Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

December 9, 2013

Endangered food

Japan food seeks heritage gong as young spurn rice

(Continued)

"Japanese food is so beautiful to look at," he said. "But it takes a lot of time. People are working and busy, and no longer have that kind of time."

The exodus from washoku is apparent at Taiwa Gakuen, a Kyoto-based school for chefs, where the biggest number of students wants to learn Italian cuisine, followed by French, and interest in washoku is growing only among overseas students.

Seiji Tanaka, who heads the school, hopes the UNESCO decision expected at meeting in Azerbaijan this week will help draw Japanese people back to tradition.

"It's endangered," he said.

Tanaka believes the survival of washoku is critical because it's linked with what he sees as the spirit of Japan, especially the family.

"The 'wa' in washoku means harmony," he said.

In proper Japanese dining, the phrase "itadakimasu," or "I am going to receive this," is uttered, preferably in unison, at the beginning of a meal; "gochisousama," or "thank you for the meal," ends it.

Different from saying grace, the custom expresses gratitude not only to the chef but for the blessing of having food on the table — the grace of nature.

But even washoku experts say you shouldn't feel guilty about not eating it three times a day.

Kumakura swears eating with chopsticks — daintily picking each bite-size serving, never piercing — is a symbol of Japanese-ness. But he acknowledges he often has toast and eggs for breakfast.

"Just please try to have washoku at least once a day," he said with a laugh.

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