Banquets Against Boredom: Towards Understanding (Samurai) Cuisine in Early Modern Japan

Early modern japan was around (ca. late 16th to late 19th century) The period spanned roughly 250 years extending from the 17th century through half of the 19th century. Politically, this generally corresponds with the Edo period.

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 21.01.12Edo-period samurai

During the Edo period only samurai were allowed to carry weapons, life was ordered according to strict Confucian principals of duty and family loyalty, and people were restricted to their villages and only allowed to leave on special holidays or to visit special shrines.

There were also rigid caste-like rules that defined what people could wear eat and eat. Social status was defined by birth and social mobility was prohibited. The result of all this was peace, stability and flourishing of sanctioned arts such as kabuki, haiku poetry, ceramics, lacquerware, painting and weaving but little freedom.

People were told the size and kind of house they could live in, based on class and rank more than wealth. Farmers, no matter how rich, could not have grander homes than low-ranking samurai who often owed money to the farmers.

The Tokugawa passed a strict dress code, forbidding merchants from wearing embroidered silk, to cub inflationary spending and keep a lid on social pretension. People were told the designs and materials to use for their the clothes they wore and objects the used. There were even rules that designated the food people ate and the dates when people were supposed to change from their winter clothes to their summer clothes. Even horses needed identity cards to move around.

There was little tolerance for criminals and lawbreakers.

EARLY MODERN JAPAN 2008 by Eric C. Rath

“The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and
every day; they go hand in hand with all our
other pleasures, outlast them, and remain to
console us for their loss.”
—Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin,
The Physiology of Taste2

