Of Knives and Men

Eric C. Rath

in Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780520262270
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947658 | DOI:
Of Knives and Men

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At the same time that chefs in the employ of shoguns, elite warlords, and aristocrats in the fifteenth century were developing the arts of cooking and banqueting, they were also doing other, less conventional things with food in demonstrations called “knife ceremonies,” which produced inedible food sculptures. Studying inedible dishes such as these might seem counterintuitive in a history of cuisine, which explains why most culinary historians of Japan mention them only in passing, if at all. Knife ceremonies were one of several entertainments, like singing, storytelling, juggling, and the more serious Noh theater, performed to entertain the elite at banquets. Due to their long history and prominence in elite food culture, knife ceremonies are an important starting point for showing the connections between food and fantasy—raw ingredients and thinking about them—that were the ingredients for premodern Japanese cuisine. Moreover, knife ceremonies have religious significance, particularly in Buddhism and Shinto.

Keywords: Japanese cuisine; cooking; banqueting; knife ceremonies; Shinto; Buddhism; food culture; fantasy; elite

Chapter.  6296 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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