Yakuzen is a Japanese culinary tradition rooted in the practice of Chinese medicine. Its guiding principles come from Daoism and a traditional natural philosophy called wuxing that revolves around groups of five: five elements correspond to five tastes, which are linked to five different parts of the human body. Yakuzen essentially focuses on nutrition and ensuring a balanced diet; the idea is that the food itself forms the medicine. As opposed to Western medical traditions, where a treatment is prescribed to treat an already occurring problem, the practices of Chinese medicine and yakuzen focus rather on prevention and general wellness. The emergence of yakuzen in Japan is thought to be linked to the Satsuma clan. Due to their extensive trade networks and political allegiances, a lot of their education at the time was based in Chinese and Korean philosophies.
The practice encompasses a unique mix of Chinese and Korean philosophy with locally grown Japanese ingredients
There is a long-standing tradition in Kagoshima Prefecture of learning from Chinese medicine, to make something all their own. The practice of yakuzen, therefore, encompasses a unique mix of Chinese and Korean philosophy with locally grown Japanese ingredients. Before medical practices from Europe reached Japan, yakuzen was the everyday go-to for promoting health and wellbeing. With the subsequent introduction of Western medicine to the country, the practice fell somewhat to the wayside, but it is now experiencing a resurgence.
Yakuzen Komachi is a health food store in Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture. Whilst yakuzen is based in ancient philosophy, the owner of the shop prefers to take a more practical and calculated approach to this practice, emphasising the unique health benefits of different spices. The store has a vast stock of herbs and spices and creates its own unique blends, sometimes from ingredients they grow themselves. They also sell ingredients for hotpots and a special medicinal alcohol.
Visitors to the store are invited to create their own spices, such as an original shichimi blend, themselves. Visitors have the opportunity to talk about any ailments they are experiencing, while the owner suggests a unique spice blend to suit their condition or lifestyle.
There is a resurgent consciousness in Japan about the effect that food has on the body, and and interest in how to harness this knowledge in order to better health and well-being
The resurgent interest in the practice of yakuzen is part of a wider trend in Japan where people are trying to reconnect with local foods. Cuisine in Japan used to be highly seasonal — certain dishes were only available at certain times of year when the ingredients needed were in season. The people of Japan placed an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients as providing the best nourishment for the body. However, as global trade has brought more ingredients to the country, and fridges and freezers have allowed the ingredients to be used in off-season months, Japan has started to lose touch with this seasonal way of eating. But this process is slowly being reversed, as people are beginning to turn away from imported ingredients in favor of more local alternatives. Many people in Japan have found a renewed consciousness about the effect that food has on the body, and how they can harness this knowledge to improve health and well-being.