Recent definitions of “Japanese cuisine”
designate it as a modern category and imply that
there was nothing similar in the early modern
period (1600–1868), but is that necessarily the
case? Certainly the words for Japanese cuisine
(washoku, Nihon ryōri) are no older than the
Meiji period (1868–1912), appearing during a
time of rapid modernization as a response to new
notions of national identity, political cohesion,
and as a way to differentiate native cooking
practices from newly introduced foreign ones.3
According to culinary historian Katarzyna
Cwiertka, what became “Japanese cuisine” grew
out of a fusion of native and imported
The author appreciates the comments provided
by Morgan Pitelka, Phil Brown and the
anonymous readers on an earlier draft of this
manuscript called “The Sole of the Samurai:
Warrior Diet and Cuisine in Premodern Japan.”
Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin, The
Physiology of Taste, trans. by Anne Drayton
(New York and London: Penguin Books, 1970),
p. 13.
Words referencing regional cuisines, such as
Kyō ryōri, the famous local cuisine of Kyoto, are
also modern, coined to establish a contrast with
the category of national cuisine in the same
period. Murai Yasuhiko, ed., Kyō ryōri no
rekishi, vol. 4 of Shiriizu shokubunka no hakken
(Shibata shoten, 1979), p. v.
ingredients and methods of cooking that
signified “an imagined national identity and
cultural homogeneity” lacking in the early
modern period.4
From this standpoint, “cuisine”
in early modern Japan can only be defined in
negative terms by what was absent. Cwiertka,
while recognizing a “differentiated gastronomy”
in urban areas, nevertheless describes diet in the
early modern period as “austere” and
monotonous—in other words boring—in contrast
to the variety of foods available in Japan today, a
view echoed by other culinary historians.5
But before we dismiss cuisine in early
modern Japan entirely it might be useful to think
more about other meanings of the term besides
inextricably linking it with modernity. Another
approach to cuisine is to put aside references to
traits that would have been anachronistic for the
early modern period and look for other ways that
cooking and eating generated meanings. Even by
Cwiertka’s definition it is not just cooking
techniques and ingredients that designate a
cuisine, it is also about the ability of foods to
evoke cultural meanings like national identity.
Examining the foodways of early modern Japan
to fully explore this definition of cuisine is
beyond the scope of this article, but sampling
even one meal exemplifying the banqueting
customs of elite samurai suggests evidence of a
sophisticated system of culinary rules used to
transform foods into “message bearing objects.”6
Ordinary diet for samurai of all ranks from
shogun to footmen (ashigaru) was indeed boring
in contrast to the modern Japanese diet as the
second part of this article recounts, but banquets
allowed elite warriors such as daimyo and
shoguns to partake in a highly refined culinary
experience in which the symbolic meanings of
the dishes provided a rich subtext for the dining
Katarzyna, J. Cwiertka, Modern Japanese
Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity
(London: Reaktion Books, 2006), p. 12.
5 Cwiertka, p. 95; see, for example, see Naomichi Ishige, The History and Culture of Japanese
Food (London, New York: Kegan Paul, 2001), p.
Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The
Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York:
Viking, 1985), p. 89.
experience. These dishes may not have
referenced an imagined national identity but they
did evoke other culinary meanings important to
their consumers.
This was the case on the eighteenth day of
the fourth month in 1630 when Shogun
Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604–1651) visited the
mansion of the Shimazu daimyo house in Edo.
The style of eating, the foods served, and the
manner of the visit itself resonated in wider
cultural traditions known for centuries among
elite warriors that gradually disseminated to
other social groups in the Edo period through
published culinary books (ryōribon). The
Shimazu offered a menu that not only contained
many rare delicacies and bespoke of great luxury
and high status, it also referenced Buddhism,
five agent theory (gogyō), and Chinese legends;
it evoked connections to the Ashikaga shoguns
of the Muromachi period (1336–1573), and even
demonstrated a degree of playfulness. This menu
illustrates how cuisine can be defined without
reference to nationalism as sociologist Priscilla
Clark stated in the context of her research on
early modern France: “cuisine is food
transcended, nature transformed in a social
product, an aesthetic artifact, and linguistic
creation, a cultural tradition.”7
Cuisine, in other
words, carries special artistic and cultural
meanings that differentiate it from mundane acts
of food creation and consumption. We can best
understand how cuisine in early modern Japan
functioned in this way by interpreting the 1630
banquet in reference to culinary manuscripts
(ryōrisho), created by and for the class of chefs
called hōchōnin responsible for creating these
types of banquets for samurai, along with
published culinary writings (ryōribon) written by
hōchōnin and other authors. Doing so will allow
us to define cuisine in the early modern period
provisionally as a repertoire of techniques to
enable food to take on special meanings
distinguished from ordinary acts of consumption
and significant to participants in important
Priscilla P. Clark, “Thoughts for Food I: French
Cuisine and French Culture,” The French Review
49.1 (1975): 32–41, p. 32.
Iemitsu’s Visitation to the Shimazu
Following centuries-old customs, on the
eighteenth day of the fourth month of 1630, the
daimyo of Satsuma domain, Shimazu Iehisa
(1576–1638), hosted a visit by Shogun Iemitsu in
the Satsuma mansion in Edo, entertaining him
with a tea ceremony, a banquet, noh theater, and
music from the Ryūkyū Islands. The chef
(hōchōnin) responsible for creating this banquet,
Ishihara Sadomori (d. 1648), recorded the event
and a subsequent visit three days later by the
retired shogun Tokugawa Hidetada (1579–1632)
in Record of the Shogunal Tea Ceremony and
Visitation (Osuki onari no ki).9
The menu for
both of these visits was almost identical and both
followed the custom of shogunal visitations
(onari) that began in the Kamakura period and
crystallized in the Muromachi era when the
shogun formally visited his chief retainers and
prominent Buddhist temples by invitation or
annually. Visitations in the Muromachi period
lasted from the early afternoon around 2:30 PM
and ended in the mid-morning the next day
around 10:00 AM. They began with a meeting
between the host and guest in a private room
decorated in the shinden style of the mansions of
Heian-period aristocrats. The host greeted the
guest with a special drinking ceremony called
the “three formal rounds of drinks” (shikisankon)
described below. After that the host and the
shogun exchanged gifts such as swords and
saddles.10 Then the group retired to a larger
“public” room (kaisho) for a banquet. Typically
alcohol was served before the banquet for the
shikisankon but not during it. However, further
rounds of drinking followed the meal along with
the exchange of more presents such as swords,
For a more extensive discussion of cuisine in
early modern Japan, see Eric C. Rath, Food and
Fantasy in Early Modern Japan (forthcoming).
The culinary customs of the Shimazu house are
well documented by Ego Michiko, Daimyō no
kurashi to shoku (Dōseisha, 2002); her
description of Iemitsu’s 1630 visitation appears
on pp. 10–15, with the menu itself on pp. 11–13.
10 Kumakura Isao, Nihon ryōri bunkashi: kaiseki
o chūshin ni (Kyoto: Jinbun shoin, 2002), p. 156.
imported artifacts, and robes. After a rest and
perhaps a bowl of tea, the shogun returned to the
main room to enjoy noh plays and other
entertainments accompanied with even more
eating and drinking. 11 Thus visitations were
highly structured events providing the shogun a
chance to demonstrate his authority and giving
the daimyo the task of showing their fealty
through their lavish entertainments. The personal
bond between hosts and guests would
presumably be strengthened by the visit. The
retainer may have gained some cultural and
political capital but at the expense of hosting a
costly event.
Tea ceremonies became more prominent
aspects of shogunal visitations in the Edo period
and Iemitsu’s visit to the Shimazu began in the
morning with one featuring its own elaborate
meal. 12 The meal accompanying the tea
ceremony consisted of two trays of food with
additional snacks to be passed around:
Tea ceremony Menu (osukiya gokaiseki)
[First Tray]
Sea bream and bonito (yorigatsuo) flavored
in sake (sakabite) [served with] kumquat
Soup of crane, burdock root, and preserved
matsutake mushrooms (tsukematsutake)
Skylark (hibari) [cooked] in dark soy sauce
Second Tray
Grey-headed lapwing (keri) grilled with salt,
Japanese pepper (sanshō),
and “small greens” (kona)
Fish-paste loaf (kamaboko)
Additional Tray [ohikimono]
Grilled sweet-fish
Soup (oatsumono) of sea bream roe, squid,
mashed tofu flavored with yam and fish
11 Satō Toyozō, “Shōgun no onari to cha no yu,”
in Buke chadō no keifu, ed. Bukeshi dankai
(Perikansha, 1983, pp. 156–77), p. 159.
12 Harada Nobuo, Edo no ryōrishi: ryōribon to
ryōri bunka (Chūō kōronsha, 1989), p. 6
Shōgan no hibo seaweed (nori)
Snacks (osakana)
Tilefish (okitsudai)
Grilled mollusks
Salted dried mullet roe (karasumi)
Sweets (okashi)
Rice cake in a twisted shape (yorimizu)
Persimmons served on a branch
Colored potato (irozuke imo)
[Served with a] toothpick (yōji)
The overall message of this tea menu was
luxury indicative of the elaborate style of
“daimyo tea” not the restrained wabi style of the
adherents of Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591). Rikyū’s
tea meals can be characterized by their structure
of a single soup and three side dishes (ichijū
sansai), but in this case there were two trays with
four side dishes (nijū yonsai) not including the
