Yasunari Uenaka Shares – Your Choice Between “Control”or “Coexistence” with Nature

a gateway to the shrine

Greetings from Yasunari Uenaka, the “chopsticks young master”.

Now, I see that there is a growing concern for the natural environment on a global scale, including global climate change and activities aimed at creating a sustainable society.

While I think this in itself is very important, I also believe that what is important is the direction of where we are heading.

The real question is what attitude we will take toward the earth.

Do we try to “control” nature by showing active involvement, or do we try to “live with” nature as part of the living organism? 

As a matter of fact, one can look at the Japanese philosophy about nature through “chopsticks”.

Let’s dive right in.

• How to properly arrange chopsticks

Have you ever consciously paid attention to the position in which cutlery is placed?

We often see knives, forks, and spoons arranged vertically.However, only in Japan are chopsticks placed horizontally.Perhaps many people may find this to be an unusual phenomenon.

This embodies the spirit of respect towards nature.

One of the essential festivals that has continued from ancient times is the Harvest Festival.

It is an event to celebrate the abundant harvest of crops and rejoice together.

Although they are held in a wide variety of forms depending on the location, the purpose of these festivals is to show appreciation and respect towards the experience of eating.

For this purpose, the act of “eating” is made sacred.

In Japan, the places where gods are enshrined are called ” Jinja” (shrines).

There is such diversity among the gods that they can be called “Yaoyorozu no Kamigami” (the eight million gods).

These include the God of Water, the God of the Sun, the God of Wind, the God of Trees, and many others.

These include the God of Water, the God of the Sun, the God of Wind, the God of Trees, and many others.

They may seem scattered, but they all have one thing in common: they all have something called torii (a gateway to the shrine).

A torii is a gate-like structure based on two pillars.

Torii, such as the “Senbon-torii” at Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine in Kyoto, is a famous photo spot.

These gates serve to indicate ” holy ground.

In order to embody the act and experience of “eating” that is made sacred, chopsticks  play the role of torii to indicate that sanctuary, there lies the holy ground.

In other words, they serve as a boundary that draws a line between the world of the gods (the world of nature) and the human world.

This is why it is standard practice in Japan to arrange chopsticks horizontally.

• Chopsticks used only on festive occasions

On a special festive occasion, we use special chopsticks to eat with.

The most common example is New Year’s Day.

Chopsticks made of willow, mizuki or other white wood, thinly shaved on both sides, 24 cm long.

They are sometimes called “celebration chopsticks” or “Ryokuchi chopsticks.

It is said that the reason why both sides are thin is because one side is used for humans (oneself) to eat and the other side is for gods to eat.

This is called “shinjin kyoshoku. The wood is made based on the idea that one side is used by oneself and the other side is used by the gods to share a meal together.

There is a reason why a certain type of tree is used for this purpose: its white color indicates purity, and it is the first tree to sprout in spring there for represents its celebratory purpose.

In addition, because the bulge in the center of the festive chopsticks looks like a rice bale, they are sometimes called “tawara-bashi” (tawara chopsticks) in the hope that they will bring a good harvest.

bring a good harvest

When celebrating a particularly festive occasion, people consciously use special chopsticks to show their appreciation of nature’s workings, which also show an indication of the awareness for respect of nature.

awareness for respect of nature

• The word “Itadakimasu” (Thank you for the food)

There is one more important matter.

And that is the Japanese word “Itadakimasu”

This may be a little off topic, but for those of you who want to “speak Japanese” or  who wish to communicate with Japanese people in a friendly manner, I recommend that you learn these words.

If I were to rank them, I would rank them as follows

No. 1 is “Arigato (Thank you)” to express gratitude

Second place is “konnichiwa,” a word of greeting

The number three is “Itadakimasu,” which is said before eating a meal.

In terms of usefulness, it might as well be ranked second.

“Itadakimasu”is a word we cherish to that extent.

The main meaning of “Thank you” is to express gratitude to others.

On the other hand, “Itadakimasu,” which is recited before a meal, can be said to express gratitude to the food, the producer, and God.

Perhaps it is similar to the “prayer” of a devoted Christian.

After saying “Itadakimasu,” we break the boundary indicated by the chopsticks and take a bite of the meal, which is perceived as a blessing from the nature.

This routine is what shows a stance of coexistence with nature.

In this way, we Japanese show our harmony with and respect for nature during festive occasions and through our daily eating routines.

Strangely enough, there may not be many people who are consciously aware of it.

However, it can be said that we have become so integrated into our daily lives that we do so unconsciously.

Therefore

These two words, “chopsticks” and “itadakimasu,” play an important function in serving as sacred transitions.

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