Japan: As Beautiful as it is Delicious

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It takes a while to adjust to such a dramatic time change. Throw in election day on Tuesday and the effects are quite surreal. Almost every food I encounter is unknown to me. Great piles of packaged foods look like sweets, but rarely are. I'm on a whirlwind tour of central Japan. This is a land of order and perfect plumbing. This is the first time I've travelled to a place where I didn't speak a word of the language, but Japan is remarkably easy. One hears that this is the world's second largest economy. This always puzzled me, because so many countries are larger, but after about ten minutes here, I understand. You are swamped by shopping opportunities here.

Great care is taken with food here. The presentation is beautiful. Because most of it is seafood, much of it raw, much attention is paid to freshness. Today I am in Kyoto. This city feels to me like the Japanese equivalent of Lyon in France, with Tokyo playing the part of Paris. I mean that it is a city with all the lovely things that the country has to offer, only out of the line of fire of a busy capital. Its facade is one of bustling, modern streets, but behind them are remarkable neighborhoods of narrow alleys filled with temples, artisans, small vendors and restaurants with no apparent names. Tonight, a group of us went to just such a place. It was small and down an alley and was run by a charming older man who spoke fairly good English, and had a good ear for jazz and a good eye for detail. The food was measured and elegant. There was sashimi, tempura, tereyaki and nabe.

Yesterday was in effect wasted because it was spent in large part in front of the television and the laptop. Happily, in the morning before the results of the election began to come in, some of us took off for the the massive city fish market. It is the largest such market in the world and it feels like it. The main building is acres large. Workers hurtle about on carts powered by large gas canisters. Every conceivable sea creature can be found there, both alive and dead. More on the dead later, when I'll talk more about meals.

posted by Bill Smith at 3:50 PM


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