Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Intercultural Understanding

A fashion magazine girl with not-so-discrete bulimia noisily slurps some nondescript noodles on national TV, almost falls off her chair and screams in mock-orgasmic/shock the inevitable "OIIIIIIISHIIIII!!!!"

Watch Japanese on any given night, and I would be willing to wager a shiny ha'penny that this kind of scene turns up at least once. Food is the main staple of TV over here. Be it a straight forward cookery show, travel show, clothes show, talk show or sports show, food and the eating of it is always brought in somehow.

As an Englishman, I can relate to a lot of things in Japan (the reluctance to complain, apologising to the person that just bumped into you, etc) but the food thing is kind of lost on me. In brutal terms, Japanese food is often very average... certainly on a grand poll of the various foods from around the world, I doubt whether Japanese cuisine would rank in the top 15, something that Japanese friends and colleauges regard as "poppycock". I enjoy a great deal of Japanese food, but it's nowhere near as exciting as the offerings from Italy, Mexico or Spain.

The fact is that there exists a strong current of arrogance regarding the Japanese and their food. A great many people I know will disregard any kind of food that hasn't been grown or farmed in Japan. They scoff and turn up their noses at certain culinary groups or dishes because they don't fit in with the indoctrinated stock of acceptable foods. As is the case with most things in Japan, there is a protocol for eating too. Fish must always be served with daikon (Japanese radish), miso soup must always be served in a red or red and black bowl, and curry rice must be served in an eliptical bowl with a spoon. Any kind of adaption of these rules in frowned upon, at least publicly. Sometimes I like to dip my inari (Japanese rice balls wrapped in sweet tofu) in my soup, or add the dregs of my miso soup to the dregs of my udon, and I can almost feel the hot daggers burning into me at work.

Despite wanting to remain in Japan indefinitely, and becoming ever more accustomed to life here, I can't see myself ever going to a foreign country just to try the food. I'm not patriotic, but I like the way that the UK uses scathing humour as an outlet for stress, something I appreciate immensely. The Japanese outlet of food-fawning and treating wives like shit just doesn't do it for me...


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