My first encounter with Japan’s food culture was serendipitous. In the mid-1960s, I was given the opportunity to experience a short homestay in rural Japan. At the time, I spoke no Japanese and had never cooked anything myself. But I marveled at the nimble kitchen rhythms of the Shikoku household in which I first found myself. Simple, wholesome, satisfying fare came to the table throughout the day, every day in a cycle of seemingly effortless kitchen activity.

Fast-forward five decades, during which my curiosity led me to study the food and culture of Japan in earnest. Along the way, I realized that often what made the difference between “just ordinary” and “wonderful” food was a mindset and a set of practical guidelines that Japan’s washoku home cooks have relied on for centuries, and continue to use today.

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