What is your intention?
Going analog: sketching with an erasable pen

Ichi ju san sai: A lesson in less-is-more

A couple of years ago, two of my students created a presentation extolling the virtues of eating a traditional Japanese diet and encouraged their fellow students—with evidence and anecdotes—to eat much less fast food. The secret to a healthy life, they said, was eating a traditional Japanese diet inspite of the ubiquitous fast food options in today's Japan. In this presentation they introduced a simple phrase — ichi ju san sai—which many students had not thought about, although they had heard the term before. Japanese cooking is in part based on the principle called ichi ju san sai (一汁三菜) or one soup and three side dishes (plus rice). The ichi ju san sai pattern goes back several centuries in Japan. The three side dishes usually have a main dish plus two lesser dishes. The main dish is often a protein like fish and the lesser dishes might include items such as tufu or potatoes or vegetables like carrots, daikon radish, burdock root, and so on. And a typical meal is served with tsukemono (Japanese pickles) on the side as well. With this kind of meal it is very easy to follow the hara hachi bu principle (eat until 80% full) while still feeling satisfied.

Here is one of their slides sketched first on the whiteboard. Later they took their own photos and built there images in slideware, but occasionally students sketch all their slides like this on a whiteboard and then take pictures of each sketch with text and use those images to fill the full frame in their slides.

A lesson in variety & balance
We can apply the spirt of ichi ju san sai to other aspects of our creative lives, including presentations. For example, ichi ju san sai is good for achieving a relatively low-calorie but nutrient-rich diet. A lot of fast food reverses this equation—high-calorie, nutrient-weak—especially when sugary drinks are added. In a similar way, many effective presentations are relatively short in terms of time but rich in content and meaning (and relevance, inspiration, etc.). Good presentations subtract the superfluous and add the meaningful and are efficient with time. However, ineffective presentations are often weak in relevant content and meaning but nonetheless take a very long time to deliver.

The principle behind ichi ju san sai is a good lesson in achieving variety & balance through simplicity. With food we need a variety of different sources from which we get our calories. The ichi ju san sai principle encourages variety and adjusting menu items to include what is in season, ensuring the freshest of content. Variety and balance are keys to many aspects of our lives, however, including education — how we learn and help others to learn — and our pursuit to make a contribution in the world and find some bit of happiness and fulfillment while doing so. We need security and reassurance and we get that through routine and exposure to the known and the expected, but we also crave variety. No variety, no life.


Looking back to the future

The photo above is of one of their pre-slide sketches which features the phrase 温故知新 (onko chishin) which means something similar to "visit the past to understand the new" or "learn from the past." My students are calling this "Back to the Future." That is, there is much to be learned, they said, from the past and that we are well advised to bring some of those things from traditional "old Japan" with us to the future, such as the healthy, sustainable, and delicious eating habits of the past including the ichi ju san sai approach. The secret to the future, at least when it comes to cooking and eating they said, is to look back to discover lessons from the past that we may use to improve our present. This principle too has many applications for our personal and professional lives today.

Two students plan their presentation on the benefits of traditional Japanese cooking vs. modern fast food, first by brainstorming on paper and sketching visuals on the whitebaord, and then in their storyboard books long before the computer was turned on.


John @ Machine Parts

How sad is it that I was drawn in by the word "soup". However I was pleasantly intrigued by what I found. Time and cost are always a factor that people have to consider in business and in home life. I can assume the students passed?

John Lee

Garr, I am blessed to see your obvious love for what you do. And surely your students are among the lucky few. I send you a contemporary Korean phrase of encouragement, "Fighting!~"

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