For the most part, I’ve been enthusiastic about trying new foods. Southern China/Hong Kong, The Philippines and Taiwan have been notable exceptions (then why are they notable?), whereas every other dish contains a part of an animal that hasn’t existed (the animal, or the part) for hundreds of years, and its accompanying bone. And in those areas, vegetables have bones too. Which is to say, if I’m invited to feast with locals at a standard issue banquet-style restaurant, and the rotating glass table (also known as a lazy susan) continues to spin my way, I’ll try anything. Even bacon.
Before studying abroad in Tokyo in 2005, I had read about Japanese schools serving whale in their cafeterias. What’s the issue? Isn’t whaling just another excuse to establish a non-profit organization? These chums of cetaceans may disagree. In any event, Japan has been pushing forth with its controversial maneuvers, particularly since a worldwide ban on (commercial) whaling in 1986. The meat that ends up in northern Japanese schools, Japan argues, was so that they don’t waste the any of the mammal after conducting scientific research on migratory patterns, not to mention the amount of fish that a whale eats proves too much for an overpopulated country to ignore. In other words, whales are another way to appreciate soy sauce. After all, くじら kujira is the capital city of fish, based on its corresponding Chinese/Japanese character, 鯨 (the left side, or radical of the character means fish, and the right signifies capital city). So began my quest to try it out, to see what all the fuss in Wakayama prefecture is about.
23 September 2005, that was my first sighting of whale in a supermarket, a 肉のハナマサ (niku no hanamasa) in Akihabara, Tokyo. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t eat it then, and at the time I was more interested in the supermarket’s presence below a series of railroad tracks. Must’ve been a terrific semester…
Advance to February 2010, and that happens. Worst of all, I have no idea which part of the metropolis it inhabits, but there’s no doubt that it was mocking me. Interestingly enough, the sculptor added a blowhole, which you can see if you peer towards the back-center of the sculpture, but I at first though it was the muffin I was eating at the time. If anyone else has seen it before, please let me know where!
Soon after encountering the marble whale, it became time to visit a depachika, or a department store food hall. Wandering into the Mitsukoshi store in Nihombashi, Tokyo proved to be auspicious a decision as any, as kujira sashimi was conspicuously being hawked by the resident fishmonger. One benefit to many depachika is that the cashier may ask you (in Japanese, anyway) if you will eat (certain products that you are buying) soon or if it will be a while (say, until you get home). If your response is the latter, they’ll give you an ice pack or two for the commute. It might be recommended that, if you have a black eye or a bruise, buy something cheap that needs refrigeration, so you can apply the ice to the sore spot. How’s that for a spontaneous tip?…
I took a pack of ice for the whale anyway, and had to scurry to find a place to sit in a country not known for rubbish bins or benches, or eating on the go, for that matter. The portion in the photo was very chewy, and didn’t have an overpowering taste, so it was good to have the soy sauce (and dandelion?) to start the party. Waiting five years to be underwhelmed was a bit of a downer, but I’ll make sure to try it again, possibly when Pepsi releases its limited edition flavor for 2013, “Kewpie Mayonnaise.”
Have you tried whale before? Does this post cause you to reconsider transferring to a school in Japan?