Mitateru (To substitute)

Wit cultivated through a life of patience and thrift

People in Kyoto eat nishinkobu on the first day of every month, a dish which they associate with living a thrifty life as it combines sounds from the words shibuu (keeping things for oneself) and kobuu (thrifty). On days of the month which have an eight (eight is a lucky number in Japan), people in Kyoto cook arame and hope for araime (rough tea-leaf buds) to grow. At the end of every month, when the money box is getting empty (kara), they enjoy the humor of eating a dish with a similar name called “okara”.

The people of Kyoto once valued thrift and patience above everything and made it a principle to live a simple and economical life. This frugal way of life is however gradually disappearing from Kyoto. Both simplicity and affluence, however, can be found coexisting harmoniously throughout Kyoto, and ways of thinking that enable one to enjoy a rich life, and not necessarily a luxurious one, still remain very much alive today. One example of such a way of thinking is mitate. Mitate means substituting one thing with another thing. One famous example of mitate is Sen no Rikyu’s (a major figure in Japanese tea ceremony) use of a throwaway raku tea bowl

as a main bowl in tea ceremony. Mitate, in other words, is the ability to exercise freewill in one’s choices and behavior. One is able to do this through having an unconstrained and flexible mind and an aesthetic sensibility. It is sometimes said that the Japanese can get caught up with materialistic concerns. Mitate is a traditional way of living that can act as an antidote to this.