From “A Hopeful Sign” – Every Meal in Japan is an Experience

My latest post on the e-zine “A Hopeful Sign” is about eating in Japan.  As most of you know, I truly love food and eating, and it is a big part of the Japanese culture. You can get to the post properly HERE.

In case you can’t see the link, here is a teaser of the post, but to see the full meat of it, please click on the link above.

Like many humans, I spend a lot of time not only eating, but thinking about food.  In Japan, food is not just sustenance or yummy, but a different type of art form.  From the casual to the decadent, food has a prominent place in the Japanese culture far beyond the sushi that many people associate with the country. That being said, let’s begin with sushi:

The above photo is from my favorite sushi restaurant in Japan, Fukuzushi.  Labeled by Frommer’s as possibly the best in Tokyo, it has been in business for four generations and is currently owned and run by the great-granddaughter of the founder.  Every piece of fish is hand-chosen by specially trained sushi chefs at the Tsukiji Fish market the morning before it is served.

This is a photo of master sushi chef Toyo Agarie at Fukuzushi.  He told us that he studied and worked as an apprentice for many years to become a proper sushi chef.  Once he mentioned that he worked in the restaurant for more than a year before ever touching a piece of fish.  Look carefully at the photo; Toyo-san is holding a knife in his right hand that he swings expertly toward the piece of cucumber in his hand in order to slice it beautifully to be put on the plate next to the fish.  He swings the sharp knife so fast that it’s barely visible in the photo. It’s an ancient skill and art that he practices.

A Hopeful Sign is an excellent site, full of uplifting messages and stunning photos.  Please go to the LINK and enjoy!

The Top Ten Things I Miss About Tokyo

It’s about that time of year again, when I do the list of things I miss about my adopted home when I am away from it for so many weeks.  So here we go!

  1. Walking everywhere – I spend so much time in my car in Washington DC – even living right in the city!
  2. The drinking culture – because everyone drives, fewer people have a smaller number of drinks – I do love my drinks!
  3. My favorite sushi restaurant – Fukuzushi.  In Roppongi.  I never eat sushi in the U.S.
  4. Mount Thabor bakery in Azabu Juban – there is truly no French bakery quite like that here in DC.
  5. Using my iPhone like it was meant to be used – I do as little data roaming as possible here in DC, and I miss just pulling out my smart phone at will.  I use a cheap, old, little Nokia phone here in DC.
  6. My tiny little car – I’m driving a rented Chevy Impala here in DC, which is 1.5 times bigger than my little BMW 318I in Tokyo.
  7. The service – I like American restaurants just fine, but the service in Tokyo is white-glove perfect, all without tipping.
  8. May’s Garden Spa in Roppongi.  I have a pretty good hairstylist here in DC, but even if the cut is nearly as good, the experience of the salon in Tokyo is second to none!
  9. Japanese TV – those advertisements are a stitch!!!
  10. My TOILET – for reasons I will not enumerate – but suffice to say, I miss its “functions”!!

I’ll be in DC for a little over two more weeks.  I love it here, but I am looking forward to going home to Tokyo.

Filmmaking and Writing and Learning

On Monday I was fortunate to have lunch with filmmaker Tamara Rosenberg, who was in town for the Asian University for Women (AUW) event from last week.  Tamara is a freelance producer whose best-known work is the film she presented at the event, “Time for School” which follows the lives of seven children across the globe and their educational lives.  The film crew meets with each child every three years and shows their progress.  The last episode of the film is scheduled to be in 2015 when the children will theoretically be graduating from school, but also to coincide with the United Nations mandate that states that every child across the globe should be receiving a free basic education by 2015.  The film is wonderful; somehow she has managed to make it poignant yet uplifting.  I came away from watching it with great sadness for the state of education globally, but somehow with great hope for the future.  I’m looking forward to the next installment in 2012.

Tamara was scheduled to fly out of Tokyo on Monday night, so our meeting and lunch really was her last jaunt in the city.  I took her to my very favorite sushi restaurant, Fukuzushi. We ate one lunch set: cooked tuna appetizer, chowamushi (egg custard) and decided on anagyoju (cooked eel and egg over rice) for our main course.  We ate the rice flour balls in bean paste for dessert.

The interesting thing though, was that we were able to compare our work.  Tamara feels grateful as a filmmaker to be able to make films about anything and everything.  She noted that when she toured the sumo stables (that’s what they call the sumo training grounds) she saw it through the lens of her camera.  She had a thousand questions she wanted to ask, such as: what do you eat? You’re young; do you go to school? How many hours do you train? Where do you sleep?  She said that she could see where she would do a close-up shot and where she would pan back for a wider view.  Tamara said that she doesn’t see everything like that; like when she was in Kyoto and touring temples as a tourist, she just let the scenes and ideas wash over her like any other tourist.  But if she sees a story in something, that’s when it penetrates.

It’s the same thing for writing.  Last year I wrote a long piece on soba noodles for a magazine called Food and Beverage Underground. I did a ton of research about the history and traditions of eating soba in Japan, as well as on the nutrition and serving styles.  Am I food expert? Am I a nutritionist? No, of course not.  But I’m a writer.  The beauty of being a writer is the ability to discover subjects and topics and write about them – research is crucial.  But beyond that, I’m free to move on to the next topic when that article is done if that’s what I choose to do.  After that piece on soba, I wrote a nice piece on anti-aging food and restaurants that are cropping up all over Tokyo for Kaleidoscope magazine.  It was related, but not the same.

Writers and filmmakers and other creative sorts have the gift of being able to take a topic and use it to serve a purpose – inform, entertain, anything.  I get to learn something every time I write.  And then the next time I write I get to learn something else that’s new for me.

Tamara and I stayed at Fukuzushi for at least two hours – until they were closing for the break between lunch and dinner.  We talked about topics that ran the gamut of city living, Japanese culture, creativity and a million other things.  I feel very lucky to have had that special time with her.  And I’m hoping that she gets back to Tokyo to visit in the not-too-distant future.