By Hiroyuki Yoneyama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThis series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. In this installment, we investigate the present situation at the dining table.
Serving every item of food on one plate — a style known in Japanese as a “one-plate” dish — is in fashion at Japanese tables these days, taking over from the traditional way of serving each item separately on Japanese tableware.
At the table of a 38-year-old female company employee in Tokyo, a blue porcelain plate or a white plastic plate with sectioned-off areas is served to each of her family members. A meal on an evening in early June included deep-fried aji horse mackerel marinated in a sweet and sour sauce (nanbanzuke), sauteed shredded burdock, simmered hijiki seaweed and other foods, which were all served neatly on one plate, along with white rice. Instant miso soup in a mug sat next to each plate.
“Washoku often comes with many small dishes, making it inconvenient to serve and clean up,” she said. “With one plate, I can prepare a total of six plates and mugs for three family members. It’s so easy to clean up.”
After she got married, she initially served food in bowls and on small dishes, she said. But after having a baby girl, she returned to work and juggled child-rearing and a job, making her want to cut back on housework. She uses a plate and mug set almost every day now — a mug is generally heavier on the bottom than a Japanese soup bowl, which helps her daughter spill things less often, she said.
In 2015, the Loft Co., a Tokyo-based company that operates variety stores, began full-scale sales of a 25-centimeter-wide plate, which is slightly bigger than conventional plates so it can hold one whole meal.
The company has been working with Kikkoman Corp. to promote the “Wa-n Plate” (“wa” uses the same kanji as in washoku) campaign since 2016, providing recipes via social media of one-soup-three-dish menus, as well as tips on where to place food on a plate, on a regular basis. The recipes introduced use Kikkoman’s “Uchi-no-Gohan” cooking sauce series.
Loft’s shelves used to have only 50 kinds of large plates when it began selling these types of products, but it now sells 190, with 2017 sales reaching 2.4 times those of 2015. Wooden plates and flat dishes with Japanese-inspired designs are popular, according to the company.
Baika Women’s University Associate Prof. Shoko Higashiyotsuyanagi, who specializes in comparative food culture, said such a trend is inevitable as more working women try to save on labor in order to save time.
“Washoku has been passed down while matching with people’s lifestyles,” she said. “But it’s still necessary to work to create occasions to use Japanese tableware to be aware of the basics of its use.”
Concerned about the trend in which people are shying away from using traditional Japanese tableware, some groups have started passing down tableware traditions.
In late May, Seiji Ebihara, an employee at the sales development department of Sanshin Kako Co., a Tokyo-based tableware maker for school meals, went to Mukogawa Women’s University in Hyogo Prefecture to give a lecture. A set consisting of bowls and square plates, among other tableware, was laid out on students’ desks. The set is necessary to serve one bowl of soup and three side dishes — a style known as ichiju-sansai.
“Washoku is made for people to enjoy each dish,” Ebihara said. “The idea helped preserve the style of ichiju-sansai, whereby items of food are served separately on different tableware.
“Japanese people used to sit on tatami mats to dine, and the eating style prompted them to hold their dish in their hand to eat,” he continued. “The custom eventually brought about a culture in which tableware itself is appreciated.”
Sanshin Kako leases Japanese tableware to elementary schools in Tokyo and holds events that offer participants the opportunity to sit on their heels on a mat to eat washoku school meals.
“The style of washoku may change if the use of tableware changes,” Ebihara said. “I hope [the approach] to choose tableware based on the seasons and people who use them will be respected.”
Recipe for cold udon
Noodles and other food served in bowls make a typical Japanese “one-dish” meal.
Ingredients (serves 2):
2 packets of udon noodles, boiled
1 small tomato
100 grams pork belly (sliced for shabu-shabu)
2 onsen tamago soft-boiled eggs
200 cc mentsuyu noodle soup
Moderate amount of dried bonito flakes
1. Boil water in a pot and cook udon. Take udon out and wash in a colander with cold water. Don’t throw out the hot water used to cook the noodles.
2. Turn up the heat and boil the water again. Put pork in the water to boil and drain.
3. Cut cucumber into strips and cut tomato into wedges.
4. Arrange udon, pork, vegetables and soft-boiled egg on a serving plate. Pour mentsuyu over the food and sprinkle bonito flakes on top.
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