Ruetzler is a hashi-man
Among these elements
are; read the kanji for "dog" or "sun", pay the correct
change while shopping, the ability to drive on the other side of the road
("Let me see...the opposite side of right is.....hmmmm...this is
tough...maybe...LEFT?"), or properly negotiate the use of a non-western
toilet. Let`s just say "When you gotta go, you gotta GO!".
I CAN use "hashi" (chopsticks)!"
In my time here in Japan, SEVERAL times I have been complimented
on my "skilled" use of chopsticks, as have most foreigners.
Though I do not necessarily agree, I do manage to get food in my
mouth for the most part, and not much on my lap. I have several
times had that skillful display followed up by being asked if I
have" Learned to use chopsticks in my two years here in Morioka?"
I then reply, "No I learned five years ago at a cheap Chinese
restaurant in Boulder, Colorado."
This brings the ubiquitous uttering of "Eh?, looks of disbelief,
and surprise that I actually learned while in my native country,
the United States. My home country is often believed to be the theworlds
biggest source of ethno-centrists, thoroughly unable to comprehend
other cultures, totally devoid of their own, and especially mystified
with the Japanese "way", even to its most fundamentally
Or so the reputation goes.....
I often receive a similar line of questioning about my ability to "actually"
eat Japanese food. I do take the standard line on such traditional foreigner
dislikes as Nattoo (YUCK!), Umeboshi (BARF!), Raw Egg-Happy dishes (SORRY,
I`m not ROCKY BALBOA!), and Hoya. Hoya ("sea squirt" or "sea
pineapple" in English), was described in a travel guidebook as tasting
like "rubber dipped in ammonia". I think they were being charitable.
The same reaction goes for "Shio Kara". Mind You, I have no
problems with the part of the dish that is "squid flesh", the
other part of the dish, best described as "pureed squid internal
organs", and its nauseating light purple coloring are what causes
However, I have had a love of Japanese food that goes back nine years
to my first piece of sushi, and a love of Asian cuisine that goes back
even further. My enjoyment of Japanese food surpasses that of most foreigners.
I once had another JET program member ask me "If I ever get sick
of THAT STUFF?" The answer is No. Truth be said, my favorite food
in the whole world is Sushi, followed closely by Sukiyaki. I don`t limit
it two those two dishes either. From Tempura to Sesame-Mochi, I find myself
enjoying just about everything Japanese and edible.
In my two years here in Morioka, the times I have been to a Sushi Maru
(The McDonalds of Sushi)
Kaiten Sushi restaurant double or triple the number of times I have been
to McDonald`s, KFC or any other western style fast food place. This is
not limited to Japanese cuisine either. I adore Korean, Chinese, and Indian
style cooking. I also have been to Thai, Vietnamese, and Nepalese restaurants
in my home country, and have found that two of the best restaurants in
Morioka are Thai and Vietnamese. In actuality, I prefer Asian cuisine
to "western" cuisine. So pass some Kimchi, Lemon Grass, Tom-Yum,
and Tandoori Chicken along with that Wasabi please. I will wash it down
with some of that FINE Thai sweet iced coffee. Thank you.
Indicative of the gradual "Asian-ization" of my tastebuds is
this. I was eating dinner with a Chinese woman (Fortunately with English
skills better than mine....if someone thinks Japanese is tough, they should
try the inflectional languages of Southeast Asia, Nihongo is a cakewalk
compared to Chinese, Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese!). I made the mistake of
instructing her to take me to the BEST Chinese restaurant in town. In
the middle of our first dish I said; "What is this? It is good!".
"Intestine" was her matter-of-fact reply. Now I may never eat
it intentionally again...but it was good! Later on she goaded me into
eating stomach, which when broiled well, is at least palatable. To top
it all off, she suggested I try snake one of these days, using the logic
that if eel was one of my favorite foods in the world, then snake was
not really that different. The scary part about that was she is probably
Japanese food is much more available in America than many Japanese would
imagine. Almost every supermarket will have a few blocks of tofu, and
all will have some soy sauce. To cite an example, my hometown of Burlington,
Vermont is nestled in the Northeast corner of the United States with the
nearest concentrations of Asian population being Boston and New York City,
a minimum of 300 miles away. The population is about half that of Morioka`s,
yet we have three Japanese restaurants, and one of the local supermarkets
has a sushi bar, not to mention two other Asian restaurants. We also have
Thai and Korean restaurants, and countless Chinese restaurants. Not bad
for a place that qualifies as America`s "inaka" and demographically
least Asian state.
My tastes during my time here would be qualified as "quite"
extreme by some back home. Mentioning that I had whale sashimi while here
apparently rankles the sense of propriety of several that I have mentioned
it to (I guess I better not tell them about the Cuban cigars?). It was
pretty good. I also find the raw horsemeat I had here quite tasty. Also,
while in Korea I ate a Silkworm larva boiled in soy sauce. It wasn`t as
good as whale or horse, but it was edible.
While I do long for a nice bowl of Chili, and do miss Powerbars (Especially
apple cinnamon flavored, sorry Calorie Mate!), and I do find cafe culture
a little lacking in Iwate, despite the long-awaited arrival of Starbucks
(My eye teeth for a Dunkin Donuts Hazlenut Coolata!). I really do not
miss the food from back home. So quick, get me some wakame (a kind of
seaweed) salad, and a big bowl of Eel (kabayaki). How about some kamaboko
(fish sausage) and ikura (salmon eggs) on the side? Itadakimasu!
Dean H Ruetzler
Nishine (aka. "West Root"), Iwate Prefecture, JAPAN and Warren/South
Burlington, Vermont, USA
Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in
Dean H. Ruetzler
Ruetzler coming home
Journeys in Hacktreks
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