The Three Fives of Japanese Cuisine: Gomi Goshoku Goho

Gomi Goshoku Goho: The principles behind Japanese cuisine

The Three Fives of Japanese Cuisine: Gomi Goshoku Goho 五味 五色 五法

Japanese cuisine is based on the principle of “five flavors, five colors, five ways” or “gomi goshoku goho.”  And this applies in particular to traditional kaiseki cuisine.

The “five flavors” refers to sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, salty. And the “five colors” are white, yellow, red, green, black. Then, the “five ways” are raw, boiled, roasted, fried, steamed.

Chinese philosophy

The concept comes from the Chinese yin-yang/five-elements philosophy, dating from the time of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 B.C.). What till then had been the separate ideas of yin-yang and the five elements were combined into an elaborate system. As you probably know, yin-yang refers to the binary nature of things, such as positive/negative, male/female, up/down, love/hate, etc. And the five elements are wood (which gives rise to) fire (giving rise to) earth (giving rise to) metal (giving rise to) water (which completes the cycle by giving rise to wood).

Gomi Goshoku Goho in tempura, Japanese food.

Gomi Goshoku Goho in tempura, Japanese food.

Ekiken Kaibara: old-time nutritionist

The five flavors, colors and ways were famously referred to by the 17th century Japanese nutritionist, Ekiken Kaibara (1630-1714). In his book Youjoukun (1712), on diet, he said that eating a little of food of each kind of flavor and color and cooking style would ensure a balanced diet, promoting health and longevity. In this way, everyone can easily ensure good health without having to be an expert on nutrition.

More “fives”

And Japanese cuisinse has extended the use of color beyond just the foodstuffs themselves. For example, in kaiseki cuisine, the color of the dishes and table decorations match the food. In this way, they serve to create a “feast for the eyes” as well.

Also, another two sets of “fives” is sometimes added to the three mentioned above. They are the “five suitabilities,” or goteki, and the “five senses,” or gokaku/gokan.

The “five suitabilities” (go-teki 五滴) are “heat, ingredients, volume, technique, attitude.” These cover a wide range of things, each of which should be “suitable,” “appropriate,” “fitting.” And the last one, attitude, even extends to the frame of mind in which the cook cooks the food, the server serves the food, and the diner eats the food.

Gomi Goshoku Goho in a Japanese vegetable assortment

Gomi Goshoku Goho in a Japanese vegetable assortment

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Then there are the “five senses” (go-kaku 五覚) of sight, hearing, smell, feel, and taste. (However, which in everyday parlance, Japanese people usually referred to it as go-kan 五感.) No doubt taste is the most important, but smell and sight are obviously important too. For example, when it comes to looks, how many people who have no hesitation downing a rasher of bacon or two would be equally eager about carving a slice off a pig’s head? Then “feel” refers in most cases more to the way it feels in your mouth than in your hands, although of course both apply. And “hearing”? Maybe this has less to do with the food itself, and more with communication between host and guest, which alone can make or break one’s enjoyment of a meal.

Gomi Goshoku Goho in a sushi assortment

Gomi Goshoku Goho in a sushi assortment

Gomi Goshoku Goho and you

So, next time you’re cooking or eating, keep the three “fives”: Gomi Goshoku Goho, or, if you like, the five “fives” in mind. Because they could well enhance your cooking, your enjoyment of the food, and maybe even your and others’ health.