Staying Healthy: Food Regulations and Eating Practices

In the dietetics of life cultivation, food and medicine are closely interrelated, as food is seen as medicine and eating accordingly as medical practice. Food consumption, in other words, can cure or cause disease. Just to give some examples: Roasted mochi and roasted meat can cause adenopharyngitis (kohi), when not dipped into water after roasting, and the consumption of eggplant can lead to malaria and dysentery (gyakuri) as well as heat (febrile) disease (shokan) if not prepared correctly (e.g. IV, 10 and IV, 11). Upon which foundation, then, should the adherent to life cultivation and nourishment base his/ her food choices?

Given that Ekiken established the control of inner desires as the main technique for the cultivation of life, this approach is also applied to eating. He repeatedly advises adherents to strictly control the amount of food consumed at every meal: only two or three mouthfuls of rice and one or two bowls of side dishes (Ekiken III, 45). In another passage, Ekiken admonishes the reader to eat no more than seven-eighths of the amount one considers adequate (Ekiken III, 16) or to even reduce it to half of the amount one could eat or drink (Ekiken I, 9). In yet another passage, we read:

In the morning and in the evening one side dish should be sufficient. Additionally, one can choose to add hishio[ ], fermented meat (shishi- bishio), or pickles (tsukemono). Also wealthy people should only prepare one soup per meal. If you entertain guests, you may prepare two soups: if the first one does not meet the taste of the guests, you can still serve the other one. But generally that is not necessary. The Tang period poet Kao Shi-liang said, that he and his siblings never prepared soups or meat but were content with one dish. It is said that he only ate hokuho [daikon and yugao (bottle gourd)]. Even the wealthy and respected Fan Zongxuan didn’t eat meat every day. (Ekiken IV, 2)

The most important rule in food regulations is thus frugality. The link between the ideal of frugality, life nourishment and Neo-Confucian ideology within the context of the Edo period will be touched upon later, but on the level of medicine, overeating is considered to cause imbalance, stagnation and depletion (e.g. III, I, 2). One, therefore, has to control one’s desire to overeat and drink too much.

Making the ‘right’ food choices is, therefore, a rather complicated process, which depends on a broad variety of factors and requires knowledge about medicine, metaphysics, philosophy, and one’s body. First of all, it is important to know whether the food to be prepared and consumed is yin or yang and whether it is ascribed ‘cold’ or ‘warm’ [1]

properties.[2] As the body lacks yang, food with yang properties is in general healthier than yin food:

All foodstuffs that have yin energy are poisonous and should therefore not be eaten. In the Xiang Dang chapter of the Lunyu it is said that the sages didn’t eat food that had lost its yang-energy and had adopted yin-energy. (IV, 7)

Food must be eaten fresh, as the yang energy in fresh food is strong, whereas the yin energy increases the older food gets (Ekiken IV, 6). But even food that has too much yin energy, and is thus categorized as being unhealthy, can be turned into a healthy meal by preparing it in a certain way. One example would be nashi-pear, which as fruit is considered to be of a cold (yin) character: ‘Nashi are very cold fruits. But their cold properties are reduced when steamed or cooked. However, people with a weak stomach should not eat them at all’ (IV, 15). Ekiken also comments on tofu, which he considers to be poisonous and to block the flow of energy. However, it can be consumed without harm when cooked and eaten warm (IV, 17). Cooking, steaming, drying and roasting are mentioned most frequently as methods to change the basic yin or yang properties of food, but spices and even the way food is cut is said to also change the food’s character: ‘People that have a weak stomach may eat radish, carrots, taro when cut into thin slices and well cooked. Pieces that are cut too thick and not cooked sufficiently will damage spleen and stomach’ (Ekiken IV, 12 also IV 14, 20, 26; for adding spices, see e.g. III, 29).[3] Spleen and stomach digest and transform food into ‘essential fluids’, distribute nutrients and ‘food energy’ (shokki/shokuki also sho- kuke) to the body, which - as acquired essence - also nurtures the genki.

