Japan musings 4

If you didn't know what sushi was, you probably wouldn't eat it.  Many know what it is and that's reason enough never to touch it.  Sushi doesn't really look like "food".  It inhabits strange territory that only the Japanese could have invented, and is very much a product of the Japanese attitude and relationship toward nature, and reinforces the preceding discussions about the formal structure of Japanese culture.

The invention of sushi involved the reconciliation of land and sea, a reconciliation that might describe Japan itself.  It was found that fish could be preserved if it were wrapped with rice that was allowed to ferment (along with salt).  And so fish, one of the staples of the Japanese diet, was married to the other staple, rice, which was produced inland.  The result was something that phenomenally reinforced the edge over center, as if to declare to rice that land will not own our cuisine, and to seafood that the ocean will not be central, either.  The interstice, the coast, will be our center.

The combination of fish and rice did not proceed without changing the nature of the fish or the rice.  The fish lost its fishness; it is no longer identifiable as such.  It has been sliced into an abstract of both size and form, and its canvas is rice, which must now be self supporting.  Often sticky, the rice may assume the form of the fish, or it may be bound together with the fish by a band, also eatable.  The new creation is not cooked but is raw, with the shiny flesh of the sea creature showing itself to the world, and the granular cloud of white grain beneath, as if soft bones clinging to each other.  Sushi declares itself not fish, not rice.  Its a new species, only minutes from life, served with brethren equally alien, from both land and sea.

This remaking of nature in mans image in not a new idea.  The history of the garden is the history of just such remaking.  But in Japan this remaking is allowed its own realm, where the remade version is understood not as mans interpretation of nature but as the nature of nature.  It is the essence of nature; more nature than nature.

Kani miso              ©Hiromi Kikuno

©Hiromi Kikuno

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