March 12, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Food

With the horrific photos and stories coming out of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, I thought this might be a good time to take a few days out of the blog to reflect on the goodness of Japanese culture and the beauty of the country.  A few years ago, I was part of an agricultural trade delegation with the State of Iowa to Japan.  We visited Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.  Today’s entry will be devoted to food!

Norman Makino

The gentleman on the right is Norman Makino, who lives in Tokyo, but works for the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  Norman is the point man for Iowa-Japan relations in Japan.  He helped arrange and guide our tour. I was grateful to hear his voice over the phone on a news broadcast the day after the disaster.

Fugu Tank

I’ll start with something I didn’t eat the “river pig” or Fugu.  This is the one of the most legendary Japanese dishes, as if it improperly prepared, it can kill you with a poison.  The preparation in Japan is tightly regulated and chefs who prepare it are highly trained. It has been part of Japanese culture for 2300 years.  Here’s a poem from the time of the American Revolution:

I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.

– Yosa Buson

Here’s the first course of a more formal Japanese lunch.  I was not prepared for the great quantity of pickled food that appeared on my plates during the ten days.

Here’s the 2nd course of a more formal lunch.  It’s got the aesthetic you might expect from an Eastern chef, with the placement and arrangement of the meat, onions, and peas.  I particularly am drawn to the split pea pod with peas missing.

bento van

The bento van is a fast food version of a Japanese lunch.


Here’s my bento, pretty traditional in that it contains rice, breaded shrimp, meat, pickled vegetables, lemon, and grated vegetable – I’d be much up for this than a Happy Meal!

One of the more exotic and more recent additions to the Japanese diet is this extremely well-marbled beef known as Wagyu.  This beef is so fat, it cooks up like bacon.  Here, it is in a grill built into the center of a table in a Korean barbecue restaurant.

beer vending

Finally, we’ll end with a beverage photo.  This is a vending machine for beer on a sidewalk in Tokyo.  How long do you think one of these would last on a US sidewalk?  And do you think it would only be patronized by customers over the age of 21!

one year ago…”Third Ewe Drops Triplets”

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