There is a strong principle of fives in Japanese cuisine: gomi (the five tastes), gokan (the five senses), goshiki (the five colors), goho (the five cooking methods), and the five key ingredients remembered with the mnemonicsa, shi, su, se, so.
These principles are all interconnected.After all, the way in which we prepare our ingredients showcases the five colors and stimulates the five tastes based on how the meal invokes the five senses.
Gokan: The Five Senses
We are all generally familiar with the five sense: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. While it might seem simple however, the idea behindgokan is rather profound. When we think of food, likely the first thing to come to mind is taste. You can probably imagine the sweetness of a strawberry, or the salty umami of grilled fish. But what if that strawberry looked a bit blue and fuzzy? Or it smelled like fish? Or perhaps it had the crisp crunch you might expect from a potato chip, yet felt slimy as you chewed?
Thinking in this way, we can understand that eating is not only a taste experience, but rather an experience of the five senses all together.
Sight allows us to notice how something is prepared, and how attractive it looks. We can then anticipate what the food might taste and feel like when we bite into it.
Sound, or hearing, allows us to capture the moment around us, listening to the way it sounds as we take a bite of crispytempura, or slurp up a bowl of ramen. These sounds inform the way we experience the meal, adding to the ambience and the noises of those dining around us.
Smell gives us another way to anticipate what something might taste like, helping us dig back through our sense memories to other times when we’d smelled that same aroma. Smell is also essential to our sense of taste. We are all familiar with how bland food can be when we’re congested, and that’s because 80% of our taste is due to smell. Just another reason to slurp your noodles.
Touch, while important in Western cooking, arguably features more prominently in Japanese cuisine. That is becausewashoku incorporates other textures like slimy, gelatinous, and chewy, which might seem unfamiliar or unappealing in the West. Whatever the texture may be, part of what makes something delicious is the experience of how it feels when you bite into it and the sensations it causes on your tongue.
Taste may be the most obvious sense when it comes to food, but it may also be the most complex. That is why it has its own set of principles known as gomi.
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!