Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Whale meat

Eating whale is a thorn in Japan's increasingly groovy relationship with the rest of the world. Currently, Japan is limited to "scientific whaling", which yields very little meat for consumption - making whale an expensive delicacy. Whale meat became a staple of the Japanese diet in the food shortages after WWII. ...

Pocky

In 1965, food company Glico launched 'Chocoteck', thin sticks of wheat dipped in milk chocolate. They sold 60 billion yen's worth in two years, and the snack became an essential 60s fashion accessory. The name was soon changed to Pocky - from the crunching 'pockin' sound that a hard-core Pocky scoffer ...

Nattou (Fermented soybeans)

Natto, fermented soybeans, is less of a foodstuff than an elaborate hoax played on foreigners in Japan. Of our five senses, sight and smell immediately tell us that natto is not something to be put near our mouths. If you can imagine putrid beans covered in slime, you don't even need ...

Kobe beef

Costing over US$100 a pound, Kobe beef is the most expensive in the world. It's also known as Hyogo beef (Kobe city is in Hyogo prefecture). Wagyu ("Japanese cattle") beef is another common term, but this refers to a much wider range of Japan's beef. Kobe cows are fed on a ...

Instant ramen

Cheap, tasty and easy to prepare, instant ramen is the staple diet of Japan's overworked and lazy. The convenient snacks have become increasingly gourmet, with pricier pots offering tender, vacuum-packed meat, vegetables and seafood. Overdependence on instant ramen has raised health concerns, as it consists almost entirely of MSG and sodium. Tokyo food ...

Ikizukuri (Live sashimi)

When it comes to sashimi (raw fish), freshness is key, and no sashimi is fresher than ikezukuri, which is cut from a live fish and served quivering. Often, the fish is quickly "reassembled" after it has been carved alive, and served as a gruesome parody of its former self. Vital organs ...

Happoshu (Fake beer)

Happoshu, which means "fizzy alcohol", is a cheap beer imitation, which rivals real beer for popularity in Japan. It's made from low quality wheat alcohol, fizzy water and a little malt to make it drinkable. 40% cheaper than beer, it avoids high taxation due to its low malt content. One of the most ...

Genki drinks

Genki drinks, the unheralded stimulant of Japan's workforce, are massively popular "pick-me-ups" available at any convenience store. Most drinks contain an irresponsible amount of caffeine, as well as B vitamins. The labels also suggest a hefty hit of "ni-ko-chin" - but fortunately this isn't liquid chain smoking. Perhaps it's only a ...

Fugu (Poisonous blowfish)

"They'll eat anything with four legs except a table, and anything with wings except an aeroplane." This expression is usually used by the Japanese to describe the eating habits of their quaint Asian neighbours, but many foreigners in Japan would apply it to the Japanese themselves. This is a country whose ...

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