Chapter 2-5: Subtraction on taste – how do we determine deliciousness?

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We now turn our sensory experiment to TASTE. 
What is deliciousness and how does subtraction come into play?

Our taste system is programmed so we can detect what’s needed and what has to be avoided to increase the odds of survival. 
Sugar, carbohydrates, and sodium are essential nutrients.  They are “take,” hence delicious.  Sourness or bitterness is the pain to “avoid” because it signals a potential detriment to your body. 

Table: Five tastes and their roles

Taste table

If we assume that our body is programmed to maximize the odds of survival, it would make sense to assume that our taste buds’ optimal arousal level is tied to the optimal level of nutrients needed for our body. 

taste bell curveConceptual relationship of deliciousness and right amount of nutrients

Where has our historical deliciousness level traditionally been? In a natural state,  food is not abundant.  Probably the majority of people didn’t have access to abundant food until pretty recently in our long history. We take a look at Sushi,  a Japanese traditional cuisine, to remind us how people would enjoy food when an excessive amount is not promised.


Sushi boasts simplicity:  a small amount of high quality ingredients, processed and seasoned as minimally as possible.  You are supposed to appreciate the delicate and subtle combination of raw (natural) flavor of fresh seafood, and finely treated rice. A great Sushi chef can tell exactly how many grains he needs to make the best balance of rice and seafood. You will be surprised how small the portion is in authentic Sushi.  And by the way, it’s never good manners to use too much soy sauce: it WILL spoil the delicate balance!

Eating Sushi is like tasting wine:  you are supposed to have your taste buds keenly aroused  to detect/savor all kinds of delicate flavors.

There is one more taste in the Table, in the previous page, that we haven’t talked about yet: Umami. Umami is rich in seafood.  It’s not a coincidence that Umami was discovered by the Japanese. 

Since Japan is a chain of resource-constrained islands surrounded by the sea, seafood has been a precious, and often a primary source of protein for many Japanese.

Just as the Nagata tomatoes adapted to a harsh environment to capture every drop of water, the Japanese keenly trained their taste buds to refine the art of maximizing the enjoyment from a resource barely enough to support the population.

Japanese cuisine still inherits the achievement of thousands of years’ of taste buds’ “peak performance” training.


Who said Tofu has no taste? Finely made Tofu is rich in flavor: you can detect it if your taste buds are in good shape. Tofu is delicious with minimal seasoning, when boiled just right.


We all know that fresh vegetables, in season are tasty.  If you boil them to concentrate their flavors, you won’t need to add much to enjoy them.

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Chapter 2-4(2): Effect of subtraction 2

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Subtraction leaves a lot of spaces in between flowers, and vast rooms in between words.  Now your imagination and creativity start filling in those voids.  When you see your own beauty in the void, you will feel deep satisfaction.

Subtraction effect3

Your senses and mind are surprisingly resilient and adaptable. Subtraction activates you to adjust the arousal to the optimal level.  And beauty, abundance and satisfaction starts to emerges through adjustment process.

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Chapter 2-3: Haiku – the beauty of worlds’ shortest poem

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The same philosophy can be found in Haiku, the world’s shortest form of poem.  Haiku use only 17 syllables, which consists of 5-7-5.


The ancient pond

A frog leaps in

The sound of the water.

(Translation:  Donald Keene)

This is one of the most famous Haikus by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).

The first line (5 syllables) is “cut” by verbal punctuation which connects it with the second line (7 syllables). The second line has the seasonal word and the main character (believe it or not, it’s “frog”).  The third line (5 syllables) tells us that the frog made the sound when it jumped in the water, but it gives no further description. It leaves abundant room for the readers to picture the scene relying only on their own imagination.  Although it talks about the sound, probably what you picture is a profound tranquility.  The soundless-ness is emphasized by the absence of the explanation and by the smallness of the frog (and the sound it makes).

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Chapter 2-2: Ikebana

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Basic Ikebana format is a scalene triangle. Each angle represents a different element: sky (the top one), earth (the bottom) and us humans (the middle). These three elements are balanced and co-exist in harmony. Using this format, you can express the power of plants growing towards the sun and the beautiful shape in the natural environment. 

Ikebana rectangle

Because these three elements represent the entire world, there is nothing else needs to be added.  And since the balance is very important in Ikebana, nothing excessive is allowed.  This is the ultimate essential.

ikebana small rectangle

Current Ikebana is believed to have been founded in the 15th century, when Ikenobo Sen-kei (a renowned Zen monk in Kyoto) established his flower arrangement style. His works were further refined by the monks who succeeded his school.  After about 500 years from Sen-kei, Ikenobo is the largest school of Ikenaba and the headmaster is the 45th in line.

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If you’d like to know more about Ikebana, visit “Ikebana 101.”

Why we need Zero

Why zero?

Before it’s application to math, zero has been the focus of ancient Indian philosophers.  Buddhism embraced zero as part of its core philosophy. 

Buddhism was founded by Buddha (the awakened one), sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.  I was born in Buddhist priest family and grew up hearing the stories about how Siddhārtha Gautama, born in a royal and wealthy family, attained Enlightenment under a pipal tree and became Buddha.

As a young girl who’s never seen the wide world, I was struck by the theme that appeared and reappeared so many times: the world was full of pains, sufferings, fights and wars in Buddha’s era, and that people needed Buddhism to survive in such a harsh environment without losing calmness, modesty and consideration. 

Nature human interaction

In Buddha’s era (and pretty much all the time until very recently in our history), humans had to face various types of threats posed by nature on their own.  Food was scarce, diseases were rampant,  extreme weather and natural disasters were uncontrollable.  People had to fight each other for scarce resources.  Death was always next to you.
Buddhism concluded that the ultimate way to deal with such hardships was to extinguish the flame of all sorts of desires and achieve the state of emptiness in your mind.  You had to stop wanting more, since it was the source of fights and sufferings.

Nature human zero


How sweet is deliciously sweet? AISSY quantifies sugar in cookies

We are eating 450 times more sugar compared to the Middle Ages. Do we need this much sugar in order for our body to function best, when our body hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages? Is 450 times more sugar “delicious,” rather than too much? AISSY, a Japanese food consulting firm measured sugar content in our sweets.

Penguins are not boring: Asahiyama Zoo

Read an inspiring story of a small municipal zoo that transformed into a popular zoo that attracts millions of visitors from around the world.

Train baby’s taste buds to define deliciousness properly: Plum Organics

Tune-up your senses at optimal level through decluttering

Tidying up is about subtracting your belongings toward the ultimate essentials. Zero = abundance shares common theme. But there is something deeper.

Zero (kuu): the core tenet of Zen Buddhism