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Goin’ Japanesque!

Organic Food Culture from Japan: Macrobiotics

Those of you who have strong interest in food and diet may have heard of the word “macrobiotic”. We are introducing a natural style of eating developed in Japan; the timing is perfect as there is a boom for health foods not only in Japan but around the world as well.

 

What is Macrobiotic?

This is an organic style diet that began from a lecture given by Yukikazu Sakurazawa in 1928. Since it incorporates the traditional culture of eating rice in Japan as well as maximize the use of seasonal ingredients born from Japan’s four seasons, it can be said that this is a diet that was developed from Japanese traditions.

Macrobiotics eliminates animal based food ingredients from the diet all together. It uses only brown rice and vegetables, cooked in a unique method. The basis is to bring health to both the body and mind by using a method of “yin and yang” to find balance. Nowadays, there are various schools which interpret the idea in different ways or use animal based food ingredients to different degrees. The 3 main ideas below are the pillars of this style of diet.

1. Yin Yang Balance

At the time when this thought was first developed, it seems that the balance of the minerals sodium and potassium were taken lightly in Western nutritional science. Macrobiotics focused on this balance and divided foods into “things that are ying (dark)” and “things that are yang (light)”; then try to eat foods in good balance to come closer to a “neutral” position, which is thought to prevent illness in both the body and mind. At the time there was malnutrition as a result of war and there were teachings to try to avoid “things that are ying” as much as possible. Nowadays, people’s nutritional balance has changed and it is said that the ideal is to get the balance of each meal closer to the center or “neutrality”.

  • Ying is a centrifugal force: Things that are quiet, cold or contain a lot of water
  • Yang is a centripetal force: Things that have movement, things that are hot, or contain little water.

*For example, in the picture above, the brown rice, miso soup and the other dishes comprise a meal that’s well balanced in yin and yang.

2. Whole Food

The idea is to eat a food product as a whole; so instead of discarding peels or roots as you normally may, these parts are cooked and eaten in order to maintain balance between yin and yang. It also relates to the spirit of “mottainai”, a traditionally Japanese concept of trying to waste as little as possible.

3. You are What You Eat

Japanese have lived in a temperate climate for several thousand years. As Japan is an island our bodies and the bodies of our ancestors are made up from the foods grown in the local lands. The idea is that by eating things that have been organically grown in the local environment, the body and mind also harmonizes with the surrounding environment.

 

Japanese Food and Macrobiotics

Nowadays, with the popularity of organic, vegetarianism, super-foods, etc. there is a heightened interest towards health through diet in Japan. There are an increasing number of restaurants that serve such dishes as well. Perhaps there are many of you visiting Japan from overseas seeking restaurants that serve vegetarian or vegan meals.

Japanese food or washoku, which has been registered as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage is said to be “respectful of the various fresh products and its flavors”, “a healthy diet that is nutritionally balanced”, “an expression of the beauty of nature and changing seasons”, “closely tied to annual events such as New Year’s” (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries). Thus, macrobiotics indeed embodies Japanese food.

 

Macrobiotic Restaurants in Tokyo

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We would like to introduce “Onakama”, which is located about a 10 minute train ride away from Tokyo Station, in a city called Monzen Nakacho with a rich down-town culture.

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They abide by a strict macrobiotic style of diet. It is a restaurant where a macrobiotic meal is exclusively served to one group a day, and the meal is eaten with everyone seated around one long table. The name of the restaurant “Onakama” comes from the phrase “Onaji Kama no meshi wo taberu”, which means “eating from the same pot”.

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Dish with fava beans and steamed seasonal vegetables

As they do not use any animal products and the food is made up only of vegetarian or whole grain ingredients, you may wonder “Does it really taste good?” of “Is it really filling?”. Well, the dishes here use seasonal ingredients for the main dish, brings out the flavors that each ingredient has to the fullest, and is cooked with care and love while the chefs talk to it saying “may you become delicious!”.

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A big hit: Karaage using soy meat

The dishes are pleasing visually as well as in taste and texture, with dishes like simmered burdock which tastes sweet without using any sweeteners, fried soy meat karaage that taste so delicious that you couldn’t tell them apart from chicken karaage, combination of crunchy vegetables and tenderly simmered vegetables, etc. They serve a hearty meal that can even satisfy a hungry man with a big appetite.

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A cake of potato, red beet, cucumber and almond served on the 3rd anniversary of the restaurant

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The lotus root said to help with hay fever is in season right around allergy season

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Desserts that do not use sweeteners

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Also, because the restaurant focuses on the effects of improving physical conditions, there are many people who say that their bodies feel really good the day after a meal at “Onakama”. There are dinners periodically hosted by customers who frequent the restaurant as well as dinners hosted by the restaurant that is welcome for anyone to participate; it seems there are many fans of the restaurant who visit quite frequently.  The owner, Tagashiranagomi carefully explains each of the large dishes and so it is said that many people in the food industry pay a visit to learn about the food as well.

 

“Onakama” can serve completely vegetarian or vegan meals. They can also take your preferences or healths based requests in advance and cater to your needs. If you are looking to visit, do call in advance to make a reservation. Website, Map

Related: 7 Superfoods from Japan: How About a Natto Bowl instead of Acai Bowl?

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