pickles and another tray with grilled sweetfish on
it.15 Rather than a single meal, Iemitsu’s tea
menu can be thought of as a program of meals in
three stages: the first three trays were served
simultaneously as stage one while the additional
soup (atsumono) and snacks (sakana) were
served later as an accompaniment to sake in the
second stage, later followed by the sweets served
before the tea as a final stage. Another
distinction of this menu was the predominance of
meat dishes, which ran counter to trends in
Rikyū’s wabi style that tended toward vegetarian
meals.16 The dishes served here were also grand
and included freshwater fish, seafood, and game
fowl as well as mullet roe (karasumi) considered
one of the three “superlative delicacies” in the
Edo period.17
By modern standards the sweets (okashi)
served to Iemitsu would not be particularly sweet
compared to those available today since they did
not use much if any sugar, but they did hold
13 Shōgan no hibo, written as shōkan no hiho
here, is a type of seaweed, probably served
grilled as a snack.
14 Ego, pp. 11–12.
15 Kumakura 2002, pp. 27, 29.
16 Harada 1989, p. 17.
17 Richard Hosking, A Dictionary of Japanese
Food: Ingredients and Culture (Rutland, Vt.: C.
E. Tuttle Co., 1996), p. 73.
other significance for the banquet participants.
Despite the Satsuma domain’s dominance of the
sugar trade with the Ryūkyū Islands since their
invasion of those islands in 1609, here the sweets
served remained true to the original definition of
the Japanese word (kashi), meaning fruit. Sugary
sweets, both hard and soft, became popular by
the end of the seventeenth century with the
greater availability of domestic and imported
sugar and the diffusion of confectionery
techniques. It is tempting to hypothesize that the
colored potato was another dish that spoke of
Satsuma’s trade with the Ryūkyūs. Sweet
potatoes called “Satsuma potatos” (Satsuma imo),
originated in Central America or southern
Mexico and arrived in Kyushu either from China
via the Ryūkyū Islands or from the Philippines
by the mid- to early seventeenth century. The
culinary book One Hundred Tricks with Sweet
Potatos (Imo hyakuchin, 1789) contains a recipe
for “dyed potatos” using sweet potato dyed in
five different colors reflecting an alternate name
for this sweet, “five colors” (goshiki).18 Here the
potato is probably not a Satsuma imo or even if it
was, it was probably not referred to by that name.
The sweet potato’s close association with
Satsuma domain dates to a century later when
Dutch-learning scholar Aoki Kon’yō (1698–
1769) undertook trials of the sweet potato in
1735 at the bakufu’s orders and helped to
popularize it in the Kantō area.
19 “Imo” can refer
to a number of different tubers including taro
(sato imo) and yam (yamanoimo). Since this is a
dessert, the imo here is probably a yam. Tales of
Cookery (Ryōri monogatari, 1643) the first
published cookbook and a work closer
historically to Iemitsu’s banquet than Hundred
Tricks with Sweet Potatoes indicates that yams
are good for sweets, while taro should be used
only for savory recipes like soups, simmered
dishes (nimono), pickles, and fish and vegetable
salads (namasu and aemono). Tales of Cookery
18 Imo hyakuchin, in vol. 9 of Nihon ryōri hiden
shūsei, ed. Issunsha (Kyoto: Dōhōsha, 1985), pp.
19 Nishiyama Matsunosuke, et al., eds., Tabemono no nihonshi sōkan (Shinjinbutsu ōraisha,
1994), p. 154.
does not mention any dishes for sweet potato.20
Whatever its principle ingredient, the dyed sweet
prefigures similar five-colored dishes important
to the shikisankon later in the day. The rice cake
served evoked shogunal largesse since it was one
of the sweets presented by the shogun to daimyo,
bannermen (hatamoto), and other bakufu
employees annually on the sixteenth day of the
sixth month in the kajō ceremony. Kajō was a
tremendous demonstration of shogunal largesse
for in a typical year the shogun distributed
almost 21,000 sweets. In Hidetada’s lifetime the
shogun himself personally supervised this task
over the course of several days.21 By serving the
distinct rice cake, if the Shimazu were not subtly
repaying or reminding the shogun for past
generosity, they were at least evoking a special
culinary connection between the shogun and
Of all the dishes served, pride of place at the
tea meal went to the crane soup, a particular luxury especially prized by elite samurai. Said to
live a thousand years—except when killed for a
soup—crane became by the late sixteenth century a dish indispensable for the most formal
warrior banquets. In 1582 warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582) served crane soup to Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616) at a banquet, and in
1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598) introduced crane to the imperial court. Soup appears
to have been a typical way to serve crane, although the blood was also mixed with sake as a
cocktail on some occasions.22 Confucian scholar
Hayashi Razan (1583–1687) stated that drinking
the blood of a white crane was “said to increase
20 Ryōri monogatari, vol. 1 of Nihon ryōri hiden
shūsei, ed. Issunsha (Kyoto: Dōhōsha, 1985), p.
21 For an overview of this ceremony, see Aoki
Naomi, Zusetsu wagashi no konjaku (Tankōsha,
2000), pp. 143–47. By decision of the All Japan
Confectionery Association (Zenkoku wagashi
kyōkai) in 1979, June 16 is now celebrated as
“sweet day” (kashi no hi), Nakayama Keiko,
Wagashi monogatari (Asahi shinbunsha, 1993),
p. 45.
22 Ego, p. 38.
vitality.”23 In the same period as Razan, tea master Endō Genkan (n.d.) published Guide to Meals
for the Tea Ceremony (Cha no yu kondate shinan,
1676), the first book on meals (kaiseki) for tea.
This text contained a recipe for crane soup that
approximates the dish mentioned in Iemitsu’s
menu above except that it is even more lavish.
Endō’s recipe called for “crane in a clear soup
[using the] sinews from the leg, burdock root,
salted matsutake mushrooms, eggplant, shimeji
mushrooms, and greens.” He noted that it was
important to include some leg meat from the
crane so that guests will know immediately that
they were eating crane soup and not some other
bird.24 So important was crane to samurai banqueting customs that the bakufu enacted sumptuary legislation that prohibited commoners from
serving crane and other game fowl at banquets.25
“The Three Formal Rounds of Drinks”
Shogunal visitations in the Muromachi
period began with the “three formal rounds of
drinks,” but this event came after the tea
ceremony in Iemitsu’s visit, following the
pattern set in the Tokugawa period.26 The three
formal rounds of drinks was a toasting ceremony
involving the host and the guest drinking sake
from the same shallow cup (sakazuki). Both
participants drained a cup of sake three times for
each of the three rounds of drinking for a total of
nine cups of sake—or more if the participants
decided to continue drinking. This formal
exchange of drinks between lord and vassal
signified their personal bond, and the same
ceremony was used for weddings. The
23 Hayashi Razan, “Hōchō shoroku,” in Nihon
zuihitsu taisei, vol. 23, first series, ed. Nihon
zuihitsu taisei henshūbu (Yoshikawa kōbunkan,
1976), p. 347.
24 Endō Genkan, “Cha no yu kondate shinan,” in
vol. 11 of Nihon ryōri hiden shūsei, ed. Issunsha
(Kyoto: Dōhōsha, 1985), pp. 29, 95.
25 Donald Shively, “Sumptuary Regulation and
Status in Early Tokugawa Japan,” Harvard
Journal of Asiatic Studies 25 (1964–65), p. 135.
26 The word shikisankon originated in the
Muromachi period as did the rules for it,
Kumakura 2002, p. 142.
shikisankon usually occurred in a private room
appropriately decorated for the occasion with
armor and Chinese art objects. Accompanying
the sake were snacks (sakana), traditionally
konbu seaweed, dried chestnuts, and dried
abalone.27 These foods could not be eaten in the
form they were served, and they were instead
surreptitiously dropped into a kimono sleeve or
wrapped in paper if they were touched at all. The
shikisankon menu for Iemitsu offered a more
formal variation of these symbolic snacks in the
form of the “five varieties of offerings” and it
also included a few edible delicacies.
First Round
Pheasant [served on a] tortoise shaped dish
Rice cake soup (ozōni)
“Five varieties of offerings” (goshu)
Salt (oteshio)
Second Round
Grilled salt-cured fish (shiobiki)
Grilled “hawk’s wing” [sea bream] (taka no
ha sen)
Dried Cod
Third Round
Dried salted mullet roe (karasumi)
Whole grilled young “winged” sea bass (Shin
hane sen)
Dried rolled squid (makizurume)
The menu here demonstrates playfulness in
its clever use of flight imagery on each of the
three trays. In addition to the pheasant on the
first tray, two of the fish served on the second
and third trays reference birds. One was a variety
of sea bream said to resemble the wings of a
hawk and the other used the nickname “winged”
for young sea bass because of the misconception
that they could jump through the surface of the
water.28 Traveling over water may have been a
27 Ogura Kumeo, Komatsuzaki Takeshi, Hatae
Keiko, eds., Nihon ryōri gyōji, shikitari daijiten,
vol. 2 (Purosatâ, 2003), p. 161.
28 Editors’ notation to Complete Manual of
Cuisine for Our School (Tōryū setsuyō ryōri
taizen, 1714), Shijō Takashima, Tōryū setsuyō
reference to Satsuma’s trade with the Ryūkyūs a
connection reinforced by the Ryukyuan musicians who entertained the guests later in the day.
And the rolled squid may have continued the
flight imagery as it was sometimes shaped into
the form of butterflies, albeit that was a motif
usually reserved for weddings: two butterflies
representing the couple’s future happiness together.29
The pheasant, rice cake soup (zōni), and
“five varieties of offerings” (goshu) were a set
for the first round of a shikisankon according to
Secret Text on Carving and Cuisine (Ryōri kirikata hidensho, 1659), the first published treatise
on warrior banquet cuisine. That text indicates
that crane was once served cut into pieces and
served on decorative paper, but that the dish later
changed to pheasant served with one of its feet
protruding from a pile of its sliced meat. The
