The Japanese know that life is to be lived in the here and now and not in some afterlife. They know that beauty is peace and glory is in the details. Heaven is not separate from Earth. You can reach it in many different ways that Japanese culture has designed. One of them is Kaiseki.
My family and I have eaten Kaiseki in very formal situations in private dining rooms, such as at Umehana Restaurant in Osaka for Christmas Eve dinner our neighbors treated us to. I am normally vegan, but in Japan it’s difficult to be vegan, as fish is ubiquitous and culturally infused. So, I ate fish while living in Japan.
When living in Japan, I was talking with a European expat friend one day about Japan’s immpecable aesthetics for food and dish ware. Food is served with intention, attention and is immaculate in presentation, even at the simplest restaurant or shop.
While visiting the U.S.A. where my friend’s family were being transferred, popcorn at a restaurant was served to them in a styrofoam bowl. It was shocking, she said, how it killed the appetite for the food without the accompanying attention to beauty, presentation and reverence for that which is about to be eaten. It’s like missing half the joy of eating.
In Japan eating is a whole different and experience of awakening the senses to the present moment. Styrofoam is blasphemy, at least in traditional Japan, as well as alienation from Nature’s nourishment. The Earth’s bounty and human artisan skills laid before you are a vehicle of mindful awakening to you pitch you into heaven while staying embodied on earth.
For this reason, Kaiseki is one of my favorite ways to eat. Japan’s form of traditional haute cuisine is typically served in a variety of situations and usually in eight or more courses. Each menu is created according to the seasons and includes all seven tastes, a lot like ayurveda. Each dish is prepared with exquisite attention and artistic detail adorned in minute garnishes presented in fine dishes by attentive staff.
Mindless consumption is common in the West with giant portions, but Japanese eating is served in small portions that fill you up on experience, sensual delight and satisfaction as if you ate much more. And you did. You feasted on pure art and getting close to satori, at least my tastebuds and body thought so!