kansha, the japanese art of thoughtful eating

From Elizabeth Andoh's Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions:

"When I bemoaned the need to wait a full year before indulging in [certain foods] again, a Japanese friend taught me three words: hashiri, shun, and nagori.

"Hashiri are those eagerly awaited foods you finally find at market: the early spring peas, small and tender ... or autumn's first wild mushrooms that hint of the woods."

"Shun describes that magic moment when a food is at its peak of flavor and abundant. It is biting into a sugary-sweet corn, bought from a roadside stand on a blazing hot summer's day."

"Nagori is culinary regret ... buying eggplant one more time, late in autumn, knowing they can't be as tasty as the ones stewed with young ginger during the summer rains."

Ever since I first watched my first Miyazaki film (Howl's Moving Castle), I've been intrigued by the art that is core to many aspects of Japanese culture. Embedded in their food ("Jiro Dreams of Sushi"), their sport (martial arts), and their business (Toyota) is a common theme of humility, minimalism, and mastery. Maybe I'm romanticizing a culture I haven't experienced first hand yet, but it's really fascinating stuff.

Recently, I picked up Elizabeth Andoh's book on Kansha, the Japanese philosophy of consumption. At first glance, it's just a cookbook. But Andoh explains each and every recipe and cooking technique through the lens of the Kansha spirit. Consumption of all kinds must be aesthetically satisfying, wary of waste, and full of gratitude. (My consumption habits during my year in NYC violated all three of these tenets-- takeout Thai food in plastic containers).

From my basic understanding of it, Kansha appreciates tempo. There's a time and place for everything; instant gratification is frowned upon; sequence matters. And when it's time to act, you act thoughtfully and mindfully, without the automaticity that seems to be a defining characteristic of American life. 

Through the practice of thoughtfulness and timing, you unlock deeper value in whatever you do. Incidentally, you also complete whatever you're doing more effectively. I've noticed that, whenever I'm rushing to get things done, it ends up taking longer. I forget things; my execution gets sloppy.

In Kansha, Andoh describes how you can build an entire meal out of a single daikon (winter radish) -- the green tufts on top become a condiment for your steamed rice, the neck becomes a pickled side dish, and the bulbous center gets repurposed as sliced garnish to your noodles or your soup. This is the daikon meal, in praise of one vegetable, unlocking its full value.