Spleen and stomach should, therefore, be given the ‘right’ foodstuffs to ‘fuel’ the body:

One should know what kind of food spleen and stomach like and what kind of food they don’t, and eat accordingly. But what do spleen and stomach like? They like food that is warm, soft, ripe, not sticky, light in taste, cooked, pure, fresh, aromatic and balanced, as well as dishes that do not tend towards one of the five tastes. (III, 46)

Choice of food is also connected to the seasons. Yet, the relation between human and environment in kampo (Chinese) medicine is never static, but characterized by change. Most influential in this context is the cyclical change of the seasons. Each season has its specific yin or yang character, which will in turn effect the yin and yang balance of the body, and food intake must be adapted accordingly.[4] Winter is considered to be yin and summer yang, and both are then also respectively characterized by the qualities ‘cold’ and ‘warm’. In general, one should prefer food with cold properties in summer and with warm properties in winter, to counter the dominance of either yin or yang. melon therefore should not be eaten on cold and windy days, but is recommended during the extreme heat of the summer (IV, 9). However, as cold is connected to yin, one always has to be cautious and cold drinks are in general bad for spleen and stomach (III, 4).[5] The fourth month is considered to be the month of ‘pure yang (jun-on), and during that month one should refrain not only from sexual intercourse but also from eating food that has a warm (yang) character like pheasant and crane (VI, 14), as adding yang to the body would lead to imbalance. When the yang

element is too strong, ‘heat’ symptoms will occur, whereas a person with an abundance of yin would show signs of ‘cold’.[6]

Ekiken’s dietary food regime further implements a number of regulations that deal with the proper mixture of ingredients as well as instructions concerning foodstuffs that, due to their properties, should or should not be consumed together (kuiawase) in one meal.[7] His rather encyclopaedic categorization of incompatible foodstuffs certainly follows earlier Chinese and Japanese texts on dietetics.[8] In paragraph 41 of chapter IV, Ekiken provides a long list of such food combinations:

Pork does not go well with ginger, soba, coriander, parched beans (iri- mame), plum, beef, deer, snapping turtle, crane, and quail. [... ] Hare should not be eaten together with ginger, the paring of lemon (narabana), mustard, chicken, deer or otter. [... ] Duck may not be eaten with walnut and Jew’s ear. [... ] Meat of the sparrow does not go well with apricot and mackerel. [... ] When one eats mung bean together with the seeds of the nutmeg-yew, one will die. (IV, 41)

Although meat was certainly eaten during the Edo period despite laws that banned meat consumption, it would not have been on the menu in the cities on a regular basis.[9] Yet, Ekiken rather frequently comments on meat consumption in his treatise. How can that be explained? First of all, meat consumption in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was considered to be a rather luxurious treat. Extensive meat eating would therefore contradict the Confucian ideal of frugality. Accordingly, Ekiken is critical of eating too much meat and argues that the frugal lifestyle of the mountainous regions, where - reportedly - hardly any meat is consumed (whether that is true is another question), should likewise become the guiding principle for people living in coastal areas and big cities (III, 20). Ekiken lived in Fukuoka, and the ‘bowls’ on Kyushu certainly contained meat more regularly than those on Honshu. One reason was the influence of European meat-eating culture through Christianity in the South, while contemporary Japanese also admired the physical strength of Europeans, which was ascribed to meat consump- tion.[10] Ekiken also regularly travelled to Nagasaki to buy Chinese books on Confucianism and medicine, plants and medicine. During his trips, he would have met with the Chinese residents and merchants in Nagasaki, whose diet included considerably more meat. But most importantly, Ekiken’s frequent reference to meat also has to be linked to the medical characteristics assigned to meat in kampo medicine and Chinese medical treatises, where meat eating is referred to as kusurigui (‘medicinal eating’). Meat - in modest quantities - is thus considered to have a positive influence on the human body and to support the body’s recovery when weakened: ‘It is not necessary to abstain from eating meat; a little bit of meat will support your appetite and nurtures one’s vital energy’ (III, 21).

