persimmon and citrus. The meal
 would be ended with sake.
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By J.S. on Jul 13, 2009




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