“Fermenting” and “Thinking”

Mr. Tatsushi Fujihara, Historian



Modern society has advanced by shortening wait times.
Since people aren’t able to wait for another train, the frequency and speed of trains has gone up. Impatience with long cook times has led to the development of large quantities of instant foods. A desire to reclaim the time spent searching for a payphone is what helped to spread the use of cellular technology. Visiting the library to look things up takes time, tempting us to look them up online. And composting livestock waste with straw takes ages, so we rely on industry to produce chemical fertilizers.


Without a doubt, efficiency is key. It frees up valuable time. The thought of waiting aimlessly when we don’t need to is unbearable for most. Life is too short.


And yet, our tolerance for wait times has gone way down. Waiting around is unthinkable. Gone are the days of showing up ahead of time at an agreed-upon location and losing yourself in a book. Rather than leave things up to others, or to nature, we try to take control.


The recent popularity of fermentation is perhaps a sign of these distressful times. When it comes to fermentation, we can only do so much. Most of the process depends on the temperament of microorganisms and the weather. Not even the most advanced sake brewer or fromagier can perfectly foresee what kinds of tastes and smells will transpire. The bulk of it is up to fate, out of our hands. Whether it’s sake, shoyu, miso, bread, or natto, fermentation is a waiting game. Brewing depends on absolute acceptance of the time it takes to wait.


But this phenomenon isn’t limited to what we eat and drink. In applying the binary language of computers—input, output—to our very thoughts, we’ve gone too far. Isn’t thought another kind of fermentation? Mixing things, letting them sit, waiting for them to bubble…isn’t this what it’s all about? The subtleties of slower thinking can make us favor flashier ideas and stopgap measures, reacting harshly, impulsively, and hastily. But the thoughts that we let percolate last longer, smell more fragrant, and withstand corrosion far better than provocative ideas. We cannot let technological developments divorce us from our visceral awareness of time.


Those of us fatigued by societal demands like “speed up, don’t stop, wake up” find ourselves yearning for the rhythms of fermentation: “wait, don’t hurry, take a rest.”


Translated by Sam Bett