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Japan trip report #1: Food - Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2018-06-28 22:18
Subject: Japan trip report #1: Food
Security: Public
Tags:japan, trip reports

aviva_m and I have just come back from our honeymoon in Japan; here's the start of my trip report on it (further instalments to come).

Japan's an interesting mix of western and traditional. (Think Lost In Translation.*) This is, it seems to me, inseparable from Japanese history: In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan had been a peaceful, but completely closed, society for two and a half centuries; westerners were (with the exception of one Dutch trading mission, and then only once a year) not even permitted to set foot in Japan. In 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy forced the country, pretty much at gunpoint, to open up to international trade. Japanese society was shaken to its core by this, and it caused the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate that had ruled since the start of the seventeenth century. Japan's reaction was we must transform our country so that this can never happen again, but the way to go about this, somewhat paradoxically, was by a process of intensive and speedy overhauling of every part of culture and government to follow the western model instead of the traditional Japanese one. The one area in which Japanese tradition remained more-or-less supreme, from the point of view of my experience there, is cuisine.

* No, not this kind of lost in translation (of which we saw perhaps surprisingly little):

[0.jenglish]

Though even there, Japanese culture interacted and fizzled with the western one in odd ways, such as a proliferation of weird and wonderful KitKat flavours (all photos are clickable through for, where appropriate, high resolution):

[0.kitkats selection]

[0.kitkats shinshu apple]

...And when I say weird and wonderful, I mean, frex, wasabi KitKats!

[0.kitkats wasabi]

This is, too, a country in which the default symbol for ice-cream is not white, symbolising vanilla, but green, symbolising matcha (powdered green tea):

[green ice cream symbol]

(We also encountered other interesting ice-cream flavours such as soy sauce and cherry blossom.)

But mostly Japanese cuisine remained its own thing, and in particular Japanese haute-cuisine, which is called Kaiseki. Such a meal, served in high-class restaurants and ryokans (on which see a subsequent blog post), consists of ten small courses served in sequence, almost no component we were able to identify. (We ate either vegetarian, or with the help of this document from the local Masorti community, so we were not at risk of eating anything we would not have been prepared to eat.) Here's a few examples of courses from our first kaiseki meal:

[1.2.atami meal1]

[1.2.atami meal2]

[1.2.atami meal3]

[1.2.atami meal andrea]

[1.2.atami meal me]

In this last photo, I am wearing a yukata, which the less westernised hotels, and ryokans provide for guests to wear within the hotel grounds.

Less high-end restaurants, along with fast food eateries, have an interesting way of advertising their food: Instead of putting a menu in the window, they display plastic models of the food they serve (frequently with a pair of chopsticks holding noodles out of their bowl in a gravity-defying manner). Here's some examples from a Hello Kitty-themed eatery we passed:

[4.26.Hello Kitty meals on display2]

[4.26.Hello Kitty meals on display]

Well, that'll do for starters. I'll talk about something different next time.

[Japan blog posts] [personal profile] lethargic_man's Japan blog posts

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curious_reader: Oposum
User: curious_reader
Date: 2018-06-29 17:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Oposum
It looks very interesting. I am amused by the "Hello, Kitty" dishes. I never thought about eating them. The apple kitkat would be something I would try and maybe cherry blossom ice-cream. I am not into green tea and wasabi in sweets not even minty sweets. It would be a too odd combination. I did not know you can eat vegetarian there. It is not all about sushi then I am not so keen on even with kosher fish. They have a lot of non-kosher fish that are sometimes poisoning and if not proper prepared deadly. Someone almost died by eating a type of puffer fish. Good you did not try the fish. You never know what you get.

Edited at 2018-06-29 05:03 pm (UTC)
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Lethargic Man (anag.): reflect
User: lethargic_man
Date: 2018-06-30 22:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:reflect
I did not know you can eat vegetarian there.

You can in some places; others are not so well provided with veggie restaurants. But in many cases we went on organised tours, with whom we were able to book veggie meals.

It is not all about sushi then I am not so keen on even with kosher fish. They have a lot of non-kosher fish that are sometimes poisoning and if not proper prepared deadly. Someone almost died by eating a type of puffer fish. Good you did not try the fish. You never know what you get.

Well, no; it's only the puffer fish (fugu) which is poisonous, and you'd only get served that at a high-end restaurant. But I'd not eat that anyway.

(Don't read further if you're squeamish.)

I saw a programme about Japan and it showed a sushi chef preparing this fish. It was lying on a chopping board, so I assumed it was dead, but it seems when they serve the fish fresh, they mean fresh: When the chef chopped off the front of its head, it started thrashing around. I have no idea whether it could still feel pain with the front of its brain missing, but it certainly looked like it.

Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, the programme showed the chef flaying the fish with it still alive and thrashing around.

Ultimately, I suppose, I didn't have enough control over my food to be certain that wasn't done for any of the fish I ate in Japan, but I would imagine it was characteristic only of top-end restaurants, and I doubt I ate anywhere in Japan high-enough end to even offer fugu.
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User: curious_reader
Date: 2018-06-30 22:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One never knows what one gets in a fish restaurant. Other fish may not be poisonous but you may still get non-kosher fish. You never know what is in sushi. You can't even ask as they may not understand English. I am glad you have vegi options. I only know vegetarian dumplings they sell at Mark and Spencer's. Apparently they are Japanese. Fish are always wiggly when just out of the water. I am not the squeamish type. I played with live frogs, wriggly green caterpillars and earth worms when I was little. I only caught them and let them go again. I am not very girly. That does not just apply to no make-up my mother occasionally forced on me until I became allergic and most time wearing comfortable casual clothes. Anyway, your Japanese travel sounds very exciting. I guess you had an interpreter. I guess your guide was Japanese. My Japanese rabbits couldn't have helped you. They are out of touch :-)
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