Continuing our study in the principles of five in Japanese cuisine, we discuss the five colors, or goshiki. As discussed previously, each group of principles in some way builds upon the others. The five methods of cooking, goho, inform the way in which we experience our meal with our five sense, gokan, which in turn both determines and is informed by the five tastes, gomi, and five colors, goshiki.
When thinking of food, it’s quite possible to overlook the importance of color in how we experience a meal. We would probably be more likely to choose a vividly green pea soup flecked with chunks of orange carrots and topped with a dash of bright red chili oil, than we would be to choose a brownish grey stew. While the stew may well be tastier than the pea soup, it would be hard to argue that it looked more appetizing.
This is one of the reasons why color becomes such a strong consideration in washoku, Japanese cuisine, for color enhances the appearance of a dish, stimulating the sense of sight, and in turn helping to excite one’s appetite.
The Five Colors of Japanese Cuisine
The colors of washoku, or goshiki, are red, yellow, blue (green), white, and black. They are thought to play different roles in a meal and both ingredients and preparation need to be considered to incorporate them into a dish. That is because depending on the method of cooking, the color of an ingredient can change. It might lose its vibrancy, for instance, taking away from the intended effect.
Of the colors, the effects are said to be as follows: red and yellow for adding warmth and rousing one’s appetite; blue, or more precisely green, for evoking a cooling, refreshing feeling; white for conveying a sense of cleanliness and purity; and black for creating contrast.
The traditional high-end kaiseki cuisine regularly utilizes these elements to convey the sensations of a particular season. This is done by using specific ingredients and garnishes to create a meal that is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the belly.
Japanese cooking doesn’t just utilize goshiki for their visual appeal alone. They are also used to maintain one’s health because as they say, to eat healthily is to eat the rainbow. By incorporating a variety of ingredients with a variety of colors, you’re more likely to be incorporating all the vitamins and nutrients you need, while also having a meal that leaves you feeling satisfied.
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!