What is a Japanese beauty of style?

Almost all of the traditional architecture seen in Western countries or China are decorative. In contrary, Japanese ones are “plain” or “reserved”.
Japanese traditional architecture is no more than a sub branch of the Chinese’s mainstream from a global point of view. It’s true that Japan had been influenced by the Chinese architecture even before Buddhist architecture but it was noteworthy that Japan imported Chinese architecture in an outstanding scale in the Asuka and Kamakura era.
But once again, if you compare the Chinese architecture to the Japanese’s, there’re huge differences between the two.

Especially, if you compare the architecture established in the Nara and Kamakura era when Japan was enthusiastic about importing foreign style of culture to the Chinese counterparts in the same period, you can easily notice there’s few things in common.
For example, the simple beauty of the Japanese buildings such as the hon-do (main hall ) of Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple and Hakkaku-do Hall of Eizan-ji Temple in Nara can never be seen in the Chinese architecture in the same period. Elaborate techniques of the Zenshu-yo style placed into every corner of the Japanese architect are totally different from the Chinese ones.

From 19th through 20th century, Japan faced an overwhelmingly advanced culture of the West, which made Japan strongly feel that it must intake their industrial and military technology as soon as possible. For the Japanese, “modernization” means “westernization” and vice versa.
In order for Japan to move ahead with modernization after the Meiji Restoration, they had to embark on their new architecture project suited to the new society. They mainly relied it on engineers or architects from foreign countries.

The style of architecture seen in these construction in the initial Meiji period is so called European eclecticism originated in 19th century. In Europe, the history of Modernism Architecture started with the criticism against the old-style eclecticism; however, this eclecticism itself laid the groundwork for the modernization in case of Japan.
On the other hand, Japan had a great influence on the modern architecture in the West.
It is widely known that a German Architect, Bruno Taut (1880 – 1938) wrote that he was so impressed to see the way the shrine appeared when viewed from the outside totally matched the inner configuration of The Grand Shrine of Ise. He added that he felt as if a bolt of lightning had hit him when he saw it the first time.

Up until then, it had been very typical for the Western architecture to have the façade decorated like a fancy cake. It was not until the beginning of 20th century that a building that was more functional and has a matching interior design with exterior, comprised of reinforced steels and glasses started to appear in town.
Adolf Loos from Czechoslovakia (1870 – 1933) and Richard Joseph Neutra, born in Austria and became famous in the United States (1892 – 1970) are also well known as the architects who had been highly influenced by Japan.

Richard Joseph Neutra once visited the Katsura Imperial Villa and admired the construction, saying “I’ve finally met what I’d been looking for throughout my life. That perfectly matched my sense of space as well as my sensitivity to nature.”

Bruno Tauto described in his book that “Japan inspired Europe to a great extent. When the modern architecture started to gain popularity in Europe, it was the Japanese residential architectural styles that added the greatest driving force to it. Their architectural style is based on functionality and minimalism – big windows and storage space in terms of functionality, and its minimalist design pure and simple.” That Japan’s influence has been outstanding in no-frill functional western furniture as well.
It’s very interesting to see the contrast between Japan and the western countries at that time. Japan was trying hard to modernize itself by introducing western architectural styles while the western countries found Japanese simplicity and functionality beautiful and started introducing in their architectural styles.

Made-in-Japan “Umami”

We have been seeing the word “umami” these days. The word is spelled as it is “UMAMI” in foreign countries and has become global common language.

Since Umami was born in Japan, the Japanese appears to be more sensitive to umami. One company had conducted a survey to see to what extent Japanese can distinguish Umami from other tastes. 71% of Japanese answered correctly while 34% of foreigners could.

Speaking of umami, you would immediately think of broth or dashi in Japanese, used for the Japanese cuisine. Actually, umami is used for a wide variety of food and produces.
Tons of reporters on gourmet-related topics often say, “I can feel umami” or “This way of cooking has brought out the umami of the raw ingredients”.

What the “umami” is all about?

Actually, the word “umami” has two meanings. The first one is used for expressing how delicious the food is. In Japanese, we say “umai”(adjective) when we find food tasty. For the Japanese, “umami” is one of the words to express deliciousness of food. From that perspective, it can be said that you can use the word “umami” for any raw ingredients.

The second one is used to mean a savory taste and defines itself as the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salt and bitter.
This umami was found by Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. This is the taste born in Japan.

As explained above, umami has two meanings. Both of the meanings are frequently used, which makes it all the more confusing.
In this article, however, in distinction from “umami” used to express “deliciousness” in the Japanese language, we use the word “umami” solely to express the fifth taste.

Needless to say, it’s “umami” in the second meaning that has drawn a worldwide attention these days. At the world expo held in Milan, Italy, in 2015, the exhibition provided by the Japan Pavillion was mainly on the Japanese cuisine including broth (dashi) and umami.

More and more airline companies started serving in-flight meals making the best use of umami. On the plane, we have a decreased sense of taste due to changes in atmospheric pressure. Conventionally, one of the tastes “salt” has been used to supplement the decreased taste. Recent fliers are inclined to be more health-conscious; therefore, they started calling for healthy alternatives. Then, “umami” was spotted as a replacement for salt.

Anyway, why are the Japanese so sensitive to umami in the first place?
“The Japanese people have had fish as source of protein for a very long time. Japan is an island country and is surrounded by the sea, which makes it easy for the Japanese to eat fish in everyday life. You can get a lot of broth (dashi) from seafood and that broth contains tons of umami. This is how the Japanese have developed and sharpened the sense of taste.”, said Ryuichi Suzuki, CEO of the company conducting the research on umami mentioned above and the author of the book, titled “Nihonjin no mikaku wa sekaiichi”, (Japanese has the most delicate sense in the world).

As a matter of fact, there are variety kinds of umami around the world. Fish sauce such as nam pla and nuoc mam in South East Asia and broth taken from meat bone in China to name a few.
To be more specific, umami is a kind of amino acid including glutamic acid, inosinic acid and guanylic acid. Glutamic acid is highly contained in food such as Konbu (Seaweed), tomato and asparagus while inosinic acid in Bonito flakes, beef and pork.

Surprisingly enough, glutamic acid is also contained in green tea. When we use “umami” to express the taste of green tea, it means not only the taste itself, but also “umami”, the fifth taste.

Yoriyuki Nakamura, Project Professor of University of Shizuoka, Tea Science Center, says, “The taste of green tea mainly consists of caffeine, amino acid (L-Theanine and glutamic acid) and catechin. Especially umami of green tea comes from amino acid and bitterness from catechin. Even subtle changes will be added to umami of green tea depending on how they were cultivated and how they were poured. From way back, the Japanese are persistent to umami of green tea and have been enjoying its delicate taste.”

The Japanese have a very keen and delicate sense of taste toward umami. According to the book written by Ryuichi Suzuki, the Japanese is the only people who can tell how sweet rice is. To take advantage of being a Japanese, we should enjoy all kinds of umami.