The pros of Japanese food: it is delicious and full of surprises.
The cons of Japanese food: it is strange and full of surprises.
Eating food in Japan has forced me to grow up.
Let me explain.
I was this kind of eater as a child:
My parents believed in letting their children decide what they would eat. Therefore, I decided I would not touch these foods:
5) anything remotely resembling broccoli, either in shape, color or relative weight
6) any kind of condiment besides BBQ sauce
7) anything that didn’t look delicious, the definition of which changed every day
Don’t get me wrong. While I was a picky and difficult eater, outside of food, my ability to throw caution to the wind and toss myself into the new and strange was quite without bounds.
I liked life unpredictable – except what I put in my mouth. I think that’s fair. And as I grew older I did manage to widen the extent of my palate, but not by much.
So, what changed in Japan that didn’t in Europe or Africa or even at home?
I teach English at a Japanese junior high school. In Japan, they aren’t assholes who waste their food. For school lunch, everyone gets the same meal, and everyone has equal portions. They serve each other. They sit down and clean their trays like good citizens of the world, and when they’re done, they put their empty bowls neatly away for washing, and recycle their milk cartons. It is all done in an orderly and mature fashion.
I fully support this method and dearly wish I could bring an attitude like this toward food back to my home country.
However, this is not possible. The reasons why are as such:
Japan has a collectivist culture. They think in terms of “we” instead of “I”. They are trained from birth to think of themselves as a small part of a much larger whole. Therefore in everything they do, they keep in mind that the people and environment around them will be affected in some way. While this is a great way to lead a strong, let alone environmentally and civilly conscious society, the downsides to this type of culture are often restrictive limitations on individuals – usually in terms of self-expression.
The United States of America (and many “western” societies), on the other hand, has an individualistic culture. People raised in such societies are taught to believe that everyone is unique and important and has something to offer the world. While this type of culture gives people the freedom to live their lives with copious amounts of mobility and openness, without fear of retribution, it can also lead to the wide-scale spread of Selfishasshole. The disease known as Selfishasshole makes people throw out perfectly good food to rot, all but bulldoze their way over the needs of others, and treat strangers like shit.
Not everyone does this. And not everyone is in a position to fully express themselves. There are exceptions to every rule, which is why my country must go through a difficult but necessary civil rights upheaval every few decades to maintain its base values and evolve with them.
Anyway. The point.
Japan treats almost everything like an art. Self defense. Writing. Tea. Clothing. And, of course, making and eating food.
So. We come back to this:
With this knowledge in mind, you can imagine how ill I felt with my case of Selfishasshole.
Curing it was difficult. It was painful. The selfish little child inside squirmed and cried as I forced food into its jaws. But I grew.
I developed a taste for tofu and seaweed.
I could down squid like a mother fuckin’ champion.
Food that I didn’t recognize the origin of (and still don’t) was bravely chewed and swallowed.
With my best friend rice by my side, nothing could stop me.
I try. I really really do. Sometimes I manage to eat half of it. But my students know by now to just take it out of my hands and distribute it amongst themselves.
So much for internationalism. But no matter how much growing I do, I ain’t eatin’ that shit.