sliced fowl accompanies “the five offerings,”
which were also called “shaved foods” (kezurimono), indicating five piles of finely sliced
meats each of a different color. Although the
contents of the five piles of shaved foods are not
delineated in the menu for Iemitsu, Secret Writing on Carving and Cuisine indicates that they
represent “tortoises from the island of the immortals” (hōrai no kame), signifying ten thousand years of happiness. The same text further
describes how these five varieties of things
should be arranged on a plate into five piles according to their different colors:
ryōri taizen, in vol. 3 of Nihon ryōri hiden shūsei,
ed. Issunsha (Kyoto: Dōhōsha, 1985), p. 148.
29 Nakamura Kōhei, Shinban nihon ryōri
gogenshū (Asahiya shuppan, 2004), p. 640.
Paper butterflies were also affixed to bottles of
sake used at weddings for the same reason that
these signified felicity, William Lindsey,
Fertility and Pleasure: Ritual and Sexual Values
in Tokugawa Japan (Honolulu: University of
Hawai’i Press, 2007), p. 83. Complete Manual of
Cuisine for Our School contains a recipe for
makizurume that calls for washing the squid,
tossing it in kudzu starch, rolling it up in a rice
mat, boiling it, and then cutting it into pieces,
Shijō Takashima, Tōryū setsuyō ryōri taizen, p.
yellow black
red green
Secret Writing on Carving and Cuisine indicates, “These [piles] are placed inside tortoiseshaped dishes. The pheasant is also placed inside
a tortoise dish. The five [piles of] things go to the
left of the rice cake soup and the diced fowl [i.e.,
the pheasant] is to their right.”30 Here too the
ingredients for the kezurimono are left unstated
but these appear in an older text on warrior custom and banqueting ritual Ise Sadayori’s Sōgō
ōzoshi (ca. 1529). Sadayori, a specialist in warrior traditions from a long family line of experts
in that topic, states:
Use conger eel (hamu, [hamo]) for the color
white. Bonito is for the color red.
Black is made from dried sea cucumber.
Green is shark. Yellow is dried squid.
It is best to slice these finely. One ought to
alternate male and female forms.
The reference to “male” piles of meats as opposed to “female” ones is evocative but cryptic.
Sadayori is clearer in this assertion that the kezurimono, which he also called the “islands of the
immortals” (tekake), “represent Mount
Sumeru.”31 Sumeru, the center point of the Buddhist cosmos, was a mountain said to be wider at
the top than at its base. Here Mt. Sumeru is offered in five different forms, in male and female
manifestations. This recalls customs of religious
offerings such as the large piles of dyed rice
called shishiki and some wake served annually
for the wakamiya festival at Kasuga Shrine in
Nara.32 Both the shishiki and the some wake are
30 Ryōri kirikata hidensho, vol. 1 of Honkoku
Edo jidai ryōribon shūsei, ed. Edo Jidai Ryōribon Kenkyūkai (Kyoto: Rinsen shoten, 1978), pp.
31 Ise Sadayori, Sōgō ōzoshi, ed. Hanawa Hokinoichi, in Gunsho ruijū, vol. 22 (Zoku gunsho
ruijū kanseikai, 1959–60), p. 566.
32 For a description of the food offerings at the
wakamiya festival see Iwai Hiromi and Niwa
approximately fifteen centimeters in height and
served as a set in green, yellow, red, and white
colors. The “four colors” (shishiki) are four piles
of rice in solid colors whereas the some wake are
piles of rice divided into four different colors.
The kezurimono were miniature versions of these
religious offerings, measuring 1.5–1.8 cm (5–6
bu) according to the culinary treatise Culinary
Text of the Yamanouchi House (Yamanouchi ry-
ōrisho) compiled in 1497.33 Though tiny, the
above descriptions indicate that the dishes were
rich in symbolism evoking Shinto offerings,
Buddhist cosmology, and Chinese folklore.
The Shinto offerings at Kasuga shrine traditionally had four colors, but the addition of a
black dish for the kezurimono indicates a fivecolor combination (goshiki) an artistic motif
found in the curtains on noh stages and one important to five agent theory, a connection that
expanded the meanings of the kezurimono and
the dishes served with it even further. Each of the
five colors represents one of the five agents.
White stands for metal, black for water, green for
wood, red for fire, and yellow for earth. Besides
these agents, each of the colors also represents a
direction, a season, a taste, and an internal organ.34 One plate of food thus signifies the external and internal universe and everything within it.
The five-color combination also connected
the kezurimono with the other dishes on the tray.
There were five colors on the wings of a pheasant according to Hayashi Razan, giving the bird
a decorative function.35 The dyed potato sweet
served in the earlier tea ceremony and the rice
cake soup also probably contained five colors.36
The recipe for rice cake soup in Ryōri monogatari calls for a stock made from miso or clear
stock (dried bonito flakes, konbu and salt) and
Yūju, Shinsen: kami to hito no kyōen (Hōsei
daigaku shuppankyoku, 2007), pp. 337–45.
33 Yamanouchi ryōrisho in vol. 18 of Nihon ryōri
hiden shūsei, ed. Issunsha (Kyoto: Dōhōsha,
1985), p. 76.
34 Ogura et al, 2003, vol. 2, p. 290.
35 Hayashi Razan, Hōchō shoroku, p. 348.
36 Modern recipes for zōni, though varied, usually preserve this five color symbolism in their
ingredients, Matsushita Sachiko, Iwai no shokubunka (Tokyo bijutsu sensho, 1994), p. 96.
[white / yellow] rice cake, taro, and daikon,
[black] dried sea cucumber intestine (iriko), abalone on skewers, large flakes of dried [red] bonito (hiragatsuo), and green shoots (kukitachi)—
enough varied ingredients to suggest a five-color
combination.37 About a century later, another
member of the Ise family of experts on warrior
protocol Sadatake (also called Teijō, 1717–1784),
writing in Teijō zakki, provides a different list of
ingredients for ozōni but confirms that these reflect the five primary colors (goshiki).38 Zōni is a
dish usually reserved for New Year’s in modern
Japan, but it was a typical snack (sakana) for
shikisankon since the Muromachi period.39 The
Shimazu reserved zōni for the most formal occasions such as weddings and trips to the ancestral
temple (bōdaiji), so its presence here with the
five varieties of offerings and the pheasant dish
marked the solemnity of the event.40
Not all the snacks carried such heavy symbolism. The dried mullet roe, also seen in the
earlier tea menu, and the dried cod were ideal
accompaniments for drinking alcohol like modern finger foods (otsumami).
Iemitsu’s Banquet Menu
The banquet that followed the shikisankon
used a style of service that originated among the
warrior elite in the fourteenth century called
“main tray cuisine” (honzen ryōri).41 Served
simultaneously with a main tray with its own
dishes of food were an additional number of
trays with more dishes. Each tray, including the
main one, had at least one soup (shiru, jū) and a
number of side dishes (sai), but rice and pickles
were usually only found on the main tray along
with the chopsticks. A typical formula for describing the organization of trays and dishes at
honzen banquets was “seven, five, three” (shichi
37 Ryōri monogatari, p. 81.
38 Ise Sadatake, Teijō zakki in vol, 18 of Nihon
ryōri hiden shūsei, ed. Issunsha (Kyoto: Dōhōsha,
1985), p. 300.
39 Kumakura 2002, p. 157.
40 Ego 2002, p. 141.
41 Kumakura Isao, “Honzen ryōri,” in Kyō ryōri
no rekishi, vol. 4 of Shiriizu shokubunka no hakken, ed. Murai Yasuhiko (Shibata shoten, 1979),
p. 45.
go san). This indicated three trays each with a
soup, and seven, five, and three side dishes on
them respectively. This was the format of the
banquet for Iemitsu in 1630, and one that was
typical service for the shogun in the Edo period.42
Three trays was a typical formulation for
shoguns, but the number of trays and the number
of dishes on them varied for guests of other rank.
Large banquets in the Muromachi period might
have up to thirty-two side dishes, although some
of these dishes, like a few described below, were
decorative and not meant to be consumed.43 In
the Edo period, most samurai including daimyo
were, like commoners, limited by sumptuary
legislation to just two trays of food at banquets,
albeit daimyo that held their own provinces
(kunimochi) were allowed seven side dishes, but
commoners and hatamoto could only have five
side dishes. 44 Samurai and commoners who
could afford extravagance were able to get
around this rule by serving a third tray separately
from the first two trays. Thereby they maintained
the appearance of a simple two-tray banquet,
even if only temporarily.45
A notation in the menu for Iemitsu states that
the three trays would bear seven, five, and three
items respectively, but other guests at the ban-
42 Maruyama Yasunari, “Kinsei ni okeru daimyo,
shōmin no shoku seikatsu: Sono ryōri kondate o
chūshin to shite,” in Shoku seikatsu to shokumotsushi, vol. 2 of Zenshū Nihon no shokubunka,
eds. Haga Noboru and Ishikawa Hiroko (Yūzankaku, 1999), p. 175.
43 Ogura et al., vol. 2, p. 161.
44 Maruyama 1999, p. 186; Harada 1989, p. 7;
Shively 1964–65, p. 148.
45 In that case, the third was called an “additional
tray” (hikite). The cookbook Threading Together
the Sages of Verse (Kasen no kumi ito) published
in 1748 includes menus of two tray meals
followed by a hikite bearing an additional soup
and more side dishes than the first two trays
combined. Since these trays have soups, the
hikite was meant to be eaten at the banquet and
was not a hikidemono, a tray of foods meant for
the guests to take home and eat later: Kasen no
kumi ito in vol. 7 of Nihon ryōri hiden shūsei, ed.
Issunsha (Kyoto: Dōhōsha, 1985), pp. 57–119.
quet received fewer dishes befitting their rank. In
this instance, the Shimazu’s own high-ranking
retainers (karō) in attendance received only five
dishes on the main tray:46 On the main tray for
the shogun’s meal there were seven items not
counting the chopsticks, salt, and yuzuke, standing for the obligatory rice.
Main tray
Grilled salt-cured fish (shiobiki)
Fish-paste cake (kamaboko)
Fish salad (aemaze)
Hot water over rice (yuzuke)
Fish flavored in sake (sakabite)
Fermented intestines of sea cucumber
