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History of Tofu

The primary ingredient in the Shojin (vegetarian) cuisine eaten by monks

An important source of protein for monks

For the monks, who must abstain from meat, tofu is an important source of protein.

The main ingredients used in Shojin (vegetarian) cuisine include soybean products such as miso, tofu, yuba (soymilk film that forms when soymilk is boiled), as well as fungi such as shiitake and vegetables such as Japanese white radish and burdock roots, etc.

The term gShojinh is derived from the Buddhist term meaning gearnest ascetic practiceh. The monks, who must abide by the prescript of respecting all life and refrain from killing animals, place themselves under the strict tenet of Shojin in their dietary practice as well as in their day-to-day living practices. They abstain from eating the meat of animals or fish in order to purify themselves.

Todayfs Shojin cuisine was first created in the Kamakura period. Following his return to Japan from his ascetic training in China, the founder of Sotoshu Buddhism, Dougen, adapted Zen Buddhist cuisine to suit Japanfs climate as a part of his teachings. Dougen taught that food preparation and eating were both aspects of ascetic training.

Around this time, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Shinran, opposed Dougen in his teachings and taught that Buddhists need not abstain from eating meat. However, he discouraged the eating of meat on the anniversaries of the passing of close relatives, calling these days gShojin Daysh, and this served to propagate the concept of eating Shojin cuisine on Shojin days.

The naturalized Chinese monk, Ingen, who expounded his teachings in the Edo period, established the Obakushu Manpukuji Temple in Uji, Kyoto, where he passed on his knowledge of Chinese Shojin cuisine. This became the renowned gFuchah cuisine, which is still one of the hallmark gastronomic experiences of Kyoto.

Although the gShojin Ryori Kondate Shuh (A Collection of Courses in Shojin Cuisine) was published in the Edo period, about 90% of the courses listed used tofu. Many of the dishes used Kouya (freeze dried) tofu. Ninety of the ninety two courses use Yuba (sheet of dried tofu), which further shows how essential tofu ingredients are to Shojin cuisine.

Incidentally, many Shojin courses have been named after animals such as gKiji-yakih (Roast Pheasant), gShigi-yakih (Roast Snipe), gGanmodokih (Mock Goose) and gTanukih (Racoon Dog), etc. It is thought that the longing for meat spurred Shojin chefs to create dishes that looked and tasted like meat, and name them after animals.

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