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Chopsticks
Dean H Ruetzler is a hashi-man

"Yes, 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 simple elements.
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!".
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 my pain.

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 right.

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
rudean77@yahoo.com
Nishine (aka. "West Root"), Iwate Prefecture, JAPAN and Warren/South Burlington, Vermont, USA

Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West
Dean H. Ruetzler

Reverse Culture Shock
Dean H. Ruetzler coming home


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