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I had the greatest honour to attend the Culinary Knife Ceremony, a traditional ritual at the beginning of the year to show our appreciation for food and to honour the gods. This ritual can be traced back to more than 1000 years where the Shijo Tsukasake family, part of the Japanese aristocracy, was first bestowed with the responsibility to ritualize the handling of knives and preparing of food.

今日はご縁があり、本年度の庖丁初め俎開き式にお招きいただき、出席させていただきました。この儀式は食材への感謝の心を神に捧げる儀式で、1000年以上前から続いている伝統だそうです。和食の真髄は「日本料理道」にあり、その祖神として1200年前に元侯爵の四條家が選ばれたそうです。この儀式は庖丁捌きの掟を定めるだけでなく、日本料理道の原点とも言われています。

This annual ceremony is held in different places every year, and this year it took place at Hiei Shrine in Akasaka. I was invited by an acquaintance who wanted to show me the origins of Japanese culinary culture, after hearing about what I was trying to do with my business. When he told me about it, I thought it was a casual ceremony, something akin to the mochi-tsuki (mochi-pounding). I knew something was amiss when I saw lots of people dressed formally in suits and dresses, as they arrived in luxurious cars, some with tinted glasses. It then dawned upon me that I was invited to a very special and exclusive ceremony and I regretted that I had underdressed for the occasion.

この儀式は毎年違う場所で行われるのですが、今年は赤坂の日枝神社で行われました。私が現在、日本文化を海外に発信し、地方を盛り上げるためのインバウンド観光事業をやりたいという話を聞いて、日本食という日本文化の原点をご紹介したいということで、ご招待いただきました。それ以上の説明は聞かなかったので、餅つき大会みたいなものを勝手に想像していました。しかし、日枝神社に到着した途端、周りにきっちりスーツやドレスを着た方々が高級車から降りる光景を見て、やっと気付きました。餅つき大会なんてとんでもない。とんでもない特別なご招待をいただいたこと、そしてスーツを着ていないのは自分だけだと気付いたとき、はっと悟りました。

He brought me to the back of the shrine, where we were ushered into the inside of the shrine, which is usually out of bounds to normal visitors. It was when I was introduced to various people that I realized I was surrounded by the heads of Japanese culinary culture, Japanese ryokan hotels and other large associations. Apparently, they are the ones who set the trends and standards of Japanese cuisines and also prepare meals for the royal family.

普段立ち入り禁止のドアに入り、神社の中にご案内されました。場違いと感じずにはいられなかった私は周りの方々と名刺交換、自己紹介をしました。日本料理、旅館、そしてそのほかの関連組織のトップの方々ばかりで、恐れ多かったです。

When the time came, we were guided to the ceremony venue, which was inside the shrine, where we sat on chairs surrounding an elevated ground. The priests and several other personnel marched in and the whole ceremony began.

時間になったら、儀式の会場のご案内いただきました。席についてしばらく待ったら、宮司さんをはじめとする方々が入ってきました。

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(The following description and explanation of the ceremony is taken from Japan Washoku Association)

“The Culinary Knife Ritual is conducted in a manner where the right hand holds the knife and the left hand holds a pair of metallic chopsticks to prepare the raw ingredient on a chopping board. The bare hands never come in contact with the food. While engaging in food preparation, the preparer should seek purification of the mind through detachment from the senses while praying for good crop. ”

(次の庖丁儀式の説明は日本和食協会から引用します。)

「右手に庖丁、左手に真魚箸を持ち、俎の上に据え置かれた料理材料には決して素手を触れることなく、自信の六根清浄を念じ、天下泰平、五穀豊穣を祈願しつつ、すべての料理材料の声明に捧げる感謝の意を、一刀一礼の作法に則って料理する式を完成させました。」

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After the whole ritual, we were invited for a traditional Japanese Kaiseki-styled lunch in a restaurant within the shrine. That was when the atmosphere became more casual and I started chatting with the other people sitting around my table. Needless to say, the food was fantastic. Not in the extravagant sense, but just simple and elegant.

儀式が終わり、直会の席にご案内されました。会食の会場は儀式と違い、緊張感がはぐれ、雰囲気が少し和気あいあいになりました。同じテーブルの方々と会話を交わしながら、美味しい懐石料理を堪能させていただきました。やはり、日本食は派手なものではなく、質素で奥深い。

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