According to a scholarly essay on Japanese Cuisine, there is a link between Zen, Shinto-both traditions have a strong basis in meditation-and food.
“…..Japanese religions [Shinto and Buddhism] have contributed two important things to Japanese cuisine. On the one hand they have formed the ideation and aesthetic basis for many of the preparation and presentation of ideas implicit in and part of Japanese cuisine: freshness, balance, restraint, all owe a great deal to this tradition. On the other hand, due to their ideas and practices, these religions have also been the foundry in which many prominent dishes have been created…..” Page 42 “The Essence of Japanese Cuisine, an essay on food and culture”. Michael Ashkenazi and Jeanne Jaco, University of Pennsylvania Press.
I brought up the relationship in another thread posing the question, "Sushi Chefs-Do They Have to be Japanese?". http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/866063. Some people said that there is no connection between Japanese food and mysticism. True enough, “mysticism” is not a good description of Zen and Shinto. Japanese Zen Buddhism, is highly experiential and is rooted in heightened experience as well as a keen appreciation of change and the emotional sense of that. So it’s more earthy and practical and alive than “mystical”.
So is there a meditative component to Japanese food? In the Zen and other Buddhist traditions, there is a meditative state that feels like a high level of synchronization of movement, speech and thought. The term "Zen" derives from a Sanskrit term referring to this state (dhyana=cha’an=zen). Researchers have documented a signal synchronicity in brain waives of Buddhist monks that perhaps corresponds to this state. It is a state of heightened awareness of one's environment including emotions and a reduced state of distracted thinking. It is accompanies by a better ability to concentrate on any given task and be attentive and a greater sense of visual and auditory acuity
Subjectively, I have always thought that such attitudes shape Japanese cuisine. When I have watched some Japanese chefs and even servers, there is a natural sense of grace and precision in food preparation and service that seems to fit this state. There is an elegance and aesthetic in the presentation that is based on “wabi sabi” which derives from the Buddhist tradition. There are aspects such as balance, restraint, and other things that are part of the food tradition.
On the other hand, is every Japanese chef in such control of their senses? I tend to doubt it. But the influence may be deeply rooted in the Japanese pshyche.
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