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Eating in Japan

hojyo preppares another wind-upIn 2005 I was honoured to be invited as special guest of the JOAS for their annual convention. I'd read up using Ann LaVin's "guide for gaijins" and spent some time stretching my knee joints in preparation. As a vegetarian, I'd expected a few difficulties, but nothing prepared me for quite how alien the concept of vegetarianism is in Japan. 95% of the meals I saw there seemed to include some species of sea-life, often unrecognisable as such. Most Japanese seems a) astounded that

  • anyone would choose not to eat fish
  • anyone as physically big as me lived off vegetables

Added to this was a rich linguistic jest whereby by name sounded like the Japanese word for meat. This caused much merriment amongst the parties I ate with. Indeed, much micky-taking went on. During one meal, Hojyo Takashi advised me the polite from of reply when food was brought to me, which sounded like "gotsaidan". I was advised to deliver this in as deep and gruff a voice as I could manage. So, I promptly said it to the next waiter, who acknowledged with a brief nod. "Louder, deeper", urged Hojyo-san. I obliged and saw a flicker of a smile from the waiter. The next time, I noticed a small group of staff were watching from around a corner to hear my superb grasp of Japanese. They burst out laughing. Smelling a rat, I asked June Sakamoto what the phrase meant. "It's to thank someone for giving them food", she said. "So why are they laughing?" I asked. "Because only Sumo wrestlers say it", she replied. Done like a kipper, as we say in Yorkshire.

Another slight faux-pas occurred in a traditional; Japanese hotel that Yamaguchi-San had booked us into on the tour. I'd just returned from a delightful moonlit hot bath on the roof of the hotel (indescribably delightful, even with the novel experience of being, as were my fellow folders, stark naked) We were given robes to wear and even with the largest, mine was a trifle snug.

We sat cross-legged on the floor for the food. A classically dressed Japanese lady trotted over to me with a large towel. "How thoughtful", I mused, "a spare towel". She knelt in front of me a carefully laid the towel across my lap, where I was clearly sharing a little too much Western flesh for her liking! A more modest scene from the meal is shown here. I can't help but think the furniture was designed for hobbits! As with almost all meals, I relied on local expertise to help me identify what wasn't veggy-freindly. Believe me, you couldn't tell simply by looking at it! At one meal, something arrived that the JOAS experts didn't recognise. The first waiter also didn't recognise it. He went back to the chef, who pronounced it as "sea food".

Generally, I found plenty of great food; noodles, tofu etc. The problem was, the restaurants seemed to think they doing me some kind of disservice by offering such modest selections. They couldn't believe that someone as, errr, masculine as me survived without huge slabs of raw mat and fish every day.

All contents are © the named (or unnamed) individual contributors. Site copyright & disclaimer. Site design courtesy of Nick Robinson . No part of this website may be reproduced in any form (including e-books) without specific permission. If you do, we'll track you down and you will fold with the fishes. Last updated July 28 2017