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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > June 2017 > JAPAN from the source

JAPAN from the source

The islands of Japan extend over 2,000 miles – discover them with these authentic dishes to try there or at home

At first glance, one might believe that Japan is a place of extremes. Its cityscapes drip with brain-blurring neon, and pop culture mania verges on cult-like status. Its capital has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any city on Earth, and its trains are faster than anyone else’s.

But to take those facts in isolation is to miss the point. It’s not the extremes so much as what they counter. Together, each element thrives in delicate symbiosis. The Japan of sacred mountains and Zen temples and the Japan of skyscrapers and karaoke don’t just tolerate one another – each owes its peculiarities to the existence of the other.

As with its culture, so too with its cuisine. In Japan it’s believed that food should be devoured by all five senses: not just smell, taste and sight, but also touch (the texture of ingredients, the smooth warmth of bamboo chopsticks), and even sound – a ryotei (high-end restaurant) is oddly quiet, the better to appreciate the experience of eating.

Imprinted on the Japanese psyche is the traditional philosophy of the five elements, which rests on the principle that each element (earth, wood, fire, water and metal) must be balanced against the others for the world to maintain its equilibrium.

In cooking, each type of ingredient relates to one of the five elements by its taste and colour. Even culinary techniques follow suit: boiling, steaming and poaching, for example, relate to water, and smoking to wood. Any Japanese meal – whether it’s a simple taro stew from deep within the Japan Alps or the most refined kaiseki meal in imperial Kyoto – aims to blend these elements for balance and nutrition. To satisfy the eyes, a well-executed meal should include all five elemental colours: red, white, black, green and yellow. A homemade dinner might typically comprise a sashimi dish, grilled fish, mushrooms, simmered vegetables and deep-fried tempura, along with the ever-present rice and miso soup.

Unsurprisingly, this balance provides myriad benefits for our health, as does the act of lingering over our food and cherishing each mouthful. Back to those extremes: the Japanese live longer than almost anyone else in the world. Perhaps it’s time to start taking notes.

Mrs Kudo serves igamenchi (squid croquettes) with other small dishes at the Tsugaru Akatsuki Club in the northern province of Aomori
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About Lonely Planet Traveller (UK)

In the June issue… We are heading to some of the world's most exciting cities. Discover the spirit of Havana through the eyes of five of its citizens, experience two sides to St Petersburg a century after revolution pitted tsars against Soviets, and touch down in two dozen more cities around the world, with new openings to find in places including Seattle, Johannesburg, Mexico City and Dublin. Our Great Escape this month is to the charmed coastline and stirring moors of South Devon, plus we also have a recipe-filled tour of Japan's best regional cuisine, and much more