Japan’s washoku cooks have long recognized the value of sourcing food from varied terrain. Some of Japan’s earliest written works, the eighth-century “Kojiki” (“Records of Ancient Matters”) and “Nihon Shoki” (“Chronicles of Japan”), reference the concept of “umi no sachi, yama no sachi” (literally the “bounty of the oceans, bounty of the land”).

Ancient Shinto ritual feasts — consecrated naorai offerings to be shared with the gods — always included items such as konbu (kelp) from the sea and rice from the land. This surf-and-turf approach to meal planning is still observed today with menus that showcase the richness of any given environment.

The practice of including foods from both terrestrial and marine sources at each and every meal ensures a variety of flavor, texture and nutritional richness: gustatory pleasure. It also speaks to the importance of balanced ecosystems made sustainable by avoiding overfishing, overhunting and farming practices, such as monoculture, that diminish soil quality. Oceans, lakes, streams, ponds, fields, forests, deserts, tundra and even urban landscapes offer up a vast array of foodstuffs — each to be sourced mindful of the need to regenerate, rather than deplete, natural resources.

What does umi no sachi, yama no sachi look like at the table? Kaiseki feasts include a special course, known as hassun, that spotlights land-and-sea delicacies starkly arranged in clusters, plated in the lower left and far right of a dish, respectively. Combining land-and-sea bionetworks can also be as subtle and simple as choosing to garnish earthy mushrooms with briny aonori seaweed instead of terrestrial scallions or parsley. For those who eat an exclusively plant-based diet, there are hundreds of delightful sea vegetables to pair with garden produce — such as ocean-sourced kanten agar with fruit. It can even be as humble as an onigiri, that delightful combination of land-cultivated rice and harvested-from-the-sea nori shaped into an easy-to-eat bundle found at all konbini (convenience stores).

Ready to celebrate the bounty of the seas and the land at your table? A simple way to do this is to make takikomi gohan, a pilaf-like rice dish that becomes a vehicle for seasonal foods.

For more information, visit tasteofculture.com. Washoku Essentials is a series focusing on the building blocks of Japanese cooking wisdom.

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