Reub's journey

26 July 2012

Food issues in Japan

When I travel I always love the adventure of trying new foods, and in Japan this happened on a daily basis. Cool, right? I would say that 90% of the time we were amazed and delighted.

 We were after all, in JAPAN, and it was time to appreciate something other than US cuisine.

I didn't notice the "Hair make Master Work" sign until after taking this picture. But ya know, that is SO true.
 Although I distinctly remember craving pizza.

This is a vanilla and green tea ice cream cone. It was great! I imagined getting antioxidants along with my ice cream; this should be served up everywhere.

Grilled eel is a widely-enjoyed food in Japan. I wanted to try it, but I just couldn't. This video, shot at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is why. Eeeeuw. But everybody said it's fantastic,, could not do it.

Before we left for Japan, the sponsors of our trip sent us this photograph and asked if we would be interested in eating "mountain yam," the mucilaginous substance depicted in the picture. They were doubtful that many of us foreigners would want to eat it, even though it is considered a very healthful food. John and I were all, like, "Hell, yeah, bring it on!"

Turned out, all 12 of us said the same thing. Look how beautiful it was, this dish called "Tororo." The stack of 3 canisters on the upper right contain grated mountain yam, to be mixed with rice in the empty bowl on the bottom left, and then you stir in the condiments all around. Because this felt like an art project to me, I was ecstatic.

Mountain yam, however, is very much an acquired taste, and there was actually no possible way to make it pretty. This mucous-like mixture, so proudly served, was difficult to choke down. Later when we both said that we had eaten 2/3 of it, our Japanese hosts were thrilled. "That's good!!" they congratulated us. Later I looked it up and found out that it's an important ingredient in Chinese medicine: it tonifies your Qi and is helpful to the spleen. Sounds like a plus to me. But to quote Wikipedia:

 Interestingly, perhaps, this was widely used in the Edo period as a personal lubricant for sexual activities,[dubious ] and it was thus considered improper for it to be eaten by a woman. This aversion also derives from the loud slurping sound one makes when eating it, which is considered to be un-ladylike.[1]

So, in the future I'll just have the burger. Thanks.



  1. Thanks for this interesting post. The photos are great. Wherever we go, there we are!

  2. too funny about the mountain yam. :) i am not an adventurous eater. at all. i do like green tea ice cream, however!

  3. That last part about the sexual lubricant had me laughing out loud and then going ewwww! Too funny. If the texture doesn't look right or has a funny odor I would be unable to choke that down. Thanks for all the education we've been getting lately on Japan. I'll just enjoy that part of the world through your eyes/camera lens. :)

  4. My wife and I are big "Foodies" and watch the cooking and travel channels on TV all the time. Your post was a wonderful combination of both of these. I really enjoyed your photos and commentary. I'd love to visit this part of the world some day.

  5. I don't know if I could have eaten it and I'll try a lot of stuff.

  6. My stomach is so dodgy, just reading about mountain yam was enough to convince me I would not eat it. Forget eel, too.

    You are very brave.

  7. Ok, that was hilarious!

    And um, that part about "the sponsors of our trip..." has me intrigued. I want sponsors who send me exotic places! Instead I get PR offers for free Monkey Butt Powder. Sigh.

  8. Strange how KFC seems like an interesting eating option.

  9. Sandy: Can't argue with that.

    twg: You've had green tea ice cream here? Really? I need to get out more.

    Gail: haha! I'm glad you found the wiki entry funny. When I first read it I almost barfed.

    Stephen: Japan is a foodie's paradise; I hope you get the chance to go. Last week I wrote about kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto: that should be your first destination!

    Ellen: You know it looked innocuous at first, like cream of wheat. And the condiments were wonderful. The texture though...

    Reya: It's amazing what you will eat when seated with a group of lovely Japanese graduate students. But now, when I think about it, my stomach gets a little dodgy too.

    Crabby: You're hilarious.
    Full disclosure: John was the one who was sponsored, not me! I went on my own nickel, but it felt like being sponsored b/c when one person gets their expenses paid it makes the whole trip possible.

    Nobody has even once offered me Monkey Butt Powder.

    Laoch: Isn't that an interesting-looking KFC? But we didn't actually go in. The Japanese flock to KFC at Christmas for fried chicken and cake. Bizarre.

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  11. I agree. Stick to burgers,pizzas & vanilla/green tea ice cream which looks so yummy.The other stuff is yucky !(That is the term my grand daughter uses for stuff she dislikes. She lives in the Boise,USA)

  12. RR: Your grand daughter is just one state away from here. Next time you come to the US you should visit Oregon!

    1. Planning a visit to Boise in October 2012! Don't know if I can make it to Oregon. Shall definitely talk/mail you to begin with once I reach Boise.

  13. Those food look so delicious. I love eel and tororo (especially it's on soba noodle). Looking at your pictures, now I really miss Japanese food.

    1. Chikako, it was so much fun trying the many different foods that Japan has to offer! I bet you miss these things, which are all hard to find in the US.

    2. I wish I could find good Japanese restaurant, but thesedays I am getting used to new environment and fully enjoying everything in this country:)

    3. I wonder if there are some good Japanese restaurants in Portland? Here are some more pics of fabulous Japanese food that we had on our trip:


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