Seasonality is a cornerstone of the Japanese diet, one of the most sophisticated culinary traditions is the world. It also a well know fact that Japanese have one of the highest life expectancy and lowest obesity rates compared to any other nation.
Seasonal foods arrive at the peak of freshness. They taste better and invariably offer higher nutritional content than out of season foods. Here are a few examples:
- Matsutake mushrooms are eagerly awaited in the fall, and restaurants design special menus around them.
- Takenoko (bamboo shoots) are in season in the spring, during the months of March through May. They are simmered in dashi (stock) and cooked with seasonings such as soy sauce and mirin (sweet sake).
Asparagus is shun in early summer. It is moist, tender and highly flavorful and takes minimal cooking to prepare.
- Akajiso (red Shiso) has a brief season starting in early June (unlike green Shiso leaves, which are available year-round).
First Arrival (hashiri)
In pursuit of shun, Japanese eagerly anticipate the very first seasonal arrivals. These are called hashiri. They are rare and exciting, and always fetch a premium price.
Hashiri foods are from the first harvest or the first catch of the season. They are typically smaller and less flavorful than the ones in peak season.
For example, from spring to summer, fishermen follow the bonito traveling north.
Many fishing ports in Japan celebrate the first hashiri catch of bonito in early June, where locals have associations with names such as “Bonito Festival Planning Committee”.
Sensing of the Season (kisetsu-kan)
Japanese have a deep awareness of seasonality, embedded in living traditions of kisetsu-kan (sensing of the season).
Even greetings and salutations in emails and letters typically include something about the season such as “I hope you are enjoying this colorful autumn!”
These traditions mark turning of the seasons. They also serve as reminders that nature is kind and will continue to provide for us.
The least we can do in return is to be grateful and kind to nature.