KYO design

English translation is Mardi Robinson   

 Japanese Culture

The Essence of「和」

   和, pronounced , means Japan. If one is to discuss the rich culture of Japan, a thorough understanding of is indispensable. It must be noted that it carries a more complex meaning than just another name for the Land of the Rising Sun. For example, it could mean to meld together, to match, or to mix. It also could imply softness, camaraderie, harmony, and tranquility. When the sum total is equivalent to its worth, this is also an expression of . Yamoto, a name for ancient Japan, grew and developed into Japanese style, form, Japaneseness. In modern times, to say made in Japan equivocates to something of the highest degree of excellence.    The Chinese character can be broken down into two components. The first one, like a voice being carried out, is 口(read )which literally translates into mouth. The second half comes from the radical, 禾(read )which sounds the same as the character, 加(also read as ), meaning to add onto. Because of this, can also be interpreted as “supplementing the choir with voices.” Within the phonetic, syllabary the symbol わ, pronounced  is actually, a cursive version of the 和‘s radical on the right side, 口(). This is created by the rectangular shape becoming rounded. The cursive script that serves as the origin of  characters is created with fast brush strokes, causing the characters to take on a more curved shape that is characteristic of . Coincidentally, Japanese’s other syllabary known for its brisk, sharp lines called ’s symbol for the sound (ワ)also traces its roots to the exact same radical as its  counterpart. In the same way 口became simplified into ワ. Instead of rounding out like わ, it became triangular and thus the shape it is today.  There is another important character to keep in mind when thinking about Japanese culture, and that is 輪(read ). Even though it carries the meanings of ring, round, or wheel, the pronunciation is and as a result many Japanese people find 輪 and 和 to overlap. During the Olympics, the 5 interconnecting rings are called the 5輪()in Japan. Yet, even though it is true that visually the rings provoke the image of harmony and unity, just by coincidence, the very components of the word  carry with it the essence of the previously discussed 和 simply by the nature of 和 and 輪 sharing the same pronunciation.    In 604 CE, while England experienced a period known as the Heptarchy during late antiquity, Prince Shotuku created Japan’s first constitution dubbed “The 17 Article Constitution”. The first article roughly translates to “Carry out importance of Harmony(和)while avoiding wanton opposition.” In this case, “wanton opposition” refers to things such as disobedience, conflict, and disorder. In simpler terms, things that upset the harmony are best avoided. Article 1 of Japan’s first constitution encourages that the be treasured. This essence of  from ancient Japan serves as one of the most important concepts that create the basic foundation of Japanese culture.    The character for  is also used in the writing of 大和(pronounced Yamato), one of the earliest known periods in Japan. It is just one of many examples that illustrate the pertinence of .  On the island of Japan, the geography lends itself to a narrow set of islands that run north to south, but not much east to west. Open fields are scarce, rain is plenty, and the four seasons are distinct. The Yamato people who were to become the dominant culture were primarily agricultural. Like England, Japan is quite not attached to the main continent. The country’s borders don’t extend to the mainland and, unlike England and France, Japan is quite removed from the Korean peninsula so foreign invasion was scarce. For the residents of this island, nearby food for harvest was plenty and the oceans were flourishing with fresh fish and seafood so the people of Japan didn’t need to live a nomadic lifestyle.    Because the agricultural lifestyle of ancient Japan involved people gathering in the small patches of arable land, the population density was relatively high, and, as a result, the concept of became invaluable. If someone disturbed the harmonious environment, then the already limited land would become difficult to live in, and thus cause many problems for the residents of Ancient Japan. In addition, farming requires large amounts of group work so the concept of got emphasized to the point that where over time it became praised in the constitution and the spirit of engrained into the hearts of Japanese people.    Another resulting factor that stems from , is the thought that acting arrogantly or selfishly, could result in distancing oneself from the main group. Therefore the ideology of avoiding standing out was also created. Many words like (vagueness), (dependence), chijimi (miniaturization mindset), haji(humility)(silence)to name a few, are also can trace their roots to the concept of .    There also exists this juxtaposition between the beauty of the four seasons, the richness of nature and natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Throughout all four seasons these threats exist so the ability to deal with threats from nature meant that the devising a means to limit the impact of these threats was a must. As a result the traits like earnestness, dexterity, striving for improvement became acquired by Japanese society. These blessings and curses from nature led Japanese people to believe that these were all from a range gods (some venture to say the number of gods there were/ are in ancient Japan number as high as 900). A slight tangent I want to briefly discuss about is why some theorize the Japanese leaned towards polytheism rather than monotheism like the Judeo-Christian tradition. Simply put, it was difficult to comprehend that the god you brings rain that nourishes crops and the got that brings the drought that kills them are one and the same. To think that the job of bringing sunlight to ripen the crops and the job of bringing wind to spoil them are that of the same god was, in retrospect, unthinkable. There for there is both a god of rain and a god of sun. Animism can be used to describe much of this earlier Japanese religion.    One last point I want to make in this short introduction to the essence of Japanese culture is the permeating awareness amongst Japanese that they live on an island country. To the west is the large Continent of Asia. From there a large influx of culture entered the country through places like China and Korea. Western influences entered in a similar fashion. Over a long period of time these influences came to leave a lasting impression. Chinese characters, Buddhism, and more became the groundwork of the flourishing Japanese culture that is known today. For a long time, foreign countries heavily influenced Japan so characteristics from Western influences also found their way into Japan.

