By Xenia Heinickel
Repast: Quarterly Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor, Vol.19:4 (2003)
Introduction: In Western eyes, the delicately cut piece of food is often regarded as central to traditional Japanese cooking. The skilful use of the knife is indeed one of the most prominent features of the Japanese kitchen, and mastery of various cutting-techniques is a matter of course to the Japanese chef as well as to the ambitious homemaker. However, the origins of this focus on the knife as the most favored kitchen tool are not well understood. The search for these origins leads us back many a century to the world of classical and medieval Japan and to one of the least known of the Japanese arts:, the art of slicing the meats of fish and fowl.
The first traces of this art are to be found in the classical or Heian period (794-1185 CE). Heian Japan was a large aristocractic-bureaucratic state in which the court nobles held an unrivalled position as the political and cultural leaders. The core and center of their world was the capital Heiankyo (modern Kyoto), where the Emperor’s court and other spacious residences were situated There the nobles led leisurely lives, with their days dedicated to the refinement of various arts, aesthetic ideas, and pastimes, one of which was cooking.