Have you ever noticed how elegant and pretty are the cups and plates at a Japanese restaurant? Tableware in Japan is just as important as food itself. Carefully selecting the perfect plate or bowl that will match and enhance the beauty of the cooked ingredients can be a real pleasure, a hobby and even an art form that belong to the Japanese food arrangement. Of course, like in many countries, the better the restaurant, the more exquisite the vessels and its material. Since the 16th century, Japanese people have been developing this long tradition of displaying food in an extraordinary way.
Naturally, this art would not exist without great craftsmen, potters and masters that create incredible ceramic objects. Since the recognition is valued so much and so deep in the culture some artists signed work can be extremely expensive. Whether it is a home environment or a high end restaurant, setting a Japanese table brings joy and can even make one feel rewarded. In Kyoto, hometown of the Kaiseki cuisine, not only are the ingredients seasonal but so are the dishes used _ in autumn a plate could be in the shape of a brown leaf for instance. Color, shape, and even tactile feel of a vessel are chosen to enhance whatever food is served, making it seem even more delicious and appetizing.
In occidental countries, one is used to see cutlery, glasses for wine and water and plates. In Japan, since some dishes include additional side dishes or food to be eaten at the same time, the table can easily be covered with a great number of small size vessels: soy sauce plate and jar, chopstick holder, miso soup bowl, pickle plates, etc. Nowadays, the Japanese ceramic industry is still healthier than ever. Talented and creative potters (some are of famous lineages) sell enough to make a living and tableware shops can be found easily throughout the country and even outside of its frontiers.
Not to be forgotten, lacquerware craftsmen are also very important when it comes to a Japanese table; it stands as one of the most distinctive form of Japanese beauty. Known as Japan’s first paint, lacquer has been used for thousands of years, covering anything from temples to combs. On top of being beautiful it helped protecting from moisture as well. In a kitchen, the creations often takes the appearance in the form of the ubiquitous soup bowl, tray or box and are usually black and/or red color with small gold designs. Using lacquer bowls for instance exude warmth that has to be handled to be appreciated: the texture is silky and smooth, giving a comforting and gentle feel as the borders are brought to the lips to drink the hot liquid. The black interior offers the perfect background for a classic miso or clear soup. To this day, lacquer ware is still very popular.
Photo: Emilie Mounsaveng