Mottainai Culture for my No Waste Food Recipes

I started “No Waste Food Recipe” series in the blog. Well…, there are only 2 recipes (here and there) available at this moment, however, I would like to introduce more ideas and more recipes in the future.

Just Japanese Bento photo by me alittlebitofsoy

The reason why I want to do this is purely because of my passion – I passionately hate wasting edible food! I was raised in the traditional Japanese culture where the food culture is deep and long. In the culture, we learnt how to appreciate food and try not to waste any of it. Why? Because we feel “Mottainai” when something totally good is not used properly.

Mottainai is a Japanese word with no direct translation to English, however, it is commonly translated to “What a waste” or “Waste not, want not”. “Mottainai” describes a “feeling” of regret, which has been nourished in the Japanese culture for a long time. Maybe that’s why it is hard to find a suitable English word for it (In fact, there are so many other words I struggle to explain in English, such as “Gochiso-sama”, “Itadakimasu”, “Yoroshiku”, “Osewani narimasu”, “Otsukare-sama” etc…).

This word is not only for food. Mottainai can be used for anything to express your regrettable feeling when you feel something wasted.

There are 3 ways to use Mottainai:

  1. “Don’t be wasteful

The Mottainai philosophy is taught at home as well as at school in Japan. We are taught not to waste anything which is totally good and usable. My parents said to me that there are so many people involved to make “this one thing”, therefore we mush appreciate to be able to use it and show our respect to it. When I was a kid, if I could not finish my food on my plate, I had to apologise “the food” that I left, because leaving food without eating means not showing my respect towards the food. This idea always stays with me.

2. “What a waste” – in a positive situation

We say “Mottainai” when you receive something greater than you think you deserve. This Mottainai describes a mixed feeling of our strong gratitude and regret – “I am not that worthy”. For example, if you inherited beautiful jewellery from your grandmother, which was something that she had been wearing for a long time. You would feel so happy and thankful, but at the same time, would feel shy to accept it. This is because you felt you were not deserved to wear such a beautiful thing and did not want to make it wasted on you. You might think “It is Mottainai for me”.

3. “What a waste” – in a negative situation

It is the similar meaning as 2, but without gratitude. For example, your friend. who has a well-paid job, decided to quit and travel the world. We say, “Mottainai” by throwing away his great career and money”. For another example, your friend, who is beautiful, kind and educated, is marrying someone who is boring, mean and has no job. We say, “Mottainai! She is too good for him”.

Lastly, I would like to introduce “Mottainai” Ghosts (Mottainai Obake). It was a TV advertisement to teach kids not to be wasteful. It was first released in 1982! I still remember this ad so vividly – very catchy and a bit scary. The story is about children invited to a temple by a monk for dinner. They are being very picky about food, saying “I don’t like beans” and “I don’t like radish”, and don’t eat the food. At night, Mottainai Ghosts come out and start chanting “Mottainai” around the children. The children get very scared by the ghosts and stop wasting food from the next day.

Don’t be wasteful everyone, or Mottainai Obake will be coming to you!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. cookingflip says:

    We say “sayang” in the PH for “mottainai”. In the southern parts, they say “kanugon”. We were also taught in school to eat the last grain of rice from our plates–in respect for the farmers who toiled in growing the rice, and because each grain itself is a blessing.

    (For some reason I couldn’t access your blog for a v. long time–I actually thought you deleted it!)


    1. naokochristofis says:

      Wow! Same !! I really respect the idea too. (Glad you can access my blog again ☺️)

      Liked by 1 person

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