Salt for flavoring (teshio)
Looking at the contents of the tray, several of
the dishes recall warrior traditions dating to the
Muromachi period if not earlier, perhaps as a
reminder of the fact that the Shimazu house was
one of the oldest warrior lineages, tracing its
legacy in Kyushu back to the time of the first
shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199).
According to one Edo-period author the rice dish
here, yuzuke (hot water over rice), began with the
third Muromachi shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu
(1358–1408). The powerful Muromachi shogun
became drunk at a party, poured hot water on his
rice, and ate it, inspiring others to follow suit.47
The fish salad (aemaze) was another throwback
to the Muromachi period, a dish similar to a “raw
salad” (namasu), and was typically served on the
main tray at Muromachi banquets.48 One of the
earliest cooking treatises, Shijō School Text on
Food Preparation (Shijōryū hōchōsho), dating to
1489, indicated: “By custom, fish salad was
46 Ego, p. 14.
47 Ise, Teijō zakki, p. 260.
48 Sashimi gradually replaced namasu in Edo
period banquets, and the latter was renamed su
no mono, Ebara Kei, Edo ryōrishi ko: Nihon
ryōri (sōsōski) (Kawade shobō, 1986), p. 63, 115.
always used in the middle of the main tray….”49
Namasu is a predecessor to sashimi: it combines
slices of raw fish with vegetables and fruits like
citron served with a vinegar-based dressing.
Aemaze is a similar but less complicated
marinade of fish or seafood that used a sakebased dressing.50 The directions for the cooked
salad here are not specified and neither are the
contents of the fish paste cake made from
mashed fish and starch. One Edo-period
commentator wrote that catfish was the only
authentic fish for a fishcake, but he also
conceded that any fish would do. 51 Shijō
Takashima (n. d.) who compiled Revised
Culinary Encyclopedia of Our School, a book
about creating ceremonial banquets for the
samurai elite published in 1714, listed twenty
different fish and seafood combinations that
could be used for making kamaboko.
The second tray, consisting of two soups and
five side dishes, contained another Muromachiperiod dish, “gathered soup” (oshiru atsume).
Second Tray
Dried salted mullet roe (karasumi)
“Gathered soup” (oshiru atsume)
Servings of mollusks (kaimori)
Rolled squid
Dried codfish
Swan soup
Oshiru atsume, more commonly known as
atsumejiru appeared on the menus of formal
banquets for warriors in the early sixteenth
century when it was often used for the
shikisankon, but the recipe itself might be older.
Typical ingredients included dried sea cucumber
intestines (iriko) used frequently in this meal for
Iemitsu, skewered abalone, wheat gluten,
49 Eric C. Rath, trans., Shijōryū hōchōsho, in
Traditional Japanese Arts and Culture: An
Illustrated Sourcebook, eds. Stephen Addis,
Gerald Groemer, and J. Thomas Rimer
(Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), p.
50 Matsushita, p. 98.
51 Ise, Teijō zakki, p. 264.
52 Shijō, Tōryū setsuyō ryōri taizen, p. 194.
soybeans, and “sweet seaweed” (ama nori).53
This soup complements a second soup made
from swan. Besides the iriko, the rolled squid
and codfish harkened back to the shikisankon
earlier in the day. The description “servings” of
mollusks indicates that it was probably a
decorative dish not meant to be consumed like
the hamori and funamori dishes on the third tray.
The third tray continued the Muromachiperiod style of the banquet:
Third Tray
Fowl served with its wings (hamori)
Carp soup
Turbo (sazae)
[Spiny lobster] served in a boat shape
“Cloud hermit” (unzen)soup
Unzen (or unzenkan) was a Chinese dish
adopted in the Muromachi period, a gelatin made
from grated yam, sugar, and scrambled egg,
which was steamed to form a cloud shape when
floating in soup.54 The carp in the second soup
was the favorite fish of the Muromachi period
before sea bream surpassed it in popularity in the
Edo period, when it still had its fans. Carp, wrote
Hayashi Razan, was both a delicacy (bibutsu)
and an auspicious delicacy nicknamed a “gift to
Confucius” since the Chinese scholar received
one when his son was born.55
However, two other dishes, which also date
to Muromachi-period culinary customs, were
especially objects of attention. Fowl served with
its wings hamori style featured a duck or quail
cooked with its feathered wings reattached and
positioned so that the bird looked like it might
fly away. Spiny lobster in the shape of a boat
featured a large crustacean whose legs, feelers,
and body had been contorted to give the appearance of a sailing ship. Both dishes were served
with additional decorations made from paper and
flowers. Neither of these dishes was meant to be
eaten; instead they were spectacle pieces meant
to show off the cook’s skills and added dignity to
the occasion. The equivalent of food sculptures,
53 Nakamura, p. 33.
54 Nakamura, p. 96.
55 Hayashi, pp. 343–44.
these dishes provided an important artistic dimension to the meal, crucial to the designation of
a cuisine as distinct from ordinary foods and
mundane ways of cooking and eating.56
Iemitsu’s banquet ended with a desert course
of sweets: “Ice rice-cakes” (kōri mochi),
tangerines, and persimmons on a branch.”57 Ice
rice-cakes are made in mid-winter by pounding
non-glutinous rice in a mortar and then using a
sieve to make a paste, which is then molded into
cakes that are frozen before being cut and sundried for a month. The cakes need to be softened
with hot water to be eaten.58 The tangerines and
persimmons would have been sweeter. All three
are traditional sweets like the ones in the
previous tea ceremony albeit other members at
the banquet were served the Iberian-inspired
sponge cake kasutera.
59 Kasutera, the hard
candy konpeitō, and the softer sugar candy
aruheitō were becoming popular with some
members of elite society in this period.60 Four
years earlier, when Iemitsu and his father
entertained Emperor Go’Mizuno’o (d. 1680) at a
lavish series of meals at Nijō Castle in Kyoto
they served kasutera and aruheitō in a collection
of seven sweets presented as part of a banquet
meal on the morning of the eighth day of the
ninth month.61
Banquet Foods in Contrast to a Boring Diet
Banqueting aside, the meals that samurai in-
56 For a discussion of these dishes, see Eric C.
Rath, Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan
57 Ego, p. 13.
58 Sanmi Sasaki, Chado, the Way of Tea: A
Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac, trans. Shaun
McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko (Boston: Tuttle,
2002), pp. 612–13.
59 Ego, p. 14.
60 In 1635, the confectioner Toraya began supplying the imperial court with Iberian sweets
including kasutera, karumera, and aruheitō; and
in the same period these were becoming local
specialties in Kyoto. Nakayama Keiko, Jiten:
wagashi no sekai (Iwanami shoten, 2006), p. 114.
61 GoMizunooinsama nijōjō gyōkō onkondate, in
vol. 2 of Ryōri taikan, ed. Hasegawa Seihō
(Ryōri koten kenkyūkai, 1958), p. 18.
cluding the shogun ate on a daily basis were not
far from what many commoners ate or from the
description of modern culinary historians who
call these meals dull and monotonous. A typical
meal for commoners living in Edo consisted of
miso soup and pickles with one side dish of tofu,
simmered vegetables, or perhaps a fish; and this
was comparable to the meals for most samurai.62
The monotony of these daily meals made the
dishes served at banquets all the more remarkable and memorable.
On the whole, the daily meals for samurai of
high and low rank were rather plain. The shogun
had his daily meals served on two trays, but in
terms of their basic structure, the shogun’s meals
of rice, soup, boiled vegetables, and fish dishes
was otherwise comparable to what people in
other classes ate.63 Some shoguns such as Ienari
(1773–1841) were noted for their extravagant
meals.64 According to one story, the first shogun
Ieyasu died after gorging himself on sea bream
tempura, even though he passed away several
months after consuming this dish.65 Other shogun like the last one, Yoshinobu (1837–1913),
dined rather frugally as described in Record of
Inquiries into Bygone Days (Kyūji shimonroku),
a transcript of interviews with former bakufu
officials.66 Yoshinobu disliked eating animals
62 Ishige, p. 113. For further information about
the diet of commoners in the Edo period, see
Susan Hanley, “Tokugawa Society: Material Culture, Standard of Living, and Life-Styles,” Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 4, Early Modern
Japan, ed. John W. Hall (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1991), pp. 660–705, especially
pp. 680–89.
63 Harada 1989, p. 7.
64 Harada Nobuo, Edo no shoku seikatsu
(Iwanami shoten, 2003), p. 127.
65 This dish was not the modern, batter-fried
version of tempura but another dish by the same
name consisting of fish cooked in oil, garnished
with leeks, and served in a broth. Hirano Masaki,
Hirano Masaki chō, Nihon ryōri tankyū zensho,
vol. 11 Shōyu, tenpura monogatari (Tōkyō
shobōsha, 1979), pp. 182–87.
66 See Anna Berens, “Interview with a
Bakumatsu Official: A Translation from Kyūji
that had been hunted, so rabbit, pheasant, crane,
and duck were off of his menu as were tempura
and soymilk skin (yuba), two dishes popular with
townspeople. He avoided pungent foods such as
onion, leek, and fermented soybeans (nattō), and
he disliked oysters, sardines, cockles (akagai)
and Pacific saury (sanma). What then did he actually eat? For breakfast one spring (menus
changed according to the season), the shogun
was served two trays of food. The tray first had
rice, miso soup with an egg in it, chilled tofu
(sawasawa tōfu) flavored with flower petals
(perhaps pickled cherry blossoms), and a gelatin
made from agar agar (kanten), kamaboko mixed
with walnuts, finely cut strips of egg omelet
(kinshi tamago), konbu seaweed, and slices of
sea bream. The second tray presented a grilled
bluefin gurnard (hōbō), a small omelet of dry
seasoned tofu wrapped in nori, gourd pickled in
sake lees, and daikon pickled in miso.67 These
are fancier versions of the foods commoners ate,
