When it comes to Japanese tableware, there is more to take in than you might first think. Japanese food is very closely linked to Japanese culture, with specific rules and practices of how things should be done firmly in place. The way in which Japanese food is eaten and the tableware that it used to do so has some very distinct differences to traditional Western tableware. There are many different aspects of Japanese tableware, with each one having its own purpose and history. Let’s take a look at what makes traditional Japanese tableware so unique.
A Western Comparison
Compared to Western table settings, Japanese tableware holds many similarities as well as differences. Both forms largely rely on a number of pieces tableware, each serving a different purpose, though the two styles differ in the focus of these purposes. Where Japanese tableware focuses more on the dishes the food is served, the tableware used in Western cultures is more focused on the variety of cutlery at a place setting. A traditional Japanese place setting can include over 10 different components. A variety of bowls, dishes, plates, strainers and cups, as well as chopsticks are traditionally used when dining in Japan. Although each vessel has a specific purpose, cutlery, however, does not – a contradiction to Western culture where cutlery is an important aspect of a meal. Japanese tableware also varies from Western culture in the form of how the food is eaten. Traditionally in Japan, food is served individually in small dishes to each person and is not often shared from one large central dish, whereas Western cultures frequently dine in this way with many people taking their food from the same dish at the table. Japan believes in individual dining experiences and enjoying food solely for oneself.
The history of Japanese tableware
The history of Japanese tableware dates back to the Jomon era (10,000 B.C. – 300 B.C.) and the Yayoi period (300 B.C. – A.D. 300). During this time, Japanese tableware was crafted from clay that had been fired on the ground without cover – instead of using a traditional kiln – at temperatures of around 700-900℃. At first, many earthen vessels in Japanese tableware had rounded bottoms and pointed tips so that they could be used for cooking on a fireplace, however, with time these pieces of Japanese tableware evolved and flat bottoms became more common as the vessels grew richer in variety. As this type of Japanese tableware became more popular, so did their decorative nature; the dishes soon became more refined through elaborate and artistic design. As time passed, new materials and techniques were introduced to the Japanese tableware making experience. Characteristics of both earthenware and porcelain were introduced with influences from Korean and Chinese pottery. During the 1600s, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony was in fashion, leading to the production of earthenware and stoneware in quintessentially Japanese designs. As traditional Japanese pottery grew and changed, so did the increase in exports to the wide-scale European market.
Traditional Japanese tableware tended to be earthenware made from clay, whereas modern Western tableware is made from porcelain, a mix of powdered stone and clay. The reason for the difference in materials is down to the use and purpose of Japanese tableware dishes. When eating, Japanese dishes are held during the meal and are carried to the mouth, so it is important that the materials are pleasant, warm and light to suit and enhance the dining experience.
Shape and size
Japanese tableware is traditionally smaller, lighter and easier to hold compared to Western pieces. Bowls and other common pieces are crafted to suit the dish being consumed and the cutlery used. For example, taller and deeper dishes are designed to better suit the use of chopsticks.
Traditionally, most Japanese tableware and food vessels had no need to be uniform in shape or size. With so many different plates and dishes featuring in homes and restaurants, and each with a different purpose, it was not unusual for the pieces to vary in design, shape or size. In most families, each member has their own personal collection of Japanese tableware and will use a specific rice bowl and chopsticks.
There are many practices to look at when it comes to eating food in Japan, each with their own purpose and history. In the majority of dining experiences, each dish is served on an ‘ozen’, a four-legged tray which is used not only for carrying food but also as a dining table for a single person. This Japanese tableware custom is seen as an example of ‘omotenashi’, the act of making each individual feel special.
At Atelier Japan, our collection of Japanese tableware, drinking vessels and traditional earthenware is designed to give your dining experience a truly authentic feel. Browse the collection to experience our exquisite range of handcrafted tableware in your own home. https://www.atelierjapan.co.uk/