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The History Of Japanese Fitted Kitchens

Mar 21, 2008
Family life has always centred around the kitchen. Whatever culture or country you may be in, socialising takes place in the kitchen, from parties to family meals or occasional snacks. Even having a coffee and a chat with friends often takes place in the kitchen.

Food is the most important aspect of life that we cannot get away from. It has been associated very closely with the heart. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, if music be the food of love, aphrodisiac foods, all cultures have sayings, beliefs and rituals regarding food and love.

Fitted kitchens have gone from being considered a luxury to being expected as standard. They are a fashion trend unto themselves and many a verbal battle has ensued behind the scenes with women over their kitchen pride.

The fitted kitchen as we know it has come on a long way in the last 100 years. Especially if you are a resident of Japan. Early Japanese homes consisted of one room with a central pit where a fire would be constructed to cook food over.

As the whole system became safer, the pit was moved to the end of the house. For the richer people, a 'kitchen' was actually a separate building. This removed all cooking smells away from the living area and also removed the danger of burning down the family home. How could they not possibly enjoy the acrid smell of burnt toast?

By the Heian period (794 - 1185) the first use of the Japanese word Daidokoro was recorded. This was only for the very rich and consisted of four separate rooms that were used for food preparation. The word actually meant 'pantry' at the time but has since come to be known as 'kitchen'.

Fitted kitchens today often have a fancy stainless steel creation of an oven as the centre of attention and indeed, the cooking area has always been the main focus. The first Japanese stove was made of clay and sand with a hole in the front for fuel and a whole in the top for a pot to be sat upon for the heating of food.

By the 14th century, stoves with two holes were available followed in the 1600's by multi-holed stoves for the wealthier. An Irori was a popular secondary stove which involved removing a section of the wooden flooring and having a fire pit, also meaning it could be used as a heat source.

For smaller portions of food a 'Hibachi' was made. This was a small, deep pot partially filled with sand and ash along with a small fire. It made a safer, quicker alternative to building a complete fire.

Water facilities came much later in Japanese kitchens. Primitive wells were built and improved upon for ferrying water into a house but the bamboo system was only used for storing water for a long time.

Today, fitted kitchens usually come complete with dishwasher. I still think this should be considered a luxury but back in ancient Japan, a split Bamboo drainer was suspended over a hole in the ground for washing and draining. This was not as unhealthy as it might sound because the Japanese were rarely meat eaters and all food scraps were carefully collected for compost - recycling at it's earliest!

This was the standard kitchen for many years until after the second world war when architects were able to make drastic changes while rebuilding the towns and cities. Influences from America and Europe were beginning to dominate in the field of fitted kitchens and as more and more properties came with the luxury of speedier electronic appliances, the kitchen itself was raised up off the floor to the level we are now comfortable with.

Early modern fitted kitchens were often unaffordable to the general population, often costing the equivalent of three months wages but the whole country has gradually caught up with the rest of the world.

Japanese kitchen designers are now taking the lead in designing high tech modern fitted kitchen, with the use of stainless steel and bamboo and are true contenders for the lead in the culinary kitchen stakes.
About the Author
Design expert Catherine Harvey looks at how fitted kitchens developed through Japan.
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