As shown, Ekiken’s advice on food intake is far from being generic. Besides depending on the combination of different foodstuffs according to their yin/yang properties and the influence of seasons, he also includes rather individual criteria such as body, geographic origin, age, gender and health condition to determine a person’s ‘right’ diet.[11] As such, Ekiken advises old and weak people, for example, to avoid raw, cold, sticky, and greasy food, cold and dry mochi, whale, sardine, tuna, barracuda and fresh fruits (Ekiken IV, 38). People, then, with a weak spleen or stomach should only eat cooked vegetables and also fried fish is recommended for people with a weak spleen.

Special attention is dedicated to the character of rice as a staple food.[12] Rice is considered to be very nutritious, but again overeating was thought to block the circulation of energy and negatively affect spleen and stomach. Rice can lead to constipation and should therefore be prepared according to a person’s health condition:

Steamed rice (takiboshi) is good for healthy people. Steaming rice twice (futabi it) is good for people whose vital energy is blocked or stagnates. Steaming rice in a lot of water (yudori ii) is good for people with weak stomachs and spleens. When rice is cooked until it becomes sticky like glue or paste, it will obstruct one’s vital energy. Hard-cooked rice is difficult to digest. New rice has a strong character and is not good for people in a weak condition. In particular, the variety of rice that ripens early agitates one’s vital energy and is not good for sick people. Late- ripening rice has a light character and is fine. (Ekiken III, 5)

In this context, Ekiken also directs his concern towards the correctly balanced intake of the five tastes (gomi), which are sour, sweet, salty, bitter and hot. Within kampo medicine the five tastes correspond to the five phases (gogyo), which on the level of the interior body are, in turn, linked to the abovementioned five organs: liver (wood), spleen (earth), kidneys (water), heart (fire), and lung (metal). Overeating one of the flavours would thus adversely affect the proper function of the respective organ.

Partiality in the five tastes (gomi) means that one eats too much of a certain flavour. If one eats too many sweet things, one’s belly will bulge painfully. If one eats too many hot, sharp tasting things, one’s vitality will rise too much and will be reduced, and one will suffer from eczema and bad eyesight. If one eats too many salty things, blood and throat will dry up. Drinking too much water will lead to dampness, which will affect spleen and stomach. Consuming too many sour things will result in the stagnation of vital energy. (III, 9; see also II, 50)

The time when a meal is consumed is significant in life cultivation, as the wrong time could lead to the stagnation of vital energy followed by diarrhoea and vomiting, which in turn will shorten one’s lifespan (III, 48). As was common by the end of the seventeenth century, Ekiken considers three meals per day as the ideal regimen for all classes; with breakfast and dinner as the main meals. Lunch is of no concern to Ekiken, indicating that he considered midday meals to be no more than a snack, which was a common notion around 1700. However, the correct time of eating a meal very much depended on whether the food eaten before had already been digested. A meal could thus be taken later or could even be skipped entirely if one were still digesting or bloated. Breakfast is regarded as the most important and substantial meal of the day, while the evening meal should be light with only a few side dishes, taken right after sunset (III, 18, 19, 27, 71). Evening meals would therefore be taken later in the summer than in the winter. The meal itself should not be greasy or have a strong taste, with the exception of fish or certain birds for dinner. Additionally, Japanese mountain yam (yamaimo), ginseng (ninjin), Chinese cabbage (hakusai), taro (imo), and three-leaf arrowhead (kuwai) should be avoided or eaten with care in the evening (III, 19). During the night one should not eat, with the exception of cold winter nights when eating and drinking would protect the body against the cold. The length of the day also has an impact on the in-between meals (tenjin). In general, snacks should be reduced to a minimum, but during the winter, one should entirely refrain from inbetween meals, as the days are shorter (III, 19, 27, 70).[13]

Although Ekiken comments on how to prepare certain dishes, how to cook rice, how to slice meat and fish and how to correctly wash vegetables, he is not concerned with developing a delicious meal, but a dish that will benefit the eater’s health. Taste - and the act of consuming — in the sense of enjoying a delicious meal is thus of no concern for Ekiken, and tasty food even constitutes a problem, because it is much harder to resist and to exercise self-control.

