The Seasonal Beauty of Japanese Food with Film Series “Little Forest”

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Japan is well known for its distinct seasonality, especially in its food. Japanese celebrate their seasons by enjoying the fresh ingredients unique to that season, which is a feature for washoku, a famous national cuisine. A meal in Japan goes beyond simply eating the food. It means protection of the nature and a way of communication.

Edited based on novels, the film series have two parts, Little Forest: Summer and Autumn in 2014 and Little Forest: Winter and Spring in 2015. Written by Daisuke Igarashi, Little Forest tells the tale of Ichiko, who returns to her hometown Komori, namely what is called as “Little Forest”, because she failed to find her place in the city. There she lives a solitary life farming the land and living in accordance with the changing seasons, which reflects the strong culture of Japanese Seasonal food.

The film series move in a peaceful, lovely and slow pace. Ichiko lives on herself in the small-town Komori. It is a rural village in the mountains of the Tōhoku region, separating its residents from the cities. Living here without access to the stores, people do the farming on themselves on this fertile land. Mountainous and lush fields stretch to the end of where eyes can see and everywhere is green with wildlife and live stocks. This provides the background for Ichiko’s farming and food trip. Divided into four parts based on the different seasons, the films follow an interesting structure, with the narrative plot went forward by the dishes that Ichiko cooks in accordance with the season and the resources that are available to her (Beyer, 2018). Major portions of both these films are spent in the kitchen, with detailed footage of how each individual dish is prepared. Each food is an origin of a memory she has with her mother, boyfriend and friends.

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During the summertime, Japan is known for its heat and humidity in the most regions. Due to the weather, Japanese suffer from health problems like summer fatigue. Adjusting to the right food is an ideal way to avoid or reduce the problem. In the film, Ichiko comes back to the small town in the summer and is impressed with the humidity. Ichiko made iced rice wine to release from tiredness after planting the rice paddy. She collects wild berries in hedgerows to make berry jam and store it in the fridge to enjoy it in the autumn and winter. Here she recalls the time when she tried to reach the berry on the tree to prove her strength in front of her boyfriend because she is a country girl. Though Ichiko is versatile, she is self-abased for her origin. There’s sometime that she has no appetite for food so she cooks vegetables typical in summer like tomatoes and eggplants to make cold sides dishes, which is a classical Japanese dish since it contains antioxidants that protects people from the strong sunlight. Other than these, Japanese has various countless food typical in summer for example soba, udon that are served in cold sauce because noodles are rich in Vitamins B, which can help body to convert energy (Rigero, 2017).

Typically, autumn season starts in September in Japan as most countries in north hemisphere. In autumn, Ichiko climbed up on the tree to get the Akebia quinata, which is a wild fruit getting mature in September. This reminds her with the old time when she played with her best friend as they were still little kids and climbed bravely up to the tree for the fruit. But now, she becomes less brave probably because people has more to concerned about as growing up. Ichiko has the magic to turn anything left as delicious dishes. The cortex of this fruit can also be cooked and make it into a bento box. Autumn is the season for all kinds of nuts. She collects nuts in autumn, competing with squirrels, and carefully picks out the flesh and dips them into the sugar water to make the dessert. It is a joy for her to view the leaves turning yellow and red and enjoy the cuisine made by herself. In Japan, new rice (Shinmai) is rice harvested during that autumn season so fresh and full of rice aroma. Japanese think that new harvest rice has more moisture making them softer, stickier, better fragrant hence the taste is stronger which is consider a better taste for most Japanese (Wilson, 2016).

During winter, sweet snakes and desserts are good choices to warm up after the whole day work. In the films, Ichiko made sweet buns filled with red beans harvested in the autumn, which bring her great joy after work. Due to the cold weather in winter, pickling vegetable is also a strategy to store the delicious vegetable from previous seasons and add it into soup, cold side dishes or stew to add flavor. Pickled vegetable is typical for food storage in most Asian counties in cold days. During Christmas time, Ichiko made the cream matcha and red bean cake she learned from her mother and she sympathized and missed her mother after knowing how hard it is to cook the food. Without the companion of her mother, she celebrated the festival with her friends. The warmth and happiness in Christmas give her hope to live better for the upcoming new year.

Spring comes when everything wakes up and starts to grow. Spring in Japan is best known for the cherry blossom festivals and it is considered the beginning of many activities such as the start of the school year, business year, entrance ceremonies held by companies and even the fiscal year begins in April (Rigero, 2017). It is the season for hope and to start the new journey, also the season for edible wild herbs. Ichiko picked herbs in the bask to preserve the taste of spring by making the tempura, which is seafood or vegetables that is battered and deep fried. Wild herbs give Ichiko great pleasure of freshness after the long wintertime but also remind Ichiko with her mother’s leaving. It was a day when she was in high school and she was about to catch the coming bus, she asked her mother to pick the wild herbs which are her best friend’s favorite. Somehow she forgot it was snowy outside and the herbs were buried under the snow. Her mother did it for her with great efforts and made it into a delicious dish, then left her without any notice. Since then, Ichiko lives her life on herself alone. The salty flavor of the dish represents the dismay of her mother’s heart to raise her daughter herself without understanding. Ichiko planted cabbage in last autumn and during spring it is the harvest time so she tries to make cabbage into cakes with the natural sweet taste. Ichiko understood all the sorrow of her mother and decided to leave Little Forest for the city.

Japanese food is not only a meal but also an important culture of the modern society. With the distinct seasonal changes, food is selected accordingly to represent the respect of the season and expression of their emotion connecting with their families, friends and communities. The film series “Little Forest” are a good portraiture of the Japanese seasonal food culture in the background of rural peaceful natural life. it is beautiful on its own because of its simplicity and pureness to express the joy from seasonal food recalling the memories and emotions from her loving people. All Ichiko learned about food is taught by her mother, which reflects the food culture heritage by generations to remember that seasons and food are the identity of their culture. It is also a great and enjoyable films series to learn from food culture in Japan since food is always an important part of our life and people from other parts of world can resonate with it.

Reference

  1. Beyer, Vicki L. BeyerVicki L. “The Seasonal Beauty of Japanese Cuisine | Food | Metropolis.” Metropolis Magazine, 27 June 2018, metropolisjapan.com/book-review-seasonal-beauty-japanese-cuisine/.
  2. Wilson, S. (2016. October 26). Top 5 Japanese autumn foods Japan Today. Retrieved from: https://www.japantoday.com/category/food/view/top-5-japanese-autumn-foods
  3. Ritgerð til BA (2017. May) What is the importance and role of food in modern Japanese society?. B.A í Japönsku máli og menningu
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