chapter  3
16 Pages


FOOD Although the average Japanese of this period does not seem to have been excessively fond of food (at any rate less fond than his contemporary European), he did not despise it for all that. He was fortunate in having at his disposal the very numerous products of land and sea which, in the course of time, he had learned to use to the best advantage. Nevertheless, the eating habits of the Japanese of this era varied considerably according to which class they belonged and, of course, as anywhere else in the world, according to their means. The aristocrats of Kyôto differed from the commoners, the farmers, and above all from the warriors in that they most scrupulously observed the Buddhist prohibitions concerning meat. Howeever, they ate fish. It always filled them with amazement to see the lower classes eating, as if they were beings from a different planet. Sei Shônagon writes in her Makura-no-Sôshi (Pillow Book):

Although it was not customary for the nobles to eat meat, some of them relished this kind of food, and sometimes secretly indulged this taste. In the Hyakurenshô, on the date corresponding to June 24, 1236 it is related that a nobleman was deeply shocked at the sight of warriors eating venison in one of the temples of Kyôto,2 although this was usual for warriors not bound by Buddhist food restrictions. Obviously, a temple was exposed to defilement if meat was eaten there. Moreover, the Meigetsuki, on the dates corresponding to December 10, 1227 and September 30, 1230 states that certain nobles met regularly to eat cranes, quails, various kinds of birds (rumour added rabbits and badgers), despite the complaints of the others.3 On that account, it became increasingly difficult for these vegetarians, particularly when there was a poor rice crop, owing to wars or drought, to resist the attraction of more substantial fare.