Kamakura Taste Test


Grade Level: 7, 8, High School, Young Adult

Keywords: Shinran, Japanese Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu


  • The students will experience what life was like through food


  • Sheets of blank paper
  • Pen/Marker
  • Ruler (optional)
  • 6 Kamakura Era food
    • Natto, Tofu, Umeboshi, Katsuobushi, Shiokara, Age,
      • Soy sauce can be put on Katsuobuthi
      • Age can be the canned or flavored for inarizushi
  • Small plates (paper or otherwise) or cupcake cups(backed kind to handle wet materials)


  • Obtain the foods & cut into small portions and place on cupcake cups


  1. Gassho
  2. Ask for what people think about Japanese food
  3. Tell them that much of what we know as Japanese food didn't exist during the Heian Period.
  4. Ask what they recall about the Heian Period
  5. Give a quick review
    1. Show map of Japan
    2. It is called Heian which means "Peace"
    3. The capital was "Heian-kyo" which was built similarly to Chang-an
    4. 794 to 1185 AD
    5. Northen (tohoku) captured during the early portions
    6. Height of Korean, Chinese and Buddhist influences.
    7. Attempted to set up Chinese system of governance and taxation.
    8. But this broke down due to bad transportation/communication/corruption by local officials/difference in sensibilities between Japanese and Chinese.
    9. Some nobles and all temples do not pay taxes
    10. Some families w/ military expertise used to oust Ainu
    11. Japanese used rice as money; taxes were high.
    12. Series of calamities at end of Heian Period: Floods, Earthquakes, Famine, Typhoons
  6. Give each student a sheet of paper. Write name at top. Draw line down middle. Make 2 lines to make 6 sections. Label each section 1 to 6
  7. Write down the name of each item on a white board (not in order served)
  8. Have students taste each item and write down which one they think it is as they taste it
  9. After the tasting is over, ask students to raise hands for item #1, repeat with other items
  10. Give the answers and what it is and short history:
  • Natto - Soybeans that are boiled and fermented. Said to be invented in early Heian Period (around 1000CE)
  • Tofu - Soybeans that are soaked, ground, boiled to make soy milk, then coagulated. Invented in northeastern China in the 11th Century. Brought to Japan probably in late 11th Century
  • Umeboshi - Ume plum was brought over to Japan around 500 CE. It is thought that umeboshi was made quickly afterwards. It is pickled in salt, then dried. The chiso leaves give the traditional red color.
  • Katsuobushi - Katsuobushi is fish that is slowly cooked then dried, fermented and shaved. It has been a part of Japanese food since antiquity.
  • Shiokara - Salt pickled seafood. Most common is squid. First record of it from 7th Century
  • Age - Age is fried tofu. It is thought that it was brought over from China soon after Tofu


    • Ask:
      • What did they like? Why?
      • What did they not like? Why?
      • Have you had these before?
      • Do you think eating these often will change you?


Surprisingly, very few of the dishes that we know as being Japanese Food existed during the Heian Era.

Even takuwan (16th century), nappa (15th century), tempura (end of 16th century) and nigiri sushi (early 17th century) did not exist in the 12th century.

Most common items for a meal were fish and rice. Since Japan is often humid and they worked hard, the Japanese needed a high sodium diet and often food items would readily spoil if left out.


M. Nishimura, San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, 2010