and nothing comparable to the extravagant
dishes found in Iemitsu’s banquet described earlier.
Daimyo ate more simply than the shogun, but
their meals followed the same basic structure of
rice, soup, pickles, and side dishes. For breakfast
in the 1780s, the daimyo of Kumamoto domain
ate rice with tea poured over it (chazuke), pickles,
pickled apricot, and a dish cooked in miso
(yakimiso). Lunch consisted of a soup and a side
dish. Dinner saw the return of the yakimiso dish
and pickles to accompany rice.68 The research of
Miyakoshi Matsuko on the Date house, daimyo
of Sendai domain (modern Miyagi prefecture),
indicates the daimyo usually had two side dishes
to accompany rice and soup for breakfast but
little more than that for lunch and dinner. Vegetable dishes usually made from daikon, burdock
root, Chinese yam (nagaimo), taro, sweet potato,
and devil’s tongue root (kon’yaku) were served
for breakfast, and meat dishes particularly fish,
gamecock, duck, and chicken appeared more
often for lunch and dinner. The daimyo ate eggs
frequently and year round. In winter, he ate more
shimonroku,” Monumenta Nipponica 55.3
(2000), pp. 369–98, especially pp. 369–73.
67 Harada 2003, pp. 126–27.
68 Maruyama, p. 182.
fish particularly prawns, tuna, flatfish, false halibut, and sea bream as well as river fish that included eel, sweet-fish, striped mullet, and carp.
In autumn, he ate more vegetable dishes. The
daimyo consumed shellfish such as fan shells
(tairagai) and Venus clams (hamaguri), but he
avoided foods beloved by commoners such as
tempura, sushi, and grilled fish or vegetables
topped with sweet miso (dengaku)—dishes that
are synonymous with modern Japanese cuisine
but may have been too plebian for the daimyo’s
taste. The daimyo of Sendai domain did not eat a
large number of dishes, but his daily consumption of eggs and fish indicates a rather luxurious
Estimates of the daily caloric intake for the
daimyo of Sendai domain reveal a diet of approximately 3,000 calories a day. This is comparable to the diets of modern Japanese, although
the daimyo may have had a lower intake of vitamin C and other essential nutrients. One lower
level samurai, Ozaki Junnosuke Sadamiki who
lived in the 1860s and kept a scrupulous record
of his meals, consumed an estimated 1,868 calories at home but when he dined out he averaged
1,934 calories.70 This was only slightly higher
that the diet of commoners living in the same
period. Estimates of the caloric intake for commoners living in the Hida area of Gifu in 1874
reveal 1,850 calories with similar deficiencies in
vitamin C, while commoners in the domain of
Chōshū in 1840s had an estimated daily intake of
1,664 calories.71 Such estimates provide a limited but telling view of the commonalities between the diet of lower-level samurai and commoners despite sumptuary legislation meant to
distinguish the two groups.
A few diaries provide concrete information
about the diet of lower-level samurai in the Edo
period, and one of these is Record from a Parrot’s Cage (Ōmurō chūki) by Asahi Monzaemon
(1674–1718).72 A samurai of the Tokugawa do-
69 Sakurai Jun’ya, “Kinsei daimyo yashiki ni
okeru shoku seikatsu,” Shigaku 56.4 (1987), pp.
70 Sakurai, pp. 91, 94.
71 Hanley, p. 687.
72 For an overview of this text and its author, see
Luke Roberts, “A Transgressive Life: The Diary
main in Owari province (modern Aichi prefecture), Asahi was supposed to enjoy a hereditary
stipend of 150 koku, but his actual income had
been reduced to thirty-five koku as part of financial retrenchment in his domain. After paying
seven koku for living expenses, Asahi had only
twenty-eight koku left. He augmented his income
by tutoring and hand-copying texts. His diary,
which covers the years 1686–1717, describes his
passion for eating, which one modern commentator has described as his reason for living.73
On the twenty-seventh day of the tenth
month of 1697, Asahi invited nine guests to dinner, serving them “codfish soup with water-drop
wart (seri), simmered winter melon with grated
yam (tororo), grilled Spanish mackerel (sawara),
and pickles.” For snacks to accompany drinks
after the meal, he provided “simmered duck meat,
sea cucumber marinated in vinegar, salt-cured
fish entrails (shiokara), thick slices of simmered
burdock root, miso soup with duck gizzard simmered in sake with blue-green freshwater nori
(Suizenji nori), clams (hamaguri), pears, and
other things.”74 It would have been superfluous
for Asahi to mention rice in his record, as it
would have been the indispensable accompaniment for any meal. Salt-cured fish intestines,
especially those made from sea cucumber, would
also have been recognized as a delicacy in the
seventeenth century as they remain today.
Sekijō’s diary (Sekijō nikki), the diary of
Ozaki Junnosuke Sadamiki, an artist who went
by the name Sekijō, presents information about
the life of a samurai who lived two centuries after Asahi and had an even lower income. Sekijō
hailed from Musashi province (in modern Saitama prefecture). He had some talent as a painter
and his diary, which spanned a period from the
sixth month of 1861 to the fourth month of 1862,
includes a few illustrations. Adopted into the
Ozaki family, Sekijō saw his salary of 100 koku
reduced to the equivalent of 18 koku after writing
a complaint to the leadership of his domain in
1857. Sekijō continued in his official duties, but
these did not occupy much of his time. Instead,
of a Genroku Samurai,” Early Modern Japan 5.2
(1995): 25–30.
73 Ebara, pp. 146, 165.
74 Ebara, p. 161.
his diary indicates that he devoted most of his
time to drinking, eating, and reading about food
in culinary books. On the twenty-sixth day of the
six month of 1861, he wrote that he ate “breakfast of soup, lunch of tofu, and dinner of the
same.”75 Sekijō’s soup was a broth made from
fish paste and egg. All three meals would have
been accompanied by rice. Tofu was apparently
one of Sekijō’s favorite dishes, but he also ate a
lot of dried sardines, pickles, and rice doused
with tea (chazuke). He broke the monotony of
his meals at home by dining out or at a friend’s
house. On these occasions he recorded eating
sashimi, simmered dishes, and stews; he augmented his usual diet of sardines, tuna, and
freshwater clams (shijimi), with sea bream,
salmon, and cockles. While Sekijō rarely missed
the chance to have a drink with his meals, he
only ate one egg a week. Whether he was dining
in or out, the vegetables he consumed were usually daikon, eggplant, green onion, and taro.76
Sekijō occasionally prepared his own meals, as
on the seventeenth day of the fourth month of
1861 when he made “scattered sushi” (chirashizushi) by sprinkling chopped ginger shoots, egg,
dried squid, shiitake mushrooms, red seaweed
nori (tosaka nori), Japanese butterbur (fuki), lotus root, [green] nori, dried gourd, udo, bamboo
shoot, and salmon over rice flavored with vinegar.77 However, he never described the taste of
his cooking or of the other meals he ate.78 This
speaks both to the monotony of his diet and to
the fact that he meant his diary as a personal record not as a gourmet column.
The diet of lower-level samurai as seen from
these two diaries differed from that of elite
samurai in terms of ingredients, but the cooking
techniques employed for their meals were very
similar. Grilled and simmered dishes appear to
be the most typical. Meticulous slicing was also
important in the preparation of sashimi and scattered sushi. Desserts such as fruits and sweets
were not usually mentioned as part of the meal
even for elite samurai, although they may have
75 Harada 2003, pp. 97–109.
76 Sakurai, p. 91.
77 Udo looks like celery, but it is much longer;
both the leaves and stalk are edible.
78 Harada 2003, p. 112.
been consumed outside of regular mealtimes.
The most profound distinctions between samurai
and other social groups as well as between the
diet of elite and lower-level samurai were apparent in the extravagant banquets described above.
should not lose sight of the diversity and complexity of early modern cuisine. In contrast to
modern cuisine, the early modern version was
heterogeneous, but it had to be in order to resonate on so many different levels for its practitioners and consumers.
The chance to experience cuisine in its most
exalted form in the early modern period was not
an everyday experience, and it was limited to a
handful of members of society; yet this elite cuisine was influential in several ways on other sectors in society and on the development of Japanese cuisine in the modern period. Main tray
cuisine (honzen ryōri), which began in traditions
of shogunal visitations in the Muromachi period,
came to be adapted by commoners in the Edo
period who found a use for a version using two
trays of dishes for meals at festival banquets,
weddings, and in restaurants. The basic components of honzen dining—rice, soup, side dishes,
and pickles—comprised the typical elements of
most meals in Japan until after World War II.79
Commoners adopted the samurai custom of shikisankon, performing the drinking ceremony at
weddings, and adapting it to other occasions
such as when a client met a courtesan for the first
time.80 Rice cake soup (ozōni) remains a staple
of traditional New Year’s meals in Japan to this
day, while the festival of kajō gave an excuse to
commoners to eat sweets on the sixteenth day of
the sixth month in the belief that doing so prevented disease.81
Finally, to return to the topic of cuisine raised
at the beginning of this article, the evidence from
the banquet for Tokugawa Iemitsu examined here
helps us to recognize the complexity of dining in
early modern Japan and how it could be as much
a mental and artistic exercise as a sensory one. In
that light, future research should examine how
modern Japanese cuisine not only built upon earlier cooking techniques, but how it also drew
upon older practices of signification found in
early modern cuisine. Yet in the effort to isolate
the elements that contributed to the national and
regional cuisines in modern Japan, scholars
79 Kumakura 2002, pp. 168–70.
80 Lindsey, p. 94.
81 Nakayama 1993, p. 46.

