The Japanese people have consistently enjoyed the longest life span of any technologically advanced society. Not only do the Japanese live longer, but they remain physically and mentally adept to an advanced age. Three primary factors contribute to this achievement.
The Japanese islands have a unique combination of soil quality and a distinctive four seasons climate. From the freezing winters of Hokkaido to the balmy warm weather of Kyushu and Okinawa, there is a climatic diversity unique in the world. The myriad of foods grown on the islands offer an unprecedented variety of tastes and textures for which Japanese cuisine is famous.
Due to the fact that Japan sits atop dozens of volcanos, the soil has a volcanic component unmatched anywhere except Hawaii. It is well known that volcanic soil produces the most delicious and nutritious foods that can be grown. Coffee grown in Hawaii and Azuki beans grown in Hokkaido are world famous examples.
Some of the purest water found in the world emerges from these volcanic filters. The legendary quality of Japanese vinegar, miso, soy sauce, beer and sake are a result of the exceptional water used in their production.
Seasonal Understanding - Culture of Shoku
The Japanese people have traditionally possessed a profound respect and understanding of nature. A keen sense of attuning to seasonal cycles known as shokudo is the foundation of the world's healthiest diet. Kaiseki cuisine incorporates in every meal a seasonal fresh representative from the sea (fish or seaweed), the fields (rice), the mountains (tea and or Ume) and the rivers (wasabi).
The Japanese dining experience always incorporates beautiful and artistic presentation of the unique colors and textures of the various foods. A minimalist approach to cooking preserves the freshness and integrity of the ingredients. Heavy spices and sauces are avoided so as not to mask the essence of the natural tastes.
An extraordinary variety of unique pickles are always served to aid the digestion and enjoyment of each food. Every attempt is made to offer meals that are stylistically beautiful to the senses, balanced according to the season, delicious to the palate and designed to promote radiant health.
The Miracle of Fermentation
The single greatest achievement by the Japanese in their creation of medicinal quality foods was their discovery and refinement of employing a vital ingredient for human health (natural sea salt) in the fermentation process. Fermenting foods creates changes in them that produce extremely beneficial bacteria to aid the body to digest and assimilate the nutrients from the foods.
Because Japan has no appreciable grazing land for cattle they needed to rely on vegetable kingdom protein for their protein requirements. Since soybeans are extremely high in protein and are easy to grow, they were an ideal and practical solution for the Japanese peoples' protein needs. But there was a problem with soybeans that the ancient Japanese intuitively knew.
Unfermented soybeans contain high levels of phytic acid which reduces the body's ability to assimilate calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid is not neutralized by soaking, sprouting or long slow cooking. Also soybeans contain trypsin inhibitors that interfere with the ability of the body to digest protein.
By refining the art of fermentation with soybeans to create miso and soy sauce as well as a myriad of other products, the Japanese elevated their cuisine to the healthiest in the world. It should be noted that European societies such as France and Germany also became sophisticated societies after employing various fermentation techniques for dairy products such as yogurt, certain cheeses, wine and pickles from cucumbers.
One caveat about fermentation is that it cannot be rushed. Many products on the shelves today such as so-called "natural" soy sauce are only fermented for a period of weeks or months and not only do they lack medicinal components but can actually be dangerous. Traditional fermentation techniques always involved a lengthy process of a minimum of 18 months and exposure to the changing temperatures of the seasons. This is vitally important because during the warm months many different strains of bacteria appear, some beneficial some harmful. As the product is subjected to the cooler temperatures of the fall and the cold temperatures of winter, the harmful strains are eliminated by the cold and only the hardy, beneficial bacteria remains. In many cases products such as miso are aged a minimum of two years or eight full seasons before they are deemed to be a medicinal product. Please be aware to only consume only those traditionally slow-fermented products that have been aged long enough to develop their medicinal components.
Japan vs. China
It took centuries for the Japanese to discover the ideal areas for producing each medicinal quality food. For example, the best tea grows in the Ise Shrine area. The best Kombu seaweeds comes from remote areas off the coast of Hokkaido. The best vinegars are produced in Kyushu because of the warm weather and pure water.The best shiitake is grown on enogi wood logs in a remote area of the Japanese Alps.
Recently, many inferior products from China have appeared in the natural marketplace bearing Japanese names but mass produced in heavily polluted areas. These products are produced for commercial purposes only with no regard for quality. They lack depth of character and purity since they are not produced using the time-honored methods skilled Japanese craftsmen developed for creating true medicinal quality foods.