The beauty of the traditional Japanese
meal is that it subtly reflects the changing seasons
The sight of butterbur stalks peeping from patches in the melting snow heralds the coming of spring. This is followed by the appearance of bamboo shoots, butterburs, udo plants, and bracken along the rolling hills.
As trees flourish a new robe of leaves in early summer, the bounty of the sea and nearby rivers begin reaching the dinner table, including first the bonito and then the sweetfish and conger eel.
Kyoto's Gion Festival in mid-July would not be the same without the rotund Kamo eggplant and rolled conger eel sushi; seasonal delicacies, in fact, are indispensable for any traditional event.
Even the sweetfish has its seasons; it can be served soon after hatching in June, as young in mid-summer, and also in the fall, when carrying eggs.
The arrival of autumn whets the national appetite for aromatic matsutake mushrooms (although imports from China and South Korea can be found from around July).
The yellowtail (hamachi) is at its best for sushi and sashimi when it puts on an extra layer of fat to keep out the cold. Another winter treat is the blowfish (fugu); a common winter vegetable is the Kyoto Shôgoin turnip that virtually melts in one's mouth.
Sadly, though, young people have become oblivious to the culinary delights each season offers.
On a recent television program, most people on the street were unable to identify matsutake by its distinctive aroma.
The numbing uniformity of the fare served at fast-food restaurants has put people out of touch with the passing seasons.
In Japan today, the vast majority of people have access to all the food they care to eat, in almost every variety imaginable.
In homes, meanwhile, parents' culinary skills are on the decline as they grow increasingly dependent on tinned, frozen, instant, and prepared foods, along with an array of time-saving cooking devices and appliances.
The ironic result is that, the food served on a daily basis in Japanese households is meager fare compared with what people ate two or three decades ago.
Excuse me. This has been a rant.