Japanese Cuisine

   Taking a step back from the regular discourse of Japanese cuisine, we here at HaFu design would like to offer you our own, unique explanation. Common knowledge has it that Rice is a staple food in Japan, and as such, and meals center on this lovely grain. To compliment the rice a hodge-podge of side dishes known as  were created. The Chinese character for is represented by「お数」or “number.” Often little kids complain that there’s not enough . But  were not meant to be the main course, but rather serve as a means to an end for making eating fun and delicious!    In Japan, people sometimes call rice  or main food. Udon, soba, somen, ramen, and other starchy foods are also called . Then, the side dishes known as serve as in the form of vegetables, fish, meat, ect. The interaction of the main()and side dishes()are a special characteristic of Japanese cuisine. In the style of cooking, this gets switched, and instead of having rice or another starchy  as the centerpiece of the meal, a large number of various are presented elegantly in small dishes. The amount of rice is comparativelty small and sometimes none at all in Kaiseki cooking. Donburi, on the other hand, is a good example where the and have a balanced interplay. The fukushoku are laid over a bet of rice. Dishes like udon, soba, or ramen put the shushoku and fukushoku together in a soup. However, in dishes like (soba noodles and a light dipping sauce), might not appear at all appear at all. Okonomiyaki, a food Osaka is famous for, combines rice flour(the ), cabbage, and other together into a savory pancake.    Japan’s connection to rice is strong. In fact, there are two words in Japanese for rice. Uncooked rice is called  while cooked rice is called . If you wanted to say that you were going to cook rice in Japanese you would say “ ” even if you haven’t cooked it yet. The word  because it implies that the final product is cooked rice. However, if you want to say that you’re going to say the same thing with a different verb like (to steam rice), and you haven’t cooked the rice yet, then either or is fine. Eg: .    Japan is an island country that runs north to south. It contains many mountains and four distinct seasons. As a result, the seafood and mountain vegetables are rich. On the flip side of the coin, Japan’s geography is also why Japanese people will eat just about anything. Sashimi made from raw fish is a dish that’s world renown. Did you know that Japanese people also eat octopus and sea cucumber? Even though there are people with food allergies or who are vegetarian, almost everyone enjoys eating the variety of Japanese cuisine so there’s not much that Japanese people feel like they need avoid. The reason for this probably lies in driving force which is the prevalence and frequency of seafood that make its way into meals from the time they are born. Therefore, if you have any allergies or eating restrictions, be careful. Japanese people don’t harbor ill will, but often are unaware of such dietary restrictions and will not cook food with them in mind.    When Japanese people order at an American or Italian restaurant, they find the portion size to be laughably large. Yet, many Italians and Americans who come here find the portions to be distastefully small. Many think it’s not enough food. Regardless how true that stereotype holds, many Japanese people request for extra (rice/ noodles/ ect) when they feel that their meal was not filling enough.    In a crowded restaurant, you might find yourself sharing a table with strangers. Although probably considered strange in some countries, this idea of tolerance for others(like the group of strangers you might find sitting next to you in a bustling ), is also an expression of the previously discussed . By accepting  while you’re in Japan, even simple excursions to lunch can become enjoyable. One more reason as to why shared seating often found in restaurants in Japan is due to a concept called , or connections. There is a concept of past life. There also is the concept of , or connections. The two are thought to play an important role in people’s lives by bringing them together or tearing them apart. Who knows, if you try talking to the person next to you, maybe you’ll hit it off and you’ll find yourself making new friends and business connections before you know it. You should try it next time you eat out.    Lately, food from outside Japan known as , literally Western cuisine is popular. However, this does not refer to food imported from Asia like curry or ramen. In that case, the word or (literally Chinese cooking)is used instead. It should also be noted that unless curry or other Asian cuisine is distinctly labeled as “Indian Curry” it is actually a Japanese rendition of the dish. Even with western foods like the hamburger acquire a Japanese twist at fast food chains like Mos Burger where you can find rice buns in place of traditional bread.    What is one of the main components of Japanese cooking you might ask? That, my friend, is soy sauce. There are many varieties and flavors to be found in Japan. They serve as both the undertones of a dish, or a way in which to add an extra splash of flavor to a dish by simply pouring it on top of the food. It’s so common, that Japanese people sometimes take with them on trips. Many people say they do this so they can cover up the tastes of foreign cuisines that don’t suit their taste. With soy sauce, in one simple dash the essence of Japanese cuisine can be applied virtually anywhere. There’s even powdered soy sauce that’s easy to carry around. How about buying one as a souvenir?