Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Shikaku suika (Square watermelons)

Mmm... delicious watermelon. The only problem with watermelons is that they're much too impractical. Personally, I'd eat nothing but watermelon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if only they weren't so darned round and ungainly. Once again, the Japanese have the solution. Grown in glass boxes In the 1980s, a farm in Shikoku ...

Kusaya (“Smells bad” fish)

Kusaya, which literally translates as “smells bad”, is a type of preserved dried fish. During the Edo period, when salt was much more scarce, the people of Japan’s remote Izu Islands would save salt by preserving the fish they caught in a salty soup (kusaya-eki). The fish would then be laid ...

Basashi (Raw horse meat)

Basashi is raw horse meat, often served on a bed of ice with condiments like soy sauce, shiso leaves, and daikon (Japanese radish). It's also called "sakura" (cherry) because of its deep red color. Before 1867 and the Meiji restoration, Buddhist beliefs prevented people from killing animals for food. However, during ...

Japanese pizza

It's remarkably difficult to get a pizza in Japan without mayonnaise or sweetcorn on it. Apart from that, there's a bewildering array of even more outlandish toppings asparagus bamboo shoots boiled eggs broccoli camembert cod roe (fish eggs) dried fish flakes eel egg yolk kimuchi (spicy Korean pickled leaf) nori (seaweed) octopus pickled ginger potatoes shiso (perilla leaves) shrimp spaghetti squash ...

Japanese ice cream

Japan has a fine history of taking Western products and producing innovative new versions. They might have gone too far with ice cream, if the following list is anything to go by: abalone (shellfish) basashi (raw horse meat) brown rice cherry blossom curry charcoal chicken wings deep sea water dried kelp (seaweed) garlic goat lettuce natto (fermented soy beans) noodle oyster persimmon potato red wine sesame shark fin silk (?) spinach stout (beer) tulip wasabi whale wheat The ...

Nyotaimori (Body sushi)

Nyotaimori, "female body presentation", is a service allowing restaurant customers to eat from the skin of a naked woman. Apart from her crotch, which is usually covered with some kind of garnish, the model's modesty depends on the (temporary) position of the food on her body. Also known as "body ...

Umeboshi (Pickled plums)

Almost all Japanese plums are pickled to make umeboshi. They were introduced from China in the 8th century, and are smaller and more tart than their Western cousins. Every June, the green, unripe plums are cured in salt, before being packed in shiso (beefsteak plant) and marinated. This gives them a ...

Mochi

Mochi is finely ground cooked rice pressed into shapes, which can be used in sweet and savory foods. If kept, they form hard blocks, which can be stored until they are needed. Mochi is also combined with roasted soy bean flour (kinako) or sweet bean paste (anko) to make traditional ...

Anko (Red bean paste)

Red bean jam ("anko" or "an") is a common ingredient in traditional Japanese sweets. Sweet red beans (azuki) are cooked and kneaded with a lot of sugar to make a thick paste. There are 2 varieties: koshian (smooth) and tsubuan (some whole beans in it). Traditionally, anko has been mainly used ...

Funazushi (Fermented raw fish)

In most countries, rotten fish is thrown out. In Japan, they spend 3 or 4 years making it, and consider it an expensive luxury. Funazushi, the speciality of Shiga prefecture, is fermented buna (crucian carp). The raw fish is packed tightly in salt for a year, then dried and mixed with ...

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