Table Speech

About Dietary Education and Umami

November 19, 2014

Mr. Kiyomi Mikuni
Managing Chef, Hotel de Mikuni President,
Societe Mikuni Co., Ltd.

 In 1999, I was asked to work together with the Chairman of the Slow Food movement in Italy and chefs in France to give “lessons on tastes.” They started the movement to “save the tastes for children” in 1985 when the slow food movement spread across Europe and put the producers of hand-made raw ham and cheese out of business. France is a gastronomic country where “You live to eat, not eat to live. Eating is the greatest joy of life.”

 Dr. Jacques Puisais reported that “children who have not been taught about the tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness by the age of twelve tend to harm their parents when they are scolded. They will come to harm their own children in the future.” This is how Italy and France have set out to “save the tastes for the children.”

 They said that unless children get accurate lessons on tastes, they tend to harm their own parents and their own children when they grow up. Such a country would be deplorable.

 Now let me share with you our activities.

 In France, there is a nation-wide initiative called “Leçon de Goût (Lesson on Tastes)” in the third week of October.

 The human forebrain fully develops around the age of eight and hindbrain at around age twelve. Milk teeth are replaced by permanent teeth around age twelve. This is why children should get accurate training on tastes by that age.

 We make children in Italy taste yogurt with natural coloring. Although no taste has been added, children tend to think they smell lemon when they taste yogurt with yellow coloring and smell apple in yogurt with pink coloring. We teach them to taste properly.

 Japanese professors discovered the umami elements: glutamic acid from kelp, inosinic acid from dried bonito, and guanylic acid from dried shiitake mushrooms. When we take soup stock from kelp and add dried bonito, the taste becomes eight times thicker and gives you a “full bodied” flavor.

 Let me explain the lessons on tastes that I am giving. We sense “sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness and umami” in the taste buds which increase from age eight and become 12,000 by age twelve. The five tastes are stimuli that give sensation to our brain. They also stimulate our five senses of “seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting.” Children who have not experienced these five tastes fail to develop their five senses, sensitivity and emotions. This is why Dr. Puisais announced that such children become apathetic and aggressive when they grow up.

 When I first started my lessons on tastes, not many schools were keen on the idea, because they were focused on giving computer lessons, sacrificing cooking rooms. I was delighted when a certain female Principal told me how important my initiative was. As I continued my initiative, more and more schools have come to join.

 In my lessons, I ask the children where their heart and feelings are. Children give me many answers like “my heart” or “my stomach.” Our feelings and heart are shapeless. The five senses of “seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting” teach the children to be compassionate and affectionate. Children are good observers. When their friend looks sad or happy, they notice it. That is exactly when children develop their feelings and heart.

 Chefs from France come to Japan and give lessons with me. I also give demonstrations for children in Paris. When I shave a dried bonito in front of them, they get excited. The reason why I bring kelp and dried bonito all the way to Paris is because they have never seen them before. When I make them taste the miso-soup, they say it doesn’t taste good or it’s too salty. But I believe, if they have a chance to taste the Japanese food as elementary school children, they will become more receptive to Japanese food in the future. This is why I keep giving my lessons on tastes.

Are Computers Capable of Calculating Sensitivities?

November 19, 2014

Mr. Teruichi Aono
Executive Director, Japan Shogi Association
Pro Shogi Player 9-dan

 You might think shogi players have a computer-like brain that memorizes all the past moves or reads many moves ahead by calculation. But we are not at all like that.

 In the world of shogi, there have been many players who were brilliant straight-A students at school but had to quit shogi as they could not win at all. I observe they all lacked the ability to “perceive things from a wide perspective” and to “sense” the possible danger in advance.

 Shogi has very unique rules in the world that allows the players to re-use the captured pieces. Such rules have made shogi much more complicated than chess

 When the GHQ learned about this rule after the War, they called the 9-dan (grade) professional shogi player Mr. Masuda and protested that “shogi in your country even sends hostages to the battlefield.” Mr. Masuda refuted that “shogi in your country is all about killing enemies. We fight together with them as companions.” It is assumed the Japanese shogi is based on the fighting style in our country where ordinary people and farmlands took sides with you unless there were enemy generals.

 Another unique feature of shogi is that it is a one-to-one competition that races over speed, just like kendo and judo. Such games require not only your skills but also your ability to calculate the timing with your opponent. This is why shogi asks for both sensitivity and perspective.

 When shogi players are asked how far ahead they can read and calculate, some say “the next 15 to 20 moves” while others say “professional players get the right answer by intuition so you should not read ahead.” If you want to master this intuition, the best and only way is to enter the professional world. So if you want to become a professional player, you should start by elementary school age at the latest.

 Now, computers are challenging this world of sensitivity and reading ahead. First developed in the mid-1960s, computers have become as competent as professional players over many years. As for tsume shogi, commercially available software can give the right answer in just one second today.

 However, you will get a different picture in a real match. For example, if you have 80 possible moves and your opponent has 65 possible moves, there will be 5,000 different options after 2 moves and 25 million different options after 4 moves. You can see how astronomical the options become by this calculation.

 Professional shogi players are capable of finding out the right “road to happiness” by intuition and avoiding the “devil’s road” as well as verifying the rightness of their moves by the ability to read. When I had a chance to share this story with a business owner, he told me that the same applies in the world of business.

 It is said that computers have come to be much advanced in shogi after they acquired the learning ability. The latest computer that has a winning record against professional shogi players is capable of identifying 7 million moves in one second. Although machines cannot have sensitivity, their winning record shows how advanced computers have become and how close they are to the sensitivity of human beings.

 What I can also say is how wonderful our brain and sensitivity are because we can fight equally against computers.

 According to researchers at national and university institutes, if you want to make computers have human capacity, the best way is to make them strong in shogi. For example when there is a serious natural disaster, computers (artificial intelligence) will be able to calculate and identify the best priority that leads to the quickest reconstruction.

 My ultimate goal is to register the authentic Japanese culture shogi as a UNESCO cultural heritage. I also wish to make shogi one of the competitions for mind games at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. They are both challenging tasks but I would do my best, asking for advice from experts in these areas.