By CEM ERTÜL (Research Student at UTokyo)
When I left Japan after my exchange program ended last January, I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to return. Merely a year later, I boarded a plane amidst the global chaos caused by the pandemic and arrived in Tokyo, where I would spend the next two years doing my graduate studies at the University of Tokyo. What prompted me to come back was not only my academic ambition, but a fervent desire to discover Japanese cuisine further and experience meticulously-crafted dishes offered across tens of thousands of restaurants in the city. Japan is heaven on earth for foodies, waiting to be discovered.
What makes Japanese cuisine so remarkable is not only the fine ingredients used such as fresh seafood, but also the quality craftsmanship which is a defining element of cultural practices in the country. Japanese chefs are defined by their dedication and perseverance, concepts that are cherished in Japanese culture. Theirs is a continuous strive for perfection in what they do. Inazo Nitobe, the author of “Bushido” and a prime cultural influence for the Japanese, says, "If there is anything to do, there is certainly a best way to do it." This belief is well represented by the Japanese chefs’ work ethic. They respect their work, their ingredients, and their customers. It is a joy to watch them cook in the open kitchens, which are common in restaurants here. Many times, the chefs left me in awe with their unparalleled attention to detail and impeccable cleanliness.
There is no place for grandiosity in Japanese culinary arts, no practice of putting one luxury ingredient over another in the name of fine dining. Instead, there is incredible humbleness. Minimalism seems to be paramount in Japanese cuisine. Simple ingredients are elevated to another level through the chefs’ craft. How can a two-ingredient sushi piece taste so different in Japan than it does anywhere else? The answer may lie in the graceful movements of the chef who prepares it, and the years of training behind them—years dedicated to perfecting every single detail of that sushi.
To illustrate what I have written above, I hope to share with you my experiences in Tokyo’s gastronomy scene in the coming days. Japan’s culinary culture has layers upon layers to peel, and it certainly has something to offer for everyone.