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Savoring the Flavor of Japan at Expo Milano 2015

Japan is showcasing the long history of Japanese food culture at Expo Milano 2015 under the banner “A Journey of Harmonious Diversity,” and underlining its commitment to solving universal social issues such as the ongoing food crisis and food security.

Beginning in May and slated to continue for roughly six months, Expo Milano 2015 revolves around the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Covering 4,170 square meters, Japan’s vast pavilion is one of the largest installations prepared by the participating countries, and takes up the theme of “harmonious diversity” as it relates to food. Japan’s cuisine and food culture have evolved out of the rich haul from the country’s fields, forests and oceans, with dishes primarily revolving around rice, vegetables and seafood. Sophisticated traditional techniques and the expertise of culinary masters have further refined the Japanese diet over the centuries. Traditional Japanese dietary culture, or washoku, has been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, and the country wants to broadcast the potential that Japanese food has to solve fundamental social issues like food crises and contribute to a more diverse, sustainable and eco-friendly society.

The logo for the Japan Pavilion is an array of chopsticks, symbolizing the culinary etiquette unique to Japan. The pavilion’s three-dimensional wooden lattice structure represents a vessel embracing the many diverse elements of Japanese culture.

The exhibit itself consists of a prologue and five scenes that invite visitors to take a “journey” through Japan’s cuisine, from food at its source of production until it reaches the table. The prologue makes use of such media as paintings and calligraphy to create an immersive space where people can experience Japanese art and customs.

The hands-on entertainment at the pavilion uses the latest technology. The first scene, for example, presents a virtual farm, while the second offers a performance that syncs up with a Japan Pavilion application visitors can install on their smartphones to receive over a thousand pieces of content on Japanese agriculture and food culture.

The third scene utilizes a “Tangible Earth” interactive globe that helps users visualize the global problems faced today. It also depicts some of Japan’s insightful solutions to environmental crises, such as the shift to fully farm-raised tuna and eel. Scene four presents a cool modern dining experience rich in aesthetic touches. The “Japan Showcase” corner offers Japanese games, fashion, tourism and other aspects of “Cool Japan.” The fifth and final scene is a show presented in theater-in-the-round style where attendees are invited to participate.

Japanese cuisine takes ingredients from surf and turf and prepares them in diverse ways, creating a rich and varied aesthetic dimension that extends to the physical act of eating, with all aspects of dining becoming an art. In addition to famous dishes like sashimi, the pavilion introduces items such as dashi, an umami-heavy broth made from kombu seaweed and bonito shavings. Visitors can also learn about fermentation and sun-drying techniques—two cornerstones of Japanese cuisine—and explore the Japanese concept of a healthy, portion-controlled meal that consists of rice, soup and three types of side dishes in harmonious balance. In addition, the pavilion discusses the concept of unlocking flavors by eating rice and a side dish together, which brings a new dimension to food. The restaurant section offers the dishes of some of Japan’s finest restaurants.

“We’re drawing big crowds,” reports the Japan Pavilion’s Hiroto Kobayashi. “Starting in June, wait times have averaged from half an hour up to a little over an hour. Guests from overseas have especially enjoyed the virtual farm from scene one. Video footage spills into the area, dominating the view and drawing wows from the crowd. They can walk through an interactive image that changes based on their movement, allowing them to experience the four seasons of Japan’s tough but diverse agricultural climate with all five senses.

“The food court is home to numerous shops,” Kobayashi continues, “and the style itself has impressed our Italian guests in particular. Italians apparently tend to think of sushi first when Japanese food comes to mind, but dishes like curry, rice burgers, soba noodles and sukiyaki have presented an unexpected variety that comes across as fresh and exciting to non-Japanese.”

The Japan Pavilion is shaping up to be the 2015 expo’s most popular pavilion, and presents the perfect chance to experience the full flavor, diversity and charm of Japanese cuisine and food culture.

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