The last time I was in Japan was so long ago, this recent trip was as if I was visiting the country for the first time. I was staying with a friend from college who had settled in Japan and now taught in Tsukuba University in the city of the same name. Tsukuba is known as the science city and is proud of its forward-thinking ventures which include, among other things, robotics.
It was through my friend that I got to interview Ichikawa Sensei, an art professor who also has a keen interest in yokai, or Japanese monsters. The interview ended at dusk, so the only thing we could think about on the way home was food. We decided to grab dinner at the neighborhood supermarket.
I was puzzled. A meal at a supermarket? In my experience, that mostly meant sad, lackluster dishes that had given up hope of ever having a meaningful existence. I was assured that in Japan, this was not the case.
Have a look:
Everything was beautifully packaged and looked fresh. We picked a sushi tray to share, and I got a salmon set. Everything was delicious, and fresh, too. A far cry from the supermarket meals of my memory.
I would go on to realize that there was an art to Japanese home cooking, one that prized freshness of ingredients, a harmony of flavors, and nutritional value of the entire meal. The practice is called washoku, and it’s the principle behind those cute bento boxes people like to admire. I was so enamored of the concept that I wrote about in my column on Spot.Ph.
In Japan, mealtimes are sacred, and every dish is treated with respect. Thus, even convenience store buys become little bastions of deliciousness, and supermarket meals reach the height of their best form: that of fresh, nutritious, reasonably priced meals that feed the belly without killing the soul.