Arts in Japan in the Edo Period

“During the Edo Period (1603-1868) both the subjects and styles of painting diversified significantly,” wrote Smithsonian art curator Ann Yonemura, “as patronage broadened to include a newly affluent merchant class. Genre painting of contemporary urban life, new subjects and styles influenced by a limited importation of European art, and work by artists who based the lives on Chinese scholarly ideals flourished.”

The Genroku era in the late 17th and early 18th century is sometimes regarded as the golden age of Japanese art, Kabuki plays, haiku poetry, and woodblock printing.

Edo period Japanese art is very popular worldwide. An Edo art touring exhibit drew 900,000 people in 2007, making it the most seen art show in the world that year.

Book: Art of Edo Japan by Christine Guth (Harry N. Abrams, 1996).

See Edo Art. Arts and Culture

Daimyo, Samurai and Art in the Edo Period

The Edo Period was a time of relative peace. With no wars to fight and non-Japanese restricted from entering the country, the shoguns and daimyos (landed aristocrats) and samurai under them, concentrated their energies on the administration of the estates and pursuit of the art forms such as poetry, painting, architecture, No theater, calligraphy, flower arranging and the tea ceremony. With no foreigners to distract them, the daimyos and samurai were able to develop and refine art forms that were uniquely Japanese.

The emphasis on the arts was intended in part to keep the minds of military men off of military matters. “In daimyo Japan,” Bennet Shiff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “culture became synonymous with authority. Lords competed with one another in high art, tea, theater, poetry and the employment of artists, actors, poets, tea masters. Frequently they practiced one or two arts themselves. Not to participate was to be dropped out of what was meaningful and necessary. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to name another society in world history in which art was so much a part of daily existence.”

Urban Art in Japan in the Edo Period

The rise of large urban areas, the increasing power and influence of the merchant class and a good network of roads and water routes in the Edo Period helped to take art out of the daimyo courts and bring it to the cities and ordinary hardworking and hard-partying Japanese. Artist liked the changes. They were able to sell their works to a much wider audience.

Urban Edo art, often in the form of colored prints, was more direct and rawer than daimyo art and often satirical and humorous. Robert Singer, the force behind a superb Edo Period exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 1999, wrote that this kind of Edo art is characterized by “bold, sometimes brash expression…and playful outlook on life in general.” [Source: Time magazine]

The subjects of urban Edo art were prostitutes, sumo wrestlers, popular actors, everyday life scenes, and people at work. Religious imagery sometimes was treated with irreverence and symbols were used that ordinary people could understand. There is clear link between Edo urban art and manga.

Edo Period Decorative Arts

Some of the greatest Edo art was works were neither paintings or sculpture but rather were things like writing boxes, tea bowls, and game boards. “It may be that no civilization, East of West, attained a greater refinement in the decorative arts than Edo Japan,” wrote TIME art critic Robert Hughes. “Ceramics, lacquer and textiles were brought to an extraordinary pitch of aesthetic concentration by a large body of artisans.”

“Skill was the key,” Hughes wrote. “Edo artists and patrons loved virtuosity within a given medium, but they didn’t have a hierarchy of art and craft. To them, the work or a lacquerer or papermaker was no less worthy than that of the screen painter, and in any case so many media could converge in a single work that art hierarchy became meaningless.”

Edo art objects included polychromatic wood No masks of women who have become demons because they have been betrayed by love; cheukei fans used by No actors playing women roles; ceremonial samurai swords made of rayskin, lacquer, copper, gold, enamel, leather and steel; reptile-like samurai armor made from iron, leather, lacquer, silk and gold; leather saddles and stirrups embellished with gold and lacquer; and uchiakake (“outer garments” worn by samurai-class women), embroidered with blossoms, clouds and birds.

Ideas about the decorative arts made their way into cooking and perfumery. One Edo period cookbook illustrates 55 different ways to cut and display carp.

See Samurai Armor

Edo Period Painting and Samurai

Many Edo period painters were samurai. Paul Richard wrote in the Washington Post: “Slicing through a torso with a curving steel blade and putting ink to silk with a liquid-loaded brush, both of these were stroke arts. Both required the same swiftness, the same lack of indecision. For the master of the brush and the master of the blade…the flawless stroke expressed a Japanese ideal—the beauty-governed union of sure, unhurried speed and centuries-old tradition, utter self-assurance and Zen purity of mind.”

Painting from Edo period was rich in drama and symbols. A painting of a carp swimming up a waterfall—something bottom-dwelling carp are unlikely to do—is seen as a manifestation of a fish becoming a dragon and viewed as an allegory of social climbing. An image of a monkey trying to catch a wasp is a warning to not cross a feudal lord as the Japanese words for word for “wasp” (hachi) and “fiefdom” (hoch) rhyme as do the ideograms “monkey” and “lord.”

Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printing

Woodblock printing in Japan is known as ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world.” One of the most popular forms of Japanese art, it was created for the contemporary masses and depicts images of urban life and natural scenes that ordinary people could relate to and enjoy. The “floating world” is a Buddhist metaphor that refers to the changing world of fleeting pleasures, which were often found both in seasonal changes of nature and the entertainment districts of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

“Ukiyo-e” is derived from “uki,” a Buddhist-derived term denoting the state of mind conveyed by the German word “weltschmerz” (“disenchantment with the actual,” or “world weariness”). During the Edo period the kanji (Chinese character) for “uki” was replaced, playfully, by the homophone kanji for “float” and “ukiyo” took on antithetical meaning—the worldly “sea of trouble” became “sea of tranquility,” in which impermanence was celebrated not lamented. [Source: Mark Austin, Daily Yomiuri]

Among the Westerners who collected ukiyo-e were Vincent Van Gogh, the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the painter Claud Monet, who was particularly found of Utamaro and Hokusai. Wright once said, “The Japanese print is one of the most amazing products of the world and I think no nation has anything to compare with it.”

Van Gogh copied Plum Garden in Kameido and Great Bridge , Sudden Shower at Atakae from Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. The background of Van Gogh’s Portrait of Pere Tanguay shows several ukiyo-e’s that the artist collected.

Ukiyo-e prints are famous for their exquisite calligraphic lines, bold composition, dramatic colors and flat, unshaded subjects. Some images are serene and dignified and look at home in museum while others are full of drama and violence and look as if they belong in a comic book. Usually only a few hundred or a few thousand prints were made. On average a printer could make about 200 prints a day.

Ukiyo-e was inspired by everyday Edo pleasures and urban leisure pursuits like drinking, whoring and attending Kabuki theaters as well as scenic spots around Japan. Ukiyo-e prints depicted tea ceremonies, theaters, sumo wrestlers, women bathing in wooden tubs, picnics under cherry trees, excursions to pastoral lakes, prostitutes, sexual acts, actors, and make-believe characters like warriors, mythical animals and monsters. One major source of inspiration was Yoshiwara, an entertainment district in Edo (Tokyo), where daimyos and members of the Imperial court mingled, attended sumo bouts and kabuki plays and enjoyed the company of prostitutes.

Book: Japanese Woodblock Printing by Rebecca Salter (A&C Black, 2001).

Galleries: Ebisu-do Gallery, Inagaki Building, 4F, 1-9 Kandajimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo . Tel. (03)

History of Woodblock Printing

Woodblock printing originated in China but was greatly improved by the Japanese through the skill of Japanese craftsmen and introductions of washi paper; which tolerates repeated printing and absorbs color without collapsing; the development of the kento method or printing, which ensured that layers of were color correctly applied and aligned; and invention of the baren, a circular pad mad from compressed laminated paper that was used in manual printing to apply the flat colors so pleasing to fans if ukiyo-e.

The first ukiyo-e in the 17th century were simple monochrome black prints. Later “red prints” appeared. They were followed by yellow and green prints, and eventually full color prints known as nishikie, were developed in the middle of the 18th century.

Ukiyo-e was reportedly founded by a printer named Iwa Matabie and popularized, beginning in 1681, by Hishikawa Moronobu, an artist who lived among ordinary people and found inspiration among them. He rose to fame by producing images of famous erotic tales, scenes from the entertainment district in Yoshiwara and portraits of beautiful women. As an art form ukiyo-e drew on and synthesized Chinese painting. Yamato-e (classical Japanese Painting) and byobu-e (screen painting).

Techniques of Japanese woodblock printing originated in Kyoto and Osaka but are most closely associated with Edo (Tokyo). Early prints from the Edo Period between 1660 and 1720 featured only black and white printing. Color printing had not been invented and colors were applied by hand. Many early ukiyo-e were how-to sex manuals for brides and courtesans and erotic prints pertaining to the red-light entertainment districts in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto,

Many of the of the best works of ukiyo-e are found now outside of Japan in places like British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Many of these were snatched up in the years following the end of Edo Period—as Japan rushed towards modernization— when ukiyo-e was seen as passe and disposable, and Western collectors acquired huge masses of work for a song. Almost half of the 25,000 prints, books and paintings at the Victoria &Albert Museum—regarded as one of the largest and finest collections of ukiyo-e n the world—was obtained in a single purchase from a London dealer in 1886.

Kabuki and Geishas in the Edo Period

Kabuki actor by
SharakuThe first formally recognized kabuki show was performed in Kyoto at in 1603—the same year the Edo Period began—by a Shinto priestess named Izumo no Okuni and her troupe of female dancers to raise money for Izumo Taisha shrine. Though based on Buddhist prayer dances, early shows were generally romantic tales intended as popular entertainment. Like Noh, kabuki has its roots in drama, music and dance that can be traced back to the eight century.

Kabuki was inspired by the activities of Kabuimono, urban youths who were the punks of their day. They traveled in armed groups, thumbing their nose at middle class values and harassed anyone who got in their way.

Early Kabuki, known as kabuki odori (which roughly means “avant guard dance”) were primarily dances, often known for their lewdness and vulgarity. Although women helped popularize the art they were banned from Kabuki in 1629 because many of the lead actresses were prostitutes and producers were concerned about fights breaking out between men trying to win the attention of the actresses. See Arts and Culture, Theater, Kabuki

Geishas first appeared in brothels in the pleasure quarters of Tokyo and Osaka in the 17th century. Their job was to entertain bar and inn customers with dancing and music. A geiko (literally “arts child”) is the Kyoto expression for a geisha.

The earliest geishas were men known as taiko-mouchi (literally “drum carrier”). Like their female counterparts today, they charmed male clients with conservation, service, performances and sexual innuendo. There were around a half dozen taiko-mouchi still alive in the 1990s.

It wasn’t until the mid 18th century that the geisha profession was dominated by women. In the 19th century geishas were the equivalent of supermodels. The most well-known ones earned substantial incomes and influenced fashion and popular culture. In a world where women were either wives of prostitutes, geisha lived in separate communities known as the “flower and willow world.” See Arts and Culture, Theater, Geishas

Manga in the Edo Period

Some trace the origin of manga back to nishiki-e prints made in the Edo period. These prints were often satirical and instilled with humor and fun, qualities found in modern manga “I think they share a similar espirit, satisfying the purpose of entertaining people.” The term “manga” was coined by the famous wood block print artist Katsushika Hokusai (1761-1849). Although he produced graphic images he did not produce true manga that tell narrative stories.

True manga has its roots in 19th century one-panel and later multi-panel newspapers and magazine cartoons that depicted political, satirical and humorous subjects. Some also trace its roots to the Japanese written language, which has so many symbols and characters it wasn’t easily adaptable to movable type, and often it was just as easy to make wood blocks with words and illustration as it was to make wood block with long texts. By contrast, the Roman alphabet with is 26 symbols was adaptable to movable type.

Image Sources: Ukiyo- from Library of Congress, British Museum, and Tokyo National Museum, Old photos from Visualizing Culture, MIT Education

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

© 2009 Jeffrey Hays