Japanese cuisine has developed over the centuries as a result of many political and social changes. The cuisine eventually changed with the advent of the Medieval age which ushered in a shedding of elitism with the age of shogun rule. In the early modern era massive changes took place that introduced non-Japanese cultures, most notably Western culture, to Japan.
Japanese cuisine is based on combining staple foods (shushoku, 主食), typically rice or noodles, with a soup, and okazu (お かず) - dishes made from fish, meat, vegetable, tofu and the like, designed to add flavor to the staple food. These are typically flavored with dashi, miso, and soy sauce and are usually low in fat and high in salt.
A standard Japanese meal generally consists of several different okazu accompanying a bowl of cooked white Japanese rice (gohan, 御飯), a bowl of soup and some tsukemono (pickles). The most standard meal comprises three okazu and is termed ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜; "one soup, three sides"). Different cooking techniques are applied to each of the three okazu; they may be raw (sashimi), grilled, simmered (sometimes called boiled), steamed, deep-fried, vinegared, or dressed. This Japanese view of a meal is reflected in the organization of Japanese cookbooks, organized into chapters according to cooking techniques as opposed to particular ingredients (e.g. meat, seafood). There may also be chapters devoted to soups, sushi, rice, noodles, and sweets.
As Japan is an island nation its people eat much seafood. Meat-eating has been rare until fairly recently due to restrictions placed upon it by Buddhism. However, strictly vegetarian food is rare since even vegetable dishes are flavored with the ubiquitous dashi stock, usually made with katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna flakes). An exception is shōjin ryōri (精 進料理), vegetarian dishes developed by Buddhist monks. However, the advertised shōjin ryōri usually available at public eating places includes some non-vegetarian elements.
Noodles are an essential part of Japanese cuisine usually as an alternative to a rice-based meal. Soba (thin, grayish-brown noodles containing buckwheat flour) and udon (thick wheat noodles) are the main traditional noodles and are served hot or cold with soy-dashi flavorings. Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat stock broth known as ramen have become extremely popular over the last century. There are many foods in Japan that are healthy, such as seaweed.