So far, I have focused on how medical ideas and the materiality of the body regulate and steer food choice and eating habits in the Yojokun. Although drinking and eating seem to be ‘natural’, they are in fact culturally encoded techniques — as are ideas of the body — that construct the body as a social fact.[14] In the following passage, I will focus on life nourishment and dietetics as ‘techniques of the body’[15] in the context of power. The abovementioned elements of food choice must thus be interpreted not only within the framework of kampo medicine and ideas on the materiality of the body, but have to be seen as techniques of regulating and disciplining[16] and therefore be analysed within the political context of the time and the ethics of Neo-Confucianism.

  • [1] Hishio is considered to be an early form of soy-sauce and used for seasoning. It is made fromeither a meat, wheat or soya bean base to which salt is added.
  • [2] These properties can also be linked to a disease called shdkan (cold damage). Based on theChinese classic Bencao, Ekiken considers, e.g. eggplants as harmful for the body as they can causecold damage. ‘Cold’ as a cause of disease is a recurrent topic in the Ydjdkun. Given that Ekiken alsoquotes the Shang Han Lun, he will have been acquainted with cold damage also from this source.For more on cold damage, see Mitchell, Feng and Wiseman, Shang Han Lun. On Cold Damage.
  • [3] For different schools of cutting, e.g. ceremonies and for presentation, see Rath, Food andFantasy, 38-51. Nishiyama, Edo Culture, 151-155.
  • [4] Food that is only yin will do harm to one’s body (IV, 7), as it will lead to stagnation of the kiflow. However, yin and yang properties are not fixed, but in motion. The older the food gets, themore it loses its ‘vital energy’ (seiki ^.M), and the more it loses its yang character, which will resultin an increase of damaging yin (e.g. IV, 7).
  • [5] However, in another paragraph Ekiken advises not to consume cold and raw food, as well ascold noodles and cold water during the summer months, as the yin energy (inki) during thesemonths retreats to the inner organs, where this ‘hidden yin (fukuin) can cause constipation (Ekiken VI, 13).
  • [6] In Chinese medicine ‘cold and heat’ (kannetsu) are major categories to describe a patient’s healthcondition and are already mentioned in the Nanjing. See Wiseman, A Practical Dictionary ofChinese Medicine, 77. For a description of cold and heat symptoms, see Eberhard, LeitfadenKampo-Medizin, 96—99.
  • [7] For kuiawase during the Edo period, see Kinski, ‘Admonitions Regarding Food Consumption ,143-144.
  • [8] An early Japanese source that categorizes foodstuffs in a systematized way is, e.g., HitomiHitsudai’s Honchd shokkan (Mirror of Foods in this Dynasty) from 1695.
  • [9] On meat eating, see especially Ishige, The History and Culture of Japanese Food, 52-58, 146153; Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 24-34 and Shimizu, ‘Meat-Eating in the KdjimachiDistrict of Edo1, 92-107.
  • [10] Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 27.
  • [11] As Ekiken considers Koreans and Chinese to have stronger stomachs and spleens, their diet caninclude more rice and meat than that of the Japanese (IV, 32 and VII, 39).
  • [12] While rice was readily available in the cities, rice-growing peasants rather based their diet onmillet or sweet potatoes as most of their rice harvest was taken as tax. As a money economydeveloped in the cities, rice that had not been taxed could also be cashed. See Ishige, The Historyand Culture of Japanese Food, 106—107.
  • [13] Ekiken also comments on a certain state of mind in which one should eat, which not onlyincludes the recommendation to only eat when calm, but to concentrate on the five thoughtsigoshi): 1. Thinking about the origin of the food, 2. Thinking about the hardships of the farmers,3. Thinking about one’s luck to have ample delicious food despite one’s imperfection, 4. Thinkingabout the fact that one has not to starve, 5. Thinking about the past, when the five grains (gokoku)were not yet cultivated (III, 18).
  • [14] Sarasin, Reizbare Maschinen, 15.
  • [15] Mauss, ‘Les techniques du corps’, 3—4.
  • [16] Sarasin, Reizbare Maschinen, 20—23.
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