An island nation that benefits from four seasons.

The Japanese archipelago stretches from North to South. 75% of the land is mountainous terrain, yet it's surrounded by the seas.  As the earth revolves around the sun, temperatures shift with the four seasons.  In spring the cherry blossoms bloom.  In the summer there is the scorching sun. By fall the autumn leaves display their change in color, and in winter there is the cold yet clean air.
Japan has been enriched by the benefits brought from its wilderness, enjoying the different scenery throughout the year and the changes in seasonal foods.

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Japanese have always looked atnature as something divine.

Festivities and prayers have been held since ancient times. It's rare for a country to have so many of these events.  Showing appreciation and saying “thank you” is a common daily ritual among many Japanese. You often see people praying in front of a guardian deity alongside a road, worshiping god at a nearby shrine or visiting a temple.  

Wishing for a good harvest and the end to a plague are among main themes at festivals.   Various festivities are held throughout the year where people pray, show gratitude and hope for a better future.  The custom has been part of life in Japan. Many foreigners visit Japanese festivals held in 18 prefectures featuring sacred floats and mobile shrines, surrounded by pop up stalls serving food among other festive products.  Among them is the Takayama Festival in Gifu prefecture, Takayama city, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, a popular event both in and outside of Japan.

japanese "omotenashi" fruits

 
 

Food preservation methods and aesthetics of dishes born from the four seasons.

In Japan the four seasons make it difficult to keep food for a long period in some regions.  But if the fish are dried, smoked, salted, pickled, or if vegetables are pickled or cold dried, they can be preserved.  These are methods still used today created by the wisdom of ancestors.  Wakayama prefecture has a history of about 400 years.  It has a local specialty of skewered persimmon.  In Northern Akita prefecture there is the "Ibugakko" a unique daikon radish pickle.  Fukui Prefecture in west central Japan has fermented mackerel.  Kyoto prefecture is known for its "senmai zuke" or pickled radishes.  Every region has its original preservation food product that attracts the gourmands.
The way each dish is served on the plate is also very distinct.  A plate can also have the look of spring, summer, fall or winter, making it artistic.  One can enjoy not only the taste but also the visual presentation of Japanese dishes.

 

japanese "omotenashi" fruits

 

Close ties among family members and the community are important values for Japanese people.

In Japan respect for nature is important. Living in close relationship with the changing four seasons, eating seasonal foods and maintaining close ties with family and the community is a big part of the culture.
During the Obon festival where ancestral spirits are said to return home, and on the New Years, family members gather at their birthplace.  The custom keeps local communities close together. During these gatherings there are various festivities, and the practice is deeply rooted in people’s lives.  Japanese connect with each other by enjoying meals together, often surrounding the dining table with everyone present. Families bond and help each other when facing difficult times.

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In Japanese "itadaki masu" or “allow me to enjoy this meal”, and "gochi sosama", or “thank you for the meal” are important expressions before and after a meal.  These daily phrases are a typical Japanese way to show appreciation for food.

The words "itadaki masu" and "gochi sosama" are used casually in everyday life.  The phrases come from the heart, and it is uniquely Japanese.  "Itadaki masu" is an expression showing respect. It's expressing gratitude for nature and it also means "to receive" life ".  It refers to the animal where the meat came from and life from vegetables and fruits.
On the other hand, if you write "gochi sosama" in Japanese, included is the character "feast". It symbolizes the person who runs a horse to procure ingredients in order to entertain the guests. Also included is the meaning of respect, showing gratitude towards the producer who harvests the ingredients, and for the person who cooked the dish.

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The traditional bi-annual custom of summer and winter gifts include the message of appreciation.

Summer and winter gifts are symbols of appreciation and to wish for a healthy life.  The gifts have its roots in China.  It comes from celebrating the birthdates of three heavenly gods.  Offerings were made first on January 15th, second on July 15th and third on October 15th. In Japan, there are various rituals derived from this tradition such as making a bonfire that’s is said to call back ancestral spirits, the “bon odori” festival where people dance along with the spirits, and the bonfire at the end, sending the spirits back to where they belong.  Alongside these celebrations is the "bon rei" or the "ochugen" gift giving practice in the middle of the year.  

The custom of providing offerings for the new-year takes the form of gift giving to parents at the end of the year. The bi-annual gift giving has become common in the Edo period in the 17th century.  By 1897 during the Meiji period, the practice has turned into gift giving to clients, relatives, friends among other people whom they depended on through the year.

japanese "omotenashi" fruits

 
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