Edo Period Tea Ceremonies, Kaiseki Ryori Cuisine & Bento BoxesKatachiware Japanese Style Tableware
Edo Period Tea Ceremonies: Japan has a long history of preserving its traditions and heritage, and the Edo period (1603–1867) is regarded as the golden era of Japanese cuisine. For the first time in hundreds of years the country was under political stability, internal peace was maintained, and economic growth thrived under shogunate Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rule and with it, Japan’s tea house culture flourished.
Formal tea gatherings (chaji, 茶事), influenced by Zen Buddhism were performed and held in purpose-built tea houses (Chashitsu, 茶室). Crowded with patrons gathered to forget their worries, feeling connected with nature they indulged in extravagant tea ceremonies while discussing recent events. Decorations such as tatami mats, lacquerware, sake products, artwork and flower arrangements were on display and all played an integral part in the Japanese tea ceremony experience.
As a sign of tea house owners’ hospitality towards their guests, light meals were prepared following Washoku (Japanese-style) principles which is synonymous with the Japanese cuisine that we know today. Dishes varied depending on the season and occasion. Theatrically arranged and beautifully presented in lavish bento boxes they included a taste of the local cuisine and came together to create a unique experience.
Meals were prepared in ways that aim to entice the patron’s sensory experience. Japanese trained Itamae (chefs) arranged ingredients based on the five principles of Japanese Buddhism, earth, fire, water, wind, and energy. The five principles of Japanese cuisine originate in ‘shojin ryori’, a style of culture that has been around for more than 800 years include;
- Goshiki (Five colours) red, white, green, yellow, and black.
- Gomi (Five tastes) salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.
- Goho (Five cooking methods) cutting, simmering, grilling, steaming and deep-frying.
- Gokan(Five senses) sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.
- Gosei (Five reflections) thou must not go against sincerity, not felt ashamed of thy words and deeds, not lacked vigour, exerted all possible efforts and must not become slothful.
The menu included a balance of taste and textures including appetisers, rice, pickled or simmered vegetables, premium sushi, grilled meats, fish, and soup made from hearty and warming miso to wash the meal down. Delicacies were preserved with salt, mirin, and sugar while herbs, ginger, wasabi, bamboo leaves and edible leaves or flowers were arranged in the boxes to aid in preservation, presentation and taste. Following is one of many meals that were served during tea ceremonies.
The concept of serving food in bento boxes is cultivated from an ancient, traditional Japanese cuisine, Kaiseki-Ryori (懐石料理). Originating in Kyoto, dishes were served in courses that evolved into the formal Japanese tea ceremony dishes that leads the way in the Japanese tea-drinking culture. Also called Kaiseki dining it is a form of multi-course Japanese haute (high class) cooking that consists of multiple highly visual courses, each of which includes a selection of beautifully presented foods that make it a cultural and culinary experience that was only possible in Japan.
Kaiseki, which can include many courses, is a perfect blend of food and spectacle. Many have compared kaiseki to ‘eating art’, certainly the exceptional attention to detail not just in preparing the food but also in presenting it perfectly may give the impression of being given a piece of art rather than a meal.
Tea ceremonies were and still are today an integral part of Japan’s traditional culture, having been introduced during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), along with Zen Buddhism’s teachings they were the period’s cutting-edge culture. Held at certain times of the day or season and served differently depending on the season and time. Winter’s early morning, summer’s morning, afternoon tea ceremony and winter’s late-night tea ceremony. Season changes were considered important for the enjoyment of tea and the tea ceremony.
Later on, meals served in bento developed into a sophisticated art form that was synonymous with high-class Japanese culture. A refined and elegant dining style that was adopted by Kyoto’s Imperial Court aristocrats and military nobles. Served Shidashi bento (made in a restaurant and delivered) in exquisite lacquerware bento boxes